Legal People

 Attorneys Richard J. Gianino and Ellisse S. Thompson of Plunkett Cooney recently received the 2014 Pro Bono Recognition Award from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Gianino and Thompson were honored for their volunteer service in representing a plaintiff assigned to them by the court in a complex disability case featuring elements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
“It was a really rewarding and valuable experience, and it was certainly nice to help someone in need,” said Thompson, who is a member of Plunkett Cooney’s Tort & Litigation Practice Group. “I look forward to helping others in the future.”

While elements of the case are still pending, the attorneys successfully argued that a wheelchair-bound muscular sclerosis patient is entitled to lifetime disability benefits.  Additional proceedings in the case will take place next month. 

Gianino and Thompson accepted their awards during the Annual State of the Court luncheon on October 1 at the Book Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit. The luncheon, which is sponsored annually by the Federal Bar Association’s Eastern District of Michigan Chapter, featured keynote remarks by the court’s Chief Judge Gerald Rosen.  

Each year, numerous attorneys who are admitted to practice in the Eastern District of Michigan volunteer their services as part of the court’s pro bono program. Gianino, a partner in Plunkett Cooney’s Detroit office, serves as a member of the court’s Pro Bono Council, which assigns matters to participating attorneys.

Gianino is a partner and senior litigator in the firm’s Detroit office. He has devoted his professional career to the representation of insurance companies and health care providers in multiple areas of litigation and counseling. Gianino has particular expertise in the areas of ERISA, director and officer liability, pharmaceutical liability, and insurance law.

Thompson, who is also a member of Plunkett Cooney’s Detroit office, works in the Tort & Litigation Practice Group. Her practice in Michigan’s state and federal courts includes a particular focus on motor vehicle and general liability insurance-related litigation. Her clients include the insured policyholders of some of the nation’s largest insurance providers. 

In addition, Plunkett Cooney has been awarded the 2014 Lifetime Community Service Award by the DRI – the Voice of the Defense Bar.

Plunkett Cooney received the award during the recent DRI Annual Meeting in San Francisco, CA. According to Plunkett Cooney’s President & CEO Henry B. Cooney, the firm’s selection as this year’s award winner was somewhat unexpected.

“We were surprised, to be honest, because this award has traditionally been presented to individual DRI members,” Cooney said. “It’s certainly a wonderful honor and a tribute to all of the outstanding volunteer work our attorneys and staff performed last year.”

Plunkett Cooney was selected as the 2014 Lifetime Community Service Award recipient based on its decades long commitment to community service, as well as extraordinary efforts firm members made last year to positively impact their communities through volunteerism. 

As part of its centennial celebration in 2013, Plunkett Cooney launched a 100 Acts of Kindness (AOK) campaign whereby two or more firm members would come together to complete volunteer efforts of their choosing. Although the goal was to complete 100 AOKs, firm members actually exceeded that number with neighborhood clean-ups, service at community soup kitchens, clothing drives for the needy, and many other efforts. 

“This was truly a firm wide effort,” said Plunkett Cooney partner Ellen Jannette, who co-chaired the AOK campaign with her partner Richard Szymczak. “It was great to see so many of our attorneys and staff come together and pour their hearts into some really wonderful acts of kindness.”

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Varnum attorney Michael Romaya is the recipient of the Chaldean American Bar Association’s inaugural “Attorney on the Rise” award.

Romaya was nominated by his peers in the association and will receive the award at the 5th Annual CABA Awards of Scholarship Ceremony on Nov. 21 at Shenandoah Country Club in West Bloomfield.

Romaya, a partner in the corporate group at Varnum, has been practicing law for eight years, concentrating on commercial, asset-based and real estate finance. His experience includes loan restructuring and workouts as well as mergers and acquisitions. He also serves as the outside general counsel for numerous privately-owned businesses.

Michigan Super Lawyers named Romaya a “Rising Star” in 2011, and in 2013 he was recognized as an “Up & Coming Lawyer” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, based on “outstanding professional accomplishments, mentoring and community involvement.” Outside of his law practice, Romaya serves on the Board of Directors of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.

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Dickinson Wright PLLC is pleased to announce that attorney Kristi Katsma will receive the Pro Bono Spirit Award at the 2014 Laddy Awards presented by the Legal Aid and Defender Association Inc. (LAD).  Katsma is one of three recipients of the Pro Bono Spirit Award this year.

Katsma is being honored for her work representing an elderly client in a Detroit property tax dispute. The client received notice of tax foreclosure by the City of Detroit when the City claimed it could significantly raise the property taxes in arrears due to the transfer of the property solely into the client’s name upon her partner’s death.  The client otherwise qualified for the poverty exception to payment of property taxes but had not previously applied.  The matter involved an appeal to the Michigan Tax Tribunal and substantial negotiations to resolve this matter on behalf of her client. The result of her work, which included approximately 55 hours of pro bono work, ensured that this client could continue to live in her home.

Katsma is a member in Dickinson Wright’s Detroit office. She focuses her practice in the areas of bankruptcy, restructuring & creditors’ rights; automotive litigation; banking & financial services; mergers & acquisitions; and commercial transactions. She is a member of the American Bankruptcy Institute and served as a past Board Member of the Washtenaw County Bar Association and Past President of the Washtenaw County Young Lawyers Association. 

Katsma received her B.S. from Western Michigan University and her law degree from University of Michigan Law School.

Katsma, along with the other honorees, will receive her award at a ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 18, at the historic chief judge’s courtroom of the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse. Dickinson Wright is also honored to be a sponsor of this great event that honors members of the legal community for their pro bono efforts to LAD clients.

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Legal Aid and Defender Association Inc. (LAD) has announced the winners of its 2014 “Laddy” awards honoring members of the legal community for their pro bono service to LAD clients:

• Pro Bono Attorney of the Year—Jordan S. Bolton of Birmingham and Clark Hill PLC.

• Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year—Bodman PLC.

• Kelvin W. Scott Pro Bono Corporation of the Year—Ford Motor Company.

• Pro Bono Spirit—Kristi A. Katsma of Detroit and Dickinson Wright PLLC; Kurt Thornbladh of Farmington and Thornbladh Legal Group PLC; and Jenny L. Zavadil of Rochester Hills and Bowman and Brooke LLP.

• Frank D. Eaman Warrior of Justice—John A. Shea of Dexter Township, a solo practitioner.

• Ed Pokorny Pioneer of Justice Award—Judge James R. Chylinski of Grosse Pointe Woods and Wayne County Circuit Court.

• Friend of LAD—37th District Court, Warren and Macomb Homeless Coalition.

LAD will also award Pangborn Pins for 100 hours or more of pro bono service to Seth A. Drucker, Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, and Cohn LLP; Olukunle A. Fadipe, solo practitioner (now LAD staff attorney); Kathleen G. Galen, solo practitioner; Kathryn Ariella Katz, Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, and Cohn LLP; Mary Beth Leija, solo practitioner; Mary K. Mansfield, Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, and Cohn LLP;
Theresa H. Sharp, solo practitioner; and Christy Q. Williams, solo practitioner

The awards will be presented Tuesday, Nov. 18, at 2 p.m. in the historic chief judge’s courtroom of the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse, 231 W. Lafayette St. in Detroit. For information concerning the ceremony or sponsorships, contact Bedelia Brown at LAD at 313-967-5619 or

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Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, and Cohn LLP is pleased to announce that partner Mary K. Mansfield and attorney Kathryn A. Katz will be recognized for the pro bono service that they provided to Legal Aid and Defender Association Inc.’s clients in 2014.  The awards will be presented on November 18, in the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse in Detroit. Honigman is also a sponsor of the awards ceremony.

Mansfield is a partner in Honigman’s Trusts and Estates Practice Group. Her practice is focused on the administration of complex probate estates and trusts.  She represents several charities and individuals in the protection of their beneficial interests in those administrations, including will and trust contests.  

Mansfield has experience counseling high net worth individuals, business owners and families in the structure of their estate plans, including wills, trusts and financial and medical powers of attorney. She also advises on advanced estate planning techniques designed to transfer wealth in the most tax efficient (gift, estate and income) manner while ensuring that personal and family goals are met.  Mansfield also is a Certified Public Accountant in the state of Michigan.

Mansfield earned a law degree from Wayne State University Law School and a B.B.A. in accounting from the University of Michigan.

Katz, an attorney in Honigman’s Trusts and Estates Practice Group, counsels individuals on various aspects of estate and wealth transfer planning, including the preparation of wills and trusts, and the formation and operation of private foundations and public charities. She also received an award for pro bono service from LAD in 2012.

Katz earned a law degree at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and a B.A in history and political science from the University of Wisconsin.

