Professor teaches communications from a different angle at MSU


by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

As the oldest of six siblings, Michael Watza was taught early on that he had an obligation to protect those around him. He also enjoyed intricate strategy games.
“I think those two motivations led me to the practice of law,” says Watza, who heads the governmental litigation and affairs practice at Kitch Drutchas Wagner Valitutti & Sherbrook in Detroit.

 Watza shares his expertise as an adjunct professor of Communications Law and Policy at his alma mater, Michigan State University College of Law.

“My practice has always included a public policy component and therefore my litigation practice slowly gravitated toward regulatory work which combines both,” he explains. “Teaching Communication Law and Policy is a reflection of what I do in my work. So teaching it gives me a chance to hopefully educate, but also allows me to look at the subject from a much different perspective than the very focused view of a particular client issue.”

  Watza has an interesting take on law schools.

“I like the law. I don’t like what the economy has done to the practice and to my clients and fellow lawyers,” he notes. “I think we need to carefully consider the regulation of admission to law schools given the total saturation of the market.”

  He suggests a two-tier system with admissions based on two sets of criteria: one for those interested in becoming practicing lawyers, and a second for those interested in augmenting their academics or for other purposes such as business or other interests.

“While the first needs to be strictly regulated and limited, the latter could be open to all who meet some minimum academic requirements, but with the understanding that they will not be practicing and advising the public or anyone else,” he says. 

  Watza earned his law degree from the Detroit College of Law after receiving an undergrad degree from MSU in criminal justice, with interests in psychology and economics.

“I loved attending MSU as an undergrad and saw the merger of DCL and MSU as a huge gain for both,” he says. “I was on the Alumni Board for both at the time of the merger and was very supportive.”

Watza attended DCL while working full time as a law clerk and starting a family.

“I don’t recommend that approach for anyone,” he says. “As a result, my law school time was far less social or pleasant perhaps than for many fellow students. I think the combination of MSU and DCL, which I now see from the perspective of an alum and part-time faculty, is magnificent for both institutions.”

Watza’s main areas of practice include litigated, legislative and administrative solutions on behalf of municipal, nonprofit and private sector clients in the areas of complex litigation, energy, and telecommunications. He represents clients in state and federal trial courts throughout Michigan and has argued in both the State and U.S. Court of Appeals as well as attended to regulatory matters before the Michigan Public Service Commission, Tax Tribunal, Federal Communication Commission, and Department of Labor and Economic Growth.

  He has also represented clients’ interests before the U.S. Congress and the Michigan State Legislature as a witness, adviser, negotiator or drafter of legislation on various issues including energy, telecommunications, cable, pipelines, the formation of inter-governmental authorities and tort reform.

 “I like new problems, solving them, and then moving on to the next issues,” he says. “And I enjoy the flexibility and variety of issues plus the opportunity to work with and hopefully solve client issues.”

Watza serves as general counsel to PROTEC and the Mobile Technology Association of Michigan, both related to the communication industry. PROTEC addresses litigated, regulatory and legislative issues regarding the interaction of the communication, electric, gas and other industries that interact with local government and rights of way usage. MTAM, a recent start up organization, is an association of mobile device application designers (smart phone apps) and includes many other communications industry members among its supporters.

“Both are involved in cutting edge developments in their respective areas of law,” Watza notes.

Appointed to the Michigan Gaming Control Board by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2008, Watza expects to be reappointed by Gov. Rick Snyder for a third term this month. 

“I had the opportunity to be involved in the Greektown Casino bankruptcy during my first term and largely through that experience, enjoyed learning a great deal about bankruptcy, international finance, tribal law, and gaming law as well,” he says.

Immediate Past Chair of the State Bar Administrative and Regulatory Law Section, Watza also served on the Board of The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), a national organization based in Washington, D.C., and relating to cable law and regulation. He recently left that post to become chair of the International Lawyers Association Technology Committee; and this fall became Treasurer/Secretary of the Public Corporation Law Section, involved in local government litigated, legislative and regulatory issues.

He also serves on several Michigan Health and Hospital Association committees, assisting with electric rate regulation and telecom issues related to e-medical records.

Watza helps his hometown of Novi by serving as chairman of its Economic Development Corporation.  “We’re trying to develop a municipal based low cost high-speed broadband network there, as well as assisting with other issues including resident and business energy issues and cell tower matters from time to time.”

A lifelong resident of southeast Michigan, with much of that time spent in the City of Detroit as a student and lawyer, Watza also serves on the school board of Covenant House Academy (Central) for academically at-risk high school students – a “Give Back” to his home town of Detroit, and also an offshoot of his days after graduating from MSU when he worked as a youth counselor at Starr Commonwealth, an organization operating programs for troubled youth and their families.

Away from the office, Watza’s time is devoted to his children and their various sporting, academic and other pursuits including football, soccer, swimming, cookouts, reading “The Hobbit,” and more.

“I have four great kids who are and have been much of the reason I get up in the morning,” he says. “I also enjoying walking my dog Jessica, a Flat Coat Retriever who likes to grab the leash from my hand and walk herself occasionally. She remains a work in progress.”