Law Day 2018 celebrates collegiality



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Lots of smiles, hugs and handshakes accompanied the awards Tuesday during the Grand Rapids Bar Association/WMU-Cooley Law School annual Law Day Celebration and Awards Luncheon.

Law Day Committee Chair Anita Hitchcock, the Grand Rapids City Attorney, welcomed everyone on the fine spring day and turned the first award presentation over to GRBA President Joy Fossel, who in turn called up attorney Stephen Drew.

Drew sang the praises of the Grand Rapids Urban League, as the person who had nominated the organization for the Liberty Bell Award. President and CEO Joseph “Joe” Jones accepted the well-deserved award, given to a non-lawyer or non-profit “that has made an outstanding contribution to the cause of justice.”

A more in-depth look at the Urban League and other award-winners will be featured in future issues of the Grand Rapids Legal News.

Next, the GRBA recognized members of the local bar who have attained fifty years of practice. Philip Balkema, Glenn House, James Mitchell, Patrick Muldoon, John Porter, and James Zerrenner were in attendance and were given a pin by the chair of the Young Lawyers Section, Christine Cameron.

Unable to attend were William Hineline, Bruce Neckers, Arthur Spalding, and Fredric Sytsma, but they were all extended hearty thanks for their contributions.

Fossel returned to the podium to announce this year’s winners of the President’s Award. The honor, which “signifies unusual and extraordinary help and assistance that has been given generously and in the spirit of self service,” went to both William Azkoul and Michael Adams. Each, Fossel said, has helped the association greatly in his own way.

Azkoul thanked his firm, Gruel Mills Nims & Pylman, for the tremendous support they have given him in his service over the years. And Adams said that he thought he was being honored for his great performance at the Just Lips celebrity lip-sync.

The Donald R. Worsfold Distinguished Service Award was given to three people, which is out of the ordinary, and all three are judges. The Hon. William Kelly of the 62B District Court; Hon. Janet Neff of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan (whose award was accepted in her absence by Judge Ellen Carmody of that court); and Hon. Paul Sullivan of the 17th Circuit Court shared the honor.

The Worsfold Award “acknowledges and honors the contributions of a member whose service stands out for its extraordinary  impact on the life of the community.”

Judge Sullivan said, humbly and sincerely, that he felt as if everyone in the room, which was indeed full of attorneys who give back to the community, deserved the award every bit as much as he did.

Associate Dean Tracey Brame of Western Michigan University-Thomas M. Cooley Law School, who is also the incoming Vice President of the GRBA, bestowed the Marion Hilligan Public Service Award on 61st District Court Judge Christina Elmore “to promote among the bar and the public a greater appreciation for the contributions lawyers make...”

Beginning her career as a Judge Advocate General in the U.S. Air Force, Elmore was an assistant Kent County Prosecutor and then an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Michigan.  Commented Brame, “Judge Elmore epitomizes the law as a profession of service. She sought a role on the bench not for recognition or power, but so that she could be a positive presence in her community,” said Brame
As the celebration wrapped up, the featured speaker on this year’s theme of “Separation of Powers” was the newest Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Elizabeth “Beth” Clement. After Tom Sinas of Sinas Dramis Law Firm said in her introduction that he had found out from her husband she likes to do jigsaw puzzles in her spare time, Justice Clement joked, “If I’d known he talked with my husband, I’d have been more nervous.”

The young justice – a Gov. Snyder appointee who has just announced she will be running for a full term – is qualified to speak on the Separation of Powers in a way that most people are not. She has worked for all three branches of government: first as a legislative aide to Sen. Mike Rogers and a policy advisor/legal counsel to Sen. Mike Bishop, the Majority Leader at the time; second as chief legal counsel to the governor; and currently at the Supreme Court.

“I’ve had the unique experience of helping in the legislative, executive and, now, in the judicial branches. As a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, I’m proud to be charged with upholding that separation of powers, because none of the three branches can fully function as independent without the other two. I truly believe that when each branch serves their purposes we have the best of all worlds,” she said.