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McKeen & Associates PC (  announced Managing Partner and Founder Brian J. McKeen was named chair of the Primerus Personal Injury Institute (PPII, formerly Primerus Consumer Law Institute).

PPII is a group of trial lawyers who represent plaintiffs and consumers nationwide in personal injury lawsuits.  

As chair, McKeen will preside the organization’s executive committee meetings, networking calls and business meetings and lead the planning for PPII’s Annual Winter/Spring Conference.  He also will serve as a board member and attend Board of Directors meetings, encourage member participation in all institute initiatives and inform members on organization happenings via a column in the Primerus 180, a semi-annual members-only publication.

During the course of a career spanning more than 30 years, McKeen has resolved numerous medical malpractice cases.  Today, he is considered one of the foremost medical malpractice attorneys in the United States.

His $12.9 million judgment for a client in her suit against Genesys Regional Medical Center was the second-highest verdict in the state of Michigan for 2013 according to Michigan Lawyers Weekly.  It also was the state’s top medical malpractice decision of the year.

Since 2001, McKeen & Associates has been among the perennial leaders in top settlements, generating the year’s top verdict in Michigan four times, including securing the state’s largest medical malpractice verdict on record in 2001, when a jury rendered a verdict award of $55 million in the case of Hall v. Henry Ford Health System. 

In 2013, McKeen was awarded the Dan Cullan Memorial Award from the American Association of Justice (AAJ) and Executive Board of the AAJ Birth Trauma Litigation Group.  The honor recognized him for his passionate and unwavering commitment to excellence in advocacy and his devotion and service to the Birth Trauma Litigation Group and the children that it serves.  The award also acknowledges McKeen as someone who exemplifies the finest qualities of Dan Cullan, the highly respected MD JD who spent his career helping children inbirth trauma cases and for whom this award is named.

McKeen currently sits on the executive boards of the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ) and the American Association for Justice (AAJ).  He formerly served as chair of the AAJ Professional Negligence Section, Medical Negligence Exchange Group and Birth Trauma Litigation Group (BTLG).  He is a member of The Inner Circle of Advocates, and organization of the Top 100 plaintiff attorneys in the country.  In 2012, he was named among the Top Attorneys in Michigan as published by The New York Times.

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Mark Lezotte, a southeast Michigan health care attorney with Butzel Long, was re-elected to the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) National Board of Trustees during UCP’s 2014 Annual Conference in Nashville, Tenn.

Lezotte has long served UCP in various public policy and governmental activities roles, and as chair of UCP’s national public policy committee. He previously served on the UCP national board from 1999-2004, received the UCP National Chairperson’s Award in 2004, and has served as a board member and president of UCP of Metropolitan Detroit. He also has served in leadership roles on many other civic and nonprofit boards.

He has experience in corporate, health care, tax, and exempt organization matters, including corporate and nonprofit governance, business transactions, tax-exempt issues, hospital-physician ventures, and regulatory investigations. 

Lezotte has been active in numerous bar and professional organizations. He has been recognized in “The Best Lawyers in America” (health care law), published by Woodward/White, Inc. since 2013; and has been selected to Michigan Super Lawyers, published by Thomson Reuters, each year since 2008.

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Seven attorneys from Pitt, McGehee, Palmer, & Rivers have been named 2014 Michigan Super Lawyers. 

Firm attorneys and their practice areas selected as 2014Super Lawyers include:

• Founding partner Michael Pitt, was named to Super Lawyers in employment litigation and class action/mass torts. He was listed in Top 100 Michigan Super Lawyers and Top 50 Michigan Consumer Lawyers.

• Founding partner Cary McGehee was named to Super Lawyers for employment litigation. In addition, she was listed in Top 50 Women Michigan Super Lawyers and Top 25 Women Consumer Lawyers.
• Beth Rivers: Employment & labor and employment litigation.

• Robert Palmer:  Employment & labor; personal injury-general and criminal defense.

• Peggy Pitt: Employment & labor.

• Megan Bonanni: Employment litigation.

• Kevin Carlson: Employment litigation.

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Wayne State University Law School Professor Julia Qin gave an Oct. 8 presentation at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, commenting on its Appellate Body’s recent decision in the China – Rare Earths case.

About 70 people, including government representatives from major countries and World Trade Organization legal staff, attended the event. It was part of the “Talking Disputes” program organized by World Trade Institute Advisors and the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development.

