SBM NEXT conference honors its best and sets up for a new year of business



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

At the Cobo Center in Detroit Sept. 27-29, the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) conducted its annual meeting, facilitated attorney networking, sponsored section meetings and informational presentations, gave well-deserved awards to colleagues, and inducted officers to help carry on its business.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen J. Markman, at the inaugural luncheon on Thursday, administered the oath of office to President-Elect Jennifer M. Grieco, of Birmingham; Vice President Dennis M. Barnes, of Detroit; and Treasurer Dana M. Warnez, of Center Line. Sworn in as secretary was Robert J. Buchanan, a Grand Rapids attorney with Buchanan and Buchanan who practices medical injury defense.

Said Chief Justice Markman before asking them to raise their right hands, “You are each empowered and entrusted to join with our judiciary in securing for We the People the equal rule of law, possibly the greatest legacy of our

Following that, the chief justice swore in Donald G. Rockwell, a Flint attorney, who replaced Larry Nolan as President of the SBM. Rockwell became the SBM’s 83rd president.

Rockwell is a litigator, mediator, arbitrator, and case evaluator in personal injury property, business, insurance, and employment cases. He is also university counsel for Kettering University.

Opening remarks at the luncheon were given by Dennis Archer, the illustrious former SBM President who was also the Mayor of Detroit, a Michigan Supreme Court justice, and president of the American Bar Association.

That day, Joseph P. McGill was  sworn in as the chair of the Representative Assembly.

The previous evening, a lovely banquet was held to honor the winners of various SBM and related awards. As dinner was starting, still-President Nolan acknowledged the awards of the State Bar Foundation: the Founders Award to Linda K. Rexer, the long-time director of the foundation who retired; an Access to Justice Award to Ari Scharg, and another ATJ Award to Angela Tripp (see Grand Rapids Legal News 8/23/17).

Two people receive the Respected Advocate Awards each year: one is chosen by the Michigan Association for Justice from the opposing defense bar and one by Michigan Defense Trial Counsel from the plaintiff bar. This year, MAJ chose J. Brian MacDonald, an attorney from Flint who was born and raised there.

MDTC’s choice was Ven Johnson, the well-known personal injury lawyer who has offices in Detroit, Flint, and Grand Rapids. In his video pre-taped to record awardees’ thanks, Johnson joked, “I’m glad you all are sitting down because I want to say thank you to Geoffrey Fieger,” referring to his controversial former partner.

Remaining awards, in order of their being bestowed, were:

—The Liberty Bell Award, to Annemarie Conway, a Charlevoix High School government teacher;

—The Kimberly M. Cahill Bar Leadership Award, named after the former SBM President who died at a young age, to Patrick J. Wilson of Traverse City;

—The John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award to Robert C. Treat, Jr., who has done innumerable Qualified Domestic Relations Orders over the years without charge to people who could not afford them, and who donated the prize that comes with the award to Lakeshore Legal Aid;

—Champion of Justice Awards to Gen. Michael C. McDaniel, a WMU-Cooley professor who has been working to help people in Flint; and to Judge Kelly A. Ramsey of Wayne County for her work in child abuse prevention;

—The John W. Reed Michigan Lawyer Legacy Award, which goes to an educator who has shaped attorneys in the state, to Prof. Alan S. Schenk, a taxation law professor at Wayne State University;

—The Frank J. Kelley Distinguished Public Service Award to  Judge Robert Holmes Bell of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, who has been serving the public since 1969; to former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara L. McQuade; and to Judge Bernard A. Freidman of the Eastern District U.S. Court, who is best-known for deciding in DeBoer v. Snyder that the Michigan law against gay marriage was illegal, who called the award “the pinnacle of my career;”

—The highest honor the SBM gives, the Roberts P. Hudson Award, to Gerard V. Mantese, known for pursuing a class action suit that resulted in changes to the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan policy regarding autistic children, among other noteworthy volunteerism.

Watch for more information in future issues of the Grand Rapids Legal News.