Category Archives: Achievements

WMU-Cooley Graduation Keynote Larry Nolan: The Wonderful Beauty of the Law is Change

The Tampa Bay campus of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School honored 43 graduates during a commencement ceremony held at University of South Florida’s Marshall Center on January 8, 2017.  Students received their diplomas during the ceremony for earning their juris doctor degrees. WMU-Cooley 1976 graduate, Board Chair, and State Bar of Michigan President Lawrence P. Nolan was the keynote speaker. Below is his speech and advice to the newly minted attorneys.

Four months ago, as President Don LeDuc mentioned, I was sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, Justice Robert Young. The Chief Justice prefaced his remarks prior to swearing me in by stating that I would be the last State Bar President that he would be swearing in. He didn’t elaborate.

The official news hasn’t hit the streets yet, but I suspect that you will be reading very shortly that a new justice will be elected as Chief Justice of the Court. It signifies to me that every journey started eventually comes to an end. We are constantly reminded that nothing lasts forever. It seems like my journey as a lawyer is always just a beginning, as an old chapter is laid to rest. I recall sitting where you are sitting here today.

I found the joy in graduating from law school in the first class at Cooley in Lansing, Michigan, back in January of 1976. But the joy was not in just getting law school over with, but rather in reaching my goal to become an attorney. Becoming an attorney was a goal that I had set early in my childhood, maybe not unlike many of you. Congratulations! You have now succeeded in so many ways to reach your goal. You have sacrificed a lot to get here.

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Remember, however, it’s not about just reaching a goal. The journey continues. You will continue to be challenged. The bar examination is next. Winning your first trial may be just around the corner. Writing your first brief, your first appeal, your first complaint, are all first encounters along the journey. The joy of being a lawyer is that the journey really never ends. It just continues to change along the way.

The only one thing constant in being a lawyer I can tell you is change. Adaptability is the key to survival. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” The wonderful beauty of the law is change. You will always be challenged to think, and to use the foundational building blocks that you leave law school with to be thoroughly analytical.

As you already heard, I was admitted to the first class of Cooley Law School back in January of 1973. It was a night class. Everyone had eight to five jobs during the day. I had the good fortune of getting a job as a law clerk working for the only minority law firm in Lansing. A year or so later, I was able to get a job as a security officer in the Michigan Court of Appeals. I never lost sight of the big prize. I was focused. I was determined and I was happy. I felt like I had never learned so much, especially after my first semester. Then again, after my second semester and then I realized that going to law school and being a lawyer was a continuum of learning. That, my graduates, is the journey.

After graduating in January 1976, I went into practice on my own immediately. Much has changed from that date, now more than 41 years ago. I was appointed to the Thomas M. Cooley Board of Directors in 1984. I have served continuously for the past 33 years. I was elected Vice Chair and then Chair of the Board approximately six years ago. I always considered it a privilege and a gift to serve. I am, and have always been, a big proponent of access to legal education. Cooley’s admission policy allows that mission to exist and be flexible enough to meet the individual student needs.

I got involved in my local Bar Association politics and then eventually in State Bar Association politics. I felt like I had a duty to let people know that Cooley Law School produced lawyers with a legal education second to none. I was on a mission. Nobody was going to talk about Cooley Law School not being as good as the other law schools in the state or the country.

But enough about me. This is not about me. This is not my day. My day in the lights was four months ago. It’s now time for me to carry out the most sacred goals of this great profession at, not only the state, but also at the national stage. Today is your day. No one else’s. Today is special, for you have reached a goal in your journey of becoming a lawyer. In just a few moments you will receive a paper called a degree. President LeDuc and I have signed that piece of paper certifying to the world that you have become an attorney. Enjoy it. Bask in the bright lights. Go out for dinner with family and friends, for tomorrow comes only too quickly.

Tomorrow it is time for you to go to work. It’s time on the continuum of becoming a lawyer to your journey of studying for the Bar exam. You cannot over-study for the Bar. There is no such thing. And you cannot begin to continue this journey too soon. Someone once said “The nicest thing about the future is that it always starts tomorrow.” Your future is tomorrow. You owe it to yourself and everyone, including me, President Don LeDuc, and this distinguished faculty, to pass the Bar exam on your first attempt.

My father was one of 13 children growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the early 1900s. They had no I-Pads. They had no cell phones, knew nothing about blogging, tweeting, Facebook, YouTube, match.com, or instant messaging. He immigrated to Quebec at 14, then to Montreal, then Windsor, and eventually the United States. Nothing was easy for him or my mom. He was not formally educated with degrees, diplomas, and the like.