Qin teaches international business transactions, international finance, international trade law and Chinese law at Wayne Law.

She also holds a joint appointment as a professor at Tsinghua University Law School in Beijing. For the three-year appointment (2014 to 2016), Qin will take a leave of absence from Wayne Law during winter semester each year to teach in China. Tsinghua Law School is rated as No. 1 in China and No. 44 in the world by QS World University Rankings for 2014.

Qin earned her law degree from Peking University. She earned master of laws and doctor of juridical science degrees from Harvard Law School. She joined the Wayne Law faculty in fall 2000. Prior to that, she was a practicing attorney in the Hong Kong and New York offices of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, specializing in international corporate and securities transactions. Previously, she clerked for the late Chief Judge Dominick DiCarlo of the U.S. Court of International Trade.

Qin was a visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School in 2013, Seoul National University in South Korea in 2012, Tsinghua University Law School in Beijing in 2008 and Washington University in St. Louis in 2007. She also taught as an adjunct professor at New York University Law School and was a research fellow at the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

She has published in various international law journals and presented in numerous conferences and forums on the subjects of international trade law, public international law and Chinese law.

Her article, “The Conundrum of WTO Accession Protocols: In Search of Legality and Legitimacy,” will be forthcoming in the Virginia Journal of International Law in 2015. The article has been listed on the Social Science Research Network list of Top 10 Downloads for several ejournals already, including the International Economic Law eJournal, Public International Law: Organizations ejournal and International Political Economy: Trade Policy ejournal.

Qin serves as a member of the Council and the Steering Committee for the Chinese Society of International Law. She was a member of the Executive Council for the Society of International Economic Law from 2010 to 2013.

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Bodman PLC attorney Robert J. Diehl Jr. has been named chair of the board of directors for the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.  

The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion is a not-for-profit civil rights organization located in Detroit working to overcome discrimination and racism by crossing racial, religious, ethnic and cultural boundaries. The organization brings together community leaders from government, law enforcement, education, faith, grass roots organizations, and business to understand different points of view and then take action to overcome structural impediments to inclusion and equity. 

Diehl is the chair of Bodman’s Banking Practice Group.  He represents clients in complex business law matters and commercial transactions with a focus on debtor-creditor rights and bankruptcy. He represents lenders in out-of-court workouts and in bankruptcy proceedings involving all types of businesses and collateral, especially automotive-related businesses and real estate and construction businesses.

Diehl is listed in The Best Lawyers in America 2015 (for twenty years) under Bankruptcy and Debtor Creditor Rights/Insolvency and Reorganization Law. He is also listed in The Best Lawyers in America 2015 under Banking and Finance Law, Bet-the-Company Litigation, Litigation-Banking & Finance, and Litigation-Bankruptcy. He is listed in Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business 2014 under Banking & Finance: Bankruptcy (achieving the highest “first band” ranking), in Michigan Super Lawyers 2014 under Bankruptcy & Creditor/Debtor Rights, and in DBusiness magazine as a 2014 “Top Lawyer.” Michigan Super Lawyers has also listed him on multiple occasions as one of the “Top 100” lawyers in Michigan.

Diehl serves in leadership roles with several other organizations, including the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce (member, board of directors), Henry Ford Hospital Heart and Vascular Institute (member, board of advisors), VIP Mentoring (member, board of directors), and the Grosse Pointe Club (member, board of directors).

In addition, Bodman is pleased to announce that the firm has been named one of Michigan’s 101 Best and Brightest Sustainable Companies for 2014.

The 101 Best and Brightest Sustainable Companies competition celebrates organizations that inspire and integrate into their business practices green technologies that positively impact industry and the environment.

Bodman is one of only 51 Michigan organizations, and the only law firm, to achieve this recognition.

Since forming a sustainability committee in 2009, Bodman has recycled more than forty tons of paper.  Its sustainability plan incorporates environmental, economic, and social sustainability considerations into firm operations.  The firm has also been accepted by the American Bar Association, in association with the Environmental Protection Agency, as a Climate Challenge Partner because of its
sustainability efforts.  

The most visible aspect of Bodman’s sustainability program is its Detroit headquarters office which is located in the former J.L. Hudson warehouse that is part of the Ford Field complex. The office itself is an example of the adaptive re-use of a historic structure, and the office construction process incorporated numerous sustainable building practices.