Next phase: Retired Naval officer sets his sights on second career in law

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by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

A retired Naval officer and graduate of Detroit Mercy Law, Ponce Clay gives back to veterans by working at the 36th District Veterans Treatment Court in downtown Detroit, presided over by Judge Leonia Lloyd. As a Veteran Mentor, Clay assists with early intervention, treatment, and rehabilitation of defendants who have served in the military, diverting them from a jail sentence into mental health and/or substance abuse treatment.

“The court is a natural extension of one of my passions – being a voice for men and women and their families, who have served our great nation,” Clay says.

A Veteran Mentor is part of the presiding judge’s team that “translates” the unique challenges veterans face as the result of psychological and physical injuries incurred while in the military, to the civilian court.

“These injuries often result in the veteran making criminal and civil decisions where they find themselves in the judicial system,” Clay says, adding that mentors assist veterans to access resources and benefits in order to fulfill the requirements of the court and become productive citizens. 

A graduate of Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Clay earned his undergrad degree in Spanish from Morehouse College in Atlanta. He then served as a Surface Warfare officer in the U.S. Navy, retiring after more than 20 years of honorable service that included serving as Officer in Charge of Naval Shore activity in Madrid, Spain; and as Director, Officer Accessions; Director, Navy Careers/College Scholarships; and Director of District Recruiting Operations, all in Michigan and Indiana. He also has worked in Jacksonville, Fla.; Norfolk, Va.; and Greater Memphis.

“What drew me to the Navy was the opportunity to travel the world, serve my country, and work with some of the nation’s greatest leaders,” he says. “There have been scores of highlights during my Naval career – one of the most memorable was being part of the effort that resulted in the successful interdiction and seizure of over 12 tons of cocaine, the largest maritime bust at the time, during Counter Narcotic Operations the off the western coast of South America.”    

He also attended the Air Force University Command and Staff College; completed joint professional military education studies in Madrid, Spain; and earned an M.P.A, in Public Administration; Public Personnel Management from the Japan campus of Troy State University, Pacific Region.

After retiring from the Navy in 2012, Clay headed to Detroit Mercy Law where he enjoyed the culture of public service through its free law clinics. He focused on Veterans law, public service interest, and federal level public administration, was a quarter-finalist in the 2013 G. Mennen Williams 1L Moot Court Competition, and held various student leadership positions, most notably as an Executive Board member in the Student Bar Association.

“All things I find interesting are essentially governed by the knowledge, application and enforcement of the law,” he explains. “I thought it only reasonable in order to maximize my personal and professional opportunities, and to be an effective advocate and serve my clients, that I’d better understand the culture and the language of the law.”

Clay, a member of the Wolverine Bar Association and a state approved general Civil Mediator in Wayne County, graduated last year.

“Detroit Mercy has an attractive, family like atmosphere,” he says. “Everyone from the support staff to the executive staff is approachable and contributed to my successful matriculation.”
He is now the principal of The Clay Group LLC, a professional services company that specializes in crafting solutions for its clients – delivering a tailored plan of action and maximizing a client’s performance. By leveraging his personal networks, professional skillsets and entrepreneurial insights, The Clay Group, at its core, is about building trusting relationships that carry over beyond the solution provided.

“My clients range from a small business owner seeking to streamline a hectic non-productive schedule, to a local activist that wants to enter politics and seeks a framework to start a campaign,” he explains. “The common denominator is that, by understanding the issue that clients face, I fashion options and assist in executing those options to meet the stated objective.”
A Detroit native, Clay makes his home in the Big D, and serves on the boards of various civic-based organizations, including the City of Detroit Ethics Board where he was sworn in last November. The board’s role is to investigate and resolve complaints regarding alleged violations of the Ethics Ordinance by public servants, and to issue advisory opinions regarding the meaning and application of provisions of the Charter, City Ordinances, other laws, or regulations establishing standards of conduct for public servants
“I’ve been a public servant in some form or fashion my entire adult life,” he says. “After retiring from the Navy, I still had a desire to contribute to the re-birth of this world class city. The privilege of being a member of the Ethics Board allows me the opportunity to serve the City of Detroit and its citizenry.”

During his leisure time, Clay enjoys reading, real estate investing, and playing board games with his four children.