Author Archives: Terry Carella

Weekend law student Stephanie Samuels: Never too late to start a new life

Stephanie Samuels was almost 60 years old when she finally discovered she could make her life dream of going to law school a reality. Up until then, “life sort of just happened,” and it was never really an option – until she heard about WMU-Cooley’s weekend program.

“I talked to my husband about it,” said Samuels, “and I said, ‘You know what, I think I might be able to do this.'”

Since Stephanie worked for American Airlines, she philosophized that, with a little bit of creativity and some luck, it was within reason for her to fly from her home in the Texas, Dallas-Fort Worth area to WMU-Cooley’s Lansing campus once a week for classes. Well, that is exactly what she was able to do, every weekend for the last five years.

Even better, she was able to fly back and forth for free.

“Now the cool thing for me is I actually can fly standby,” grinned Stephanie, “and in the entire five years I went to law school, I only missed one weekend. WMU-Cooley has been flexible – really, really flexible for me. I have been able to do a lot of things I never thought I would be able to do. I got to be part of a mock trial team as a weekend student, plus I got to study abroad two semesters, in both Oxford, England and in Hamilton, New Zealand. I would never have been able to do those kind of things had it not been for Cooley and the weekend program.

“All of my law school experiences have really opened life up for me and given me the confidence to start my own private practice in international law. I’m even thinking about doing a non-profit, which was an offshoot idea I got from a contact I made during my time in New Zealand. One of the professors at the University of Waikato was a member of the United Nations in New York and she invited me and another law student to the UN’s annual indigenous rights convention.  What an incredible opportunity! I will never forget it.

“I am so excited to start this new life and explore all the possibilities . They are endless to me now. That’s because of Cooley.”

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Weekend Student Jason Puscas: At the end of the day, law school is an investment

Jason Puscas doesn’t believe you should have to choose between a stable family life, post-secondary education and a prospering career in public policy. A self-proclaimed lifelong learner, Puscas is determined to be successful at all three aspects of his life.

“I think there is always a desire to continue your education as you move on with your career and professional life,” Puscas said. “Being able to go to law school seemed like a great opportunity to grow professionally.”

Since graduating from Grand Valley State University in 2009 with a degree in political science, Puscas has held a number of positions in public policy. He is currently the Director of Government Relations at the Detroit Regional Chamber. He’s also pursuing his law degree on weekends, as a student enrolled in WMU-Cooley’s Weekend Program.

“When you really think about it, law is a result of public policy and that’s an area that I’ve really fallen in love with as I’ve advanced in my career,” he said.

He wasn’t always sure law school was a realistic opportunity.

“As you get older and farther away from your undergraduate degree, your priorities obviously change.” Puscas said. “Whether that be family or a full-time career, your schedules are harder. It’s more difficult to try to make those decisions, what your priorities are going to be. What Cooley was able to offer was the flexibility for me to be able to pursue both at once. “

WMU-Cooley’s Weekend Program allows students to complete their entire legal education taking classes exclusively on the weekends, or any combination during the week. Weekend classes start in September at the Lansing campus and May at the Auburn Hills and Tampa Bay campuses.

“Being able to go to school, continue my career, and have time to spend at home wasn’t an opportunity I was able to find somewhere else,” Puscas said. “For me personally, having a wonderful girlfriend at home and a house to take care of, having a full-time job in Lansing working 40-60 hours per week, and being able to somehow still fit that desire to continue learning into your schedule is pretty unique. It’s not an opportunity you often find in the modern post-secondary environment.”

Puscas, who plans to graduate this year, said his experience in the classroom has been a positive one at WMU-Cooley.

“You watch television and see these gigantic lecture halls and you see this Socratic method where you are being called on and challenged,” he said. “It’s not like that at all. It’s not nearly as scary as you think it’s going to be. The classroom sizes are intimate. The professors all have a level of practical knowledge and experience that they can relate to and share with you. It’s really more of an ongoing discussion and an opportunity to grasp an area of the law and talk about it as a group.”

Puscas also reflected on the investment he feels he’s making by pursuing a degree from WMU-Cooley.

“Part of what made Cooley the right choice for me was the fact that they do offer generous scholarship opportunities,” he said. “When you combine that with the flexibility they offer, the convenience of the class schedule, I don’t know where else I would have gone. Cooley was the right choice.”

WMU-Cooley student Jason Puscas

WMU-Cooley student Jason Puscas

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Military Feature Zaneta Adams: Disabled Iraqi War veteran gives back to veterans in law career

WMU-Cooley, as a military friendly and designated Yellow Ribbon School, talks to its military students, faculty and graduates about their journey from the military to law school and about their career goals. January 2017’s feature is WMU-Cooley graduate Zaneta Adams, a U.S. Army Retired PFC. She served eight years in the military, including her time with the U.S. Army National Guard, the Army Reserves, and Active Duty. After being severely injured during active duty, she made it her purpose to get a legal degree and serve her fellow brothers and sisters get the veteran benefits they so deserve. 

Military rank and title: U.S. Army Retired PFC

Why did you decide to go to law school: I decided to go to law school because I wanted to right injustices and help veterans fight for their VA benefits. I made the decision to attend WMU-Cooley because of its amazing scholarship programs, the fact that it is a yellow ribbon school (which saved me money), and its ideal location close to my home and work.

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Tell us about your military experience: I went into the Army because I loved the values that the Army had and I thought it would make me a better person.  I also wanted to give back and be of service to my country. I started in the Army when I was a junior in college.  I served eight years between my time with the U.S. Army National Guard, the Army Reserves, and Active Duty.

Career and future goals: I represent and do all my law-related duties at Williams Hughes Law firm in Muskegon, Michigan. My responsibilities include prosecuting and defending criminal cases, handling Family Law cases, processing Department of Veterans Affairs’ claims and appeals for veterans, and interviewing clients. My sincere hope is to educate, assist, and help veterans get their well-deserved benefits. I want to make Michigan the number one state where veterans receive their benefits. In addition, I work as a contractor with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office doing OKAY-2-SAY school and community presentations to help raise awareness of cyber bullying, child pornography, sexting, and cyber safety. My ultimate aspiration is to one day be a Michigan or U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Tell us a little about you: I have been married for 18 years and have six children (two sets of twins). I am a disabled Iraqi War veteran (served in support of the war) who was severely injured after falling 10-11 feet from a deuce and half truck. At the time, I never would have imagined after my injury that I would have been able to successfully complete law school and serve my fellow brothers and sisters in arms in this way. WMU-Cooley people were patient, understanding, and very accommodating to the things I personally needed to succeed. One thing they gave me was the confidence in my own abilities. They encouraged me and let me know that my physical injury was not a barrier to law school given my sharp mind and my commitment and conviction to succeed in law school and in my career.

WMU-Cooley graduate Zaneta Adams with WMU-Cooley Assistant Dean Tracey Brame.

WMU-Cooley graduate Zaneta Adams with WMU-Cooley Assistant Dean Tracey Brame.

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Weekend Law Student Reese Kewin: Single mom of six pursues dream of law school at 46

Reese Kewin is not your average law student. In fact, there’s nothing average about her. At 46, and starting law school, Reese knew that a “huge life change was ahead,” not only for her, but for her six children.

“People often ask me, ‘Why law school? Why now?’ I take a deep breath and say, Well, it’s something, quite honestly, I have thought about for a long time, for decades it seems.”

A self proclaimed Michigander, and having gone to high school and college in Michigan, Reese knew all about Cooley. She always kept it in the back of her mind whenever she thought about going to law school. Of course, as often happens, life got in the way, and law school was pushed aside. She got married, moved away, had children, got divorced – then suddenly, many years later, found herself back in Lansing working only blocks away from Cooley. Law school was literally staring her in the face.

“One day I got up and I thought, you know what? Stop just thinking about it!”

So, that day, Reese boldly walked into WMU-Cooley’s Lansing campus and asked the Admission Office for a tour. “All of my questions were answered,” Reese stated in relief. “I just knew, as I walked the halls, that this was the place I needed to be! And as I left Cooley, after touring the whole campus and the library, walking the few blocks back to work, I started to cry. It sounds kind of silly, but after all these years of wanting to do this, I knew that this was where I belonged. That was it, I took the LSAT a few months later.”

The Weekend Program was exactly what she needed to make this dream of law school possible. Reese started her law school journey working full-time while taking two classes, plus Intro to Law. Then, just as she was getting used to being a student again, life handed her another curve ball.

“I had just finished my first term, and as it happens in Telecomm, my industry of choice for 22 years, layoffs occurred,” declared Reese. “I again found myself taking a deep breath, and I thought, even with just a term of law school under my belt, I am going to try to dip my toe into the legal field to see what I can do. I approached the career development folks here at Cooley, and they sat down with me and revamped my entire 22 year Telecomm career into a legal resume for me! I then went to some job fairs and found that the legal field was very welcoming and open.  I even found a job as a student assistant working for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Once again, my choice to go to law school, even as an older student, was just reaffirmed for me!”

As any parent knows, this law school journey was not going to be alone. She needed her children to be on board and to support her decision. So she kept reinforcing it with them.

“When you guys start back to school, mommy is starting back to school,” Reese remembers saying to her children. She made it clear that she was going to need time to study, and that there will be times when you will want to do things, but we aren’t going to be able to do them. She let them know that they all needed to be flexible and will need to come up with some alternatives.

But she really never needed to worry. Her children have supported her wholeheartedly.

“I think, at least I hope, that in some small way they see that, wow, if mom can go and do this, then we can do anything too.”

As the first term ended for Reese, and her grades rolled in, the tears flowed again after seeing how she did. “The kids were like, ‘oh mom, did you not do well?’ and I said, ‘No! I got a four point!”

Her son understood why she was crying and why she was going to law school. “Mom, I know why you’re doing this. Because you want to help people.”

Reese wiped the tears and said, “That’s exactly why I am doing this.”


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Devolder Law Firm: New Grads Find Success Right Out of the Gate

Less than six months ago, Bryan and Elizabeth Devolder opened their own business, The Devolder Law Firm, in suburban Tampa. In the words of  Elizabeth Devolder, “We are very pleased. It’s been doing even better than we expected. We just had our third profitable week!” 

The fact that Elizabeth and Bryan Devolder have been able to create a successful law business right out of the gate is of no surprise to anyone else, especially WMU-Cooley’s Tampa Bay campus. devolder-door As students, both Bryan and Elizabeth were committed, exceptional law students. As attorneys, they are equally involved and dedicated to their new venture.

What really makes them successful though is that they are truly exceptional human beings – as a couple – and as individuals.

One only need look at Bryan and Elizabeth’s team national finals win in the American Bar Association (ABA) Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition to see that goals made are goals reached. Even National Jurist Magazine named Elizabeth a law student of the year in 2016. Both Bryan and Elizabeth graduated magna cum laude from law school. And they did it all while balancing work, school, family, and mentoring other law students while students.

Opening their law firm was yet another exercise in balancing what is important to them, including “helping others protect what matters most,” which is their business philosophy and motto.

Their new business has already proven to be, not only profitable, but very interesting and important work.

devolders“This week we had a call from a man and his wife,” shared Elizabeth. “The man had been served papers on the day of our phone call. His ex-wife had filed an ex parte motion, and the judge had already issued an order modifying the divorce judgment, with a hearing set for the next week. We immediately agreed to meet with him that day. When the gentleman arrived for his initial consultation, we were surprised to find out that the papers were from a court were from another state. This was just one of the many complicated pieces of the puzzle for this client.”

They have been able to serve and help many clients since they opened. So many that it looked like they might need to expand.

devolderlaw005_web“We have been so busy in our business that we have already hired another attorney,WMU-Cooley graduate Sarah Harris, to manage the Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning clients who need our help,” shared Bryan. “The business is growing, now with the help of three WMU-Cooley graduates, and we are proud of our alma mater. That’s just another reason why Cooley is an awesome law school choice.”

“One of the great things about Cooley is our nationwide network of graduates, ” added Elizabeth. “I’ve been able to do a simple Google search to find any number of listings that have included our graduates in almost any area of law or legal expertise. Even nice is that the Avvo listing of the graduates I have found have outstanding reviews. The last search I did was a Cooley graduate with an excellent score along with experience commensurate with, or exceeding, the qualifications of opposing counsel. And when I did contact his office, he returned my call in three minutes and let me know he appreciated the call from a fellow graduate. He was a joy to talk to, and very helpful. He even knew the opposing counsel and her work. He immediately understood the client’s situation and got us a letter we could forward to the client within an hour. He called our client back before the end of the day, despite the fact that he had a family obligation that evening!”

Both Bryan and Elizabeth also have benefited from the knowledge shared by other graduates.

“The graduates we have been in contact with have been more than open to discussing strategy with us and going the extra mile,” said Elizabeth. “And we are happy to also share our knowledge about Florida law. We enjoy working with them and they ‘enjoy working with young Cooley grads’ as one fellow grad said to me. Everybody wins!

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WMU-Cooley Law Professor Explains the Pros and Cons of Defending Yourself

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Listen to WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Tonya Krause-Phelan’s interview with WKZO’s Tim Abramowski on Kalamazoo’s Morning News discussing the pros and cons of defending yourself in court. Professor Krause-Phelan lends her legal expertise on the topic surrounding the recent Charleston church shooter trial.

http://wkzo.com/podcasts/kalamazoo-morning-news-podcast/78/judge-allows-alleged-charleston-church-shooter-to-defend-himself-in-court/

Professor Krause-Phelan frequently appears as a commentator on numerous radio, television, print, and internet media sources regarding criminal law and procedure issues. She has served as co-editor and editor of The Informant, a publication of the former Kent County Criminal Defense Bar. She also has served as editor of Right to Counsel, a publication of the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan.

At WMU-Cooley, Professor Krause-Phelan teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Defending Battered Women, Criminal Sentencing, and Ethics in Criminal Cases. Professor Krause-Phelan assists with the West Michigan Defenders Clinic. She also coaches national mock trial and moot court teams.

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Preparation. Preparation. Preparation: An interview with Hon. Christopher C. Sabella

The first thing 13th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Christopher C. Sabella tells law students on the first day of class is that he wants them to be “as comfortable in the courtroom as they are in their own living room.” Now that doesn’t sound very easy, but he goes on to say that one of the best ways to become comfortable in the courtroom is by preparing. In fact, the three top things you need to remember in the courtroom are, “Preparation. Preparation. Preparation!”

Below are questions we asked Judge Sabella during our interview, along with his answers and his advice.

Tell us a little about your career before becoming a circuit judge with the 13th judicial circuit court? 

Before my career as a judge with the 13th judicial circuit I had two of the greatest jobs that you can imagine. I served as the legal adviser for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office for a total of 12 years where I represented the sheriff, the agency and individual deputies in lawsuits that were filed against those different entities. I left the sheriff’s office and went to the U.S. attorney’s office and I served as an assistant U.S. attorney for a short period of time where I prosecuted federal cases in United States court. And one of the greatest feelings was to walk into court and to say I represent the United States of America. I’ll never forget that, that was a highlight of my career. Eventually I did return to the sheriff’s office as the deputy chief legal adviser where I supervised other attorneys and ultimately represented the agency, mainly in federal court in use of deadly force cases, until I was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to be a circuit court judge here in the 13th judicial circuit.

So what in your legal career has guided you the most in your life? 

I think the one most important thing that has guided me the most in my legal career, and particularly my time on the bench, is that I’ve learned how to treat people. The thing that I have learned over the years being a judge is, that people treat you the way that you treat them, and I treat everybody with the greatest amount of respect.

I’ve had individuals, even young men, who I’ve sentenced to prison for long periods of time – even one that I remember that I sentenced to life in prison – but the way that I had treated him throughout the course of the proceedings, and the way that I treated him at the time that I sentenced him, he left the courtroom thanking me even though he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison.  It just shocked me that he was able to treat me with such respect. I think that he was able to do that – and actually did that – because I had treated him with respect. I feel that that’s very important, and not just in the practice of law, not just in the courtroom, but in everyday life. You interact with people. Treat everybody with respect and they’ll return that respect.

In July 2010 you were recognized by Tampa Bay Magazine as Tampa Bay’s top lawyer in law enforcement. Was law enforcement an area of law you always had an interest or was it something you developed a passion for?

The time that I spent representing the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the time that I spent with law enforcement was something that I developed a passion for. In fact when I graduated from law school I had no idea that law enforcement agencies even had in-house counsel. It was a time when I was looking for a job and my cousin who was a judge here locally, a county judge, knew the chief legal adviser at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. He knew that I was looking for a job, so he called him and he agreed to meet me and gave me an interview, then hired me as a law clerk while I was waiting for my bar results. During that time, I guess I must have impressed them because when I got my bar results back they hired me as a legal adviser. I then spent the next six years there representing them as a legal adviser. During that time I developed an incredible passion for law enforcement. I ultimately was recognized by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as an expert in use of deadly force. I was on a committee picked by the governor to investigate officer-involved shootings, and ultimately developed a curriculum for FDLE for the investigation of officer-involved shootings.  I represented many officers in court for use of deadly force and developed an incredible passion for law enforcement.

You have been teaching trial skills at WMU-Cooley since 2014. What inspired you to go into teaching?

The thing that inspired me the most to go into teaching law students is my experience with young lawyers in my profession and my time as a judge. I always take the opportunity to spend time with young lawyers because I believe that they are the future of our career. Coming here and teaching law students is an opportunity to address them at an early point in their career and to assist them in becoming not only good lawyers – but great lawyers.

Tell me about your style of teaching. What do you find your students appreciate about it?

Students have told me often that they appreciate my teaching style. So it’s caused me to wonder what it is I’m doing right in the classroom. I think that, first of all, teaching a trial skills class is different than teaching any other class, because this is a class where the students have the opportunity to come down and to participate and to have hands-on learning experiences where they actually do each and every one of the parts of a trial. So we are having fun in class and that makes them enjoy class but most importantly I think why the students enjoy the class is that I am trying to make them comfortable in a courtroom. I tell them in the very beginning, the first day of class, that in order to be a great trial lawyer you’ve got to be comfortable in the courtroom. So I tell them everything we’re going to do throughout this class is going to be geared toward making you as comfortable in the courtroom as you are in your own living room. The second part of being a great trial attorney in addition to feeling comfortable in the courtroom is being prepared. So my students often hear me tell them preparation, preparation, preparation. And when you put those two things together, preparation and comfort in the courtroom, they’re going to be great trial attorneys.

What is it about WMU-Cooley students that standout to you?

There are several things that stand out to me about Cooley students, but overall I find that they’re just absolutely incredible. The diversity of the students is just amazing to me. I have had students that are executives in large corporations. I have had students that are ex-teachers, ex-law enforcement officers. I even had one student who was only 18 years old. She had been home-schooled through high school and college and here she was in her third year of law school and she was only 18 years old. She was an incredible student.

But the diversity is amazing, and that’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to the classroom here at Cooley, as well as so many other things, because everything else about this school is so amazing – the other faculty members, the administration, this facility that we teach in. Cooley Law School is just incredible to me, and it starts with the students and it ends with the faculty and the administration. I just can’t imagine not being a part of this great school.

What advice would you like to give to law students?

The best advice that I can give to a law student is that I truly believe that you can accomplish anything that you set your mind to. It starts with setting goals, then working hard to achieve those goals, staying focused throughout the process, and then always being prepared. Like I always say preparation, preparation, preparation makes great lawyers.

What have you learned from your law students?

As much as I’ve heard students tell me that they’ve learned from and they enjoy my class, I recognize that it’s not just a one-way street. I have incredible students and I’ve learned a lot from them. They continue to amaze me how focused they are and how committed they are. They work hard; they come to class prepared – and it really helps me stay focused in seeing them and how hard they work. It makes me a better judge.

As a judge in Hillsborough County, you have seen the good and the bad times. What are the challenges to being a judge in this community?

I have found that there are many challenges to being a judge, but one of the most challenging things is being able to, what we call “stay within our lane.” We are sworn to interpret the law, not to change the law. Too many judges try to change the law if they don’t like it. I recognize that I have to follow the law whether I like it or not, whatever the result may be. If I want to change the law then I should have been a legislator, and at some point in my career maybe I’ll do that; where I can make the law. But while I’m a judge, I have to interpret the law and follow it wherever it takes me.

Do you have any interesting memories from your time as a judge?

In my time in the courtroom as a judge, two of the most interesting memories that I have is when I was a young judge. The first one was when I was a young judge in family law. I had two individuals who were in their 70s, had been married over 50 years and were getting a divorce. The only thing that they couldn’t settle between the two of them was the wife’s family spaghetti recipe. They were fighting over the recipe. The husband wanted a copy of the recipe, and that was the only thing that was standing in between them and their divorce. I can’t help but think that it must have been really good spaghetti for 50 years!

The other most interesting thing that happened was my time in juvenile where I had a non-jury trial and the defendant was accused of breaking into a home and stealing several items. The state attorney was doing a direct examination of the victim and she was going into a very specific description of a set of shoes that had been stolen from her house. I was wondering why they were going into such detail over these shoes – it was absolutely not necessary, until the attorney asked ‘have you seen those shoes since the day that they were stolen,’ and the victim, who was on the witness stand, pointed to the shoes that the defendant was wearing and said, ‘yes, he’s wearing them today.’ Needless to say, I found him guilty of the charges!

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