Renowned divorce attorney continues to make his mark after 50 plus years


by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In more than five decades of practice, attorney Henry Baskin has seen several major changes in family law.

“Common law marriage has been revoked, and grounds for divorce are now ‘any reason’ divorce,” says Baskin, owner and president of The Baskin Law Firm in Birmingham. “We also see a gender neutral judiciary, parental neutrality in child custody, and personal protection orders have dramatically increased.

“Decades ago, most lawyers, with a few exceptions, believed divorce law was beneath their calling – hence the referrals,” he says. “Truly, we help people get past the corruption of broken relationships.”

Baskin recently earned a favorable ruling in the highly publicized family law case between former Detroit Pistons star Rasheed Wallace, who left his wife Fatima Sanders in 2013 after 16 years of marriage. Baskin convinced the Court of Appeals to order the Oakland County Circuit Court to determine custody, child support, and alimony.

“After 16 months in the Court of Appeals, the case is in Michigan courts, not North Carolina where the husband sought property distribution,” Baskin explains. “This was a significant win that the courts granted what we were asking for – having the case shifted back to Michigan.”

Other notable wins include a case in which Vietnamese children who were improperly adopted in the United States were returned to their mother and grandparents after three separate trials; and the first grandparent custody trial after a husband allegedly had his wife burned to death.

Baskin also represented the Ilitch family in the sale of Tigers and Red Wings broadcast rights to Fox Sports and WWJ.

Baskin’s many fascinating cases also include the first Michigan Internet setting/divorce case; the first religious divorce case in Michigan Civil Court; the first case in which a husband attempted to gain a portion of the value of his wife’s medical degree; and Michigan’s first bi-racial custody case; as well as the 1983 case of Dora Beer vs. Judge William John Beer, where a retired Oakland County Circuit judge was accused of leading a double life with his wife and three children and a second woman with whom he had nine children.

And in 1993, Baskin successfully represented a West Bloomfield high school student in a paternity suit against the governor of Rhode Island, claiming he was her father. Now working as a TV reporter in Connecticut, the woman, Kara Sundlun, took the governor’s surname.

Baskin, who has represented Valassis Corp. for 14 years, served on the legal team that landed a $500 million settlement in 2010 in Valassis vs. News America that included News America entering into a 10-year shared mail distribution agreement with Valassis Direct Mail, a Valassis subsidiary.

The principal author of Michigan’s Child Custody Act of 1970, Baskin chaired the state’s Domestic Violence Task Force, and was instrumental in bringing about the use of Personal Protection Orders to protect endangered spouses and children.

He also was Michigan’s first major entertainment lawyer, representing many music, sports and entertainment figures, and was the first attorney to change music contracts in anticipation of videos and intellectual property.

He is a TV star in his own right, having spent 34 years on the “Due Process” TV show on Channels 4 and 56, one of the longest running programs in Michigan television history.

“We believed the program helped people find sources to resolve issues,” says Baskin, who was honored with a Silver Circle Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, as well as a prestigious Emmy Award.

The Bloomfield Hills resident, who is a consultant to the board of trustees at Central Michigan and holds an honorary Ph.D. from CMU, also has served for 17 years on higher education boards.

“My interest remains in opposing and determining the causes for the outrageous and prohibitive cost of education,” he says. 

His awards for child and family advocacy work are numerous, including the Dream Catchers Award by Variety/The Children's Charity of Detroit for his lifetime of service to children and at-risk families.

A major philanthropist, affiliated with several foundations and charities, he has been a board member and president of the Children’s Orthogenic Center; a member and supporter of CARE House in Pontiac; and sponsored the Baskin Family Foundation at Oakland University that provides scholarship assistance to children of single-parent households in financial need.

“I’ve had much gratification in creating and contributing to child custody issues, and personal protection order legislation – and to any charity designed to help children find safety and peace,” he says.

His close ties to OU include being appointed by Republican Gov. John Engler to the OU Board of Trustees, and reappointed by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, spending a combined 16 years serving as chair and trustee.

Baskin, who served as State Bar Commissioner, spent 15 years as chair and member of the State Bar of Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission; and was honored with an SBM Lifetime Achievement Award.

The former president of the Oakland County Bar Association was inspired to take up law by Clarence Darrow.

“His ‘plea for mercy’ was often repeated by me in presentations to high school and undergrad competitions,” Baskin says.

After receiving his undergrad degree from Wayne State University, Baskin earned his juris doctor from Wayne Law School. He has fond memories of his law school experience.

“It was a family law school, noncompetitive, with a complement of professors and upper class students literally working for all student success,” he says.   

His daughter Dana eventually followed in her father’s footsteps to Wayne Law, and now works alongside her father.

“She has become the conscience of the firm,” he says. “She has impeccable insight and after her roles were defined – lawyer versus daughter – it’s great!”