He did have, however, several sayings that stuck with me through my life. One of my favorites was “Keep your nose to the grindstone” and “Don’t get mixed up with no rubby dubs!”

For years, my siblings and I debated the true definition of a “rubby dub,” only to ultimately conclude that it meant someone who couldn’t comprehend or appreciate what you were doing. In essence, work hard to attain your goal, and don’t get sidetracked. Another one of my favorite sayings is, when he would tell me that, “When the circus comes to town, don’t let the man with the balloons go by.” Think of that. So when you have struggled and sacrificed, and have reached your goal, take advantage of the preparation and excitement of being at the circus because one the balloon man goes by, the next time that you see him again is when he is all out of balloons. Seize the opportunity. It is here. It is now.

My dad never graduated from high school, but he always was prepared for the time that opportunity presented itself. Nothing, and I mean nothing – not talent, not intelligence, not high LSAT scores or GPA, not money or influence, will ever take a higher place in your life than preparation. Preparation, yes preparation, will allow you to pass the Bar exam. There is no substitute. It will serve you well through life to be better prepared in knowing the facts, in knowing the law, and in knowing and understanding people.

Secondly, “When you get there, remember where you came from.” Third, a Winston Churchill quote that’s one of my favorites, “Never, never, never give up!” Giving up is not an option for you. I said, giving up is not an option for you. You have come too far. You have sacrificed too much. You leave here with a special degree. Make those who supported you all these years proud.

More importantly, make yourself proud of who you are now, what you have become, and know that you are in a special place. Congratulations, and good luck. You are the future of this great profession. I’m very proud of all of you. Good bye. Do good and great things, and accomplishments will be your personal and professional reward.

God speed, and may the words of an old Irish blessing be always with you.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warmly upon your face.

And the rains fall softly upon your fields,

And until we meeting again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

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New Year Brighter for Wrongfully Convicted Michigan Citizens

When the state puts an innocent man or woman behind bars, it has the obligation to financially support that person’s reintegration into society. For over a decade, state Senator Steve Bieda has sponsored legislation to compensate Michigan citizens who have been wrongfully convicted at the hands of the state. On December 21, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law the “Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act.”

Michigan State Sen. Steve Bieda and Rep. Stephanie Chang working to help pass legislation to compensate Michigan citizens who are wrongfully imprisoned.

Michigan State Sen. Steve Bieda and Rep. Stephanie Chang working to help pass legislation to compensate Michigan citizens who are wrongfully imprisoned.

Senate Bill 291, sponsored by Bieda, provides $50,000 for each year of incarceration to individuals convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, House Bill 5815, sponsored by state Representative Stephanie Chang, provides the reentry services to exonerees. The measures are now Public Acts 343 and 344 of 2016.

Exonerees will now be eligible for the same reentry services that Michigan parolees receive.

  • Reentry services consistent with the services received by parolees for up to two years following the date of discharge.
  • Reentry housing consistent with the traditional housing provided to parolees for up to one year following the date of discharge.
  • Assistance in obtaining vital documents, including state identification.

Exonerees previously received no assistance from the state after their wrongful conviction.

Michigan joins 31 other states, the District of Columbia and the federal government in providing compensation to the wrongfully convicted. Receiving compensation will not be automatic. Exonerees must file their claim in the Court of Claims and prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence.

Public Acts 343 and 344 will help Michigan exonerees reintegrate back into society and improve their quality of life. You can never fully compensate someone for his or her wrongful conviction, but you can do what is just and right. The new law is a step in the right direction, bringing renewed hope for a fair and caring criminal justice system in the new year.

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WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon with exoneree Donya Davis.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon with Donya Davis.

The author, Marla Mitchell-Cichon, is the director of WMU-Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project.  She was honored in fall 2016 with the State Bar of Michigan’s Champion of Justice Award and Ingham County Bar Association’s Leo A. Farhat Outstanding Lawyer Award. She led the efforts for the release of WMU-Cooley Innocence Project’s client Donya Davis. Davis was wrongfully convicted of carjacking, armed robbery and rape in 2007. Davis was exonerated in 2014, and is the third client exonerated by the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project. The Project is currently working on 15 promising cases and screening approximately 200 cases for factual innocence.

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WMU-Cooley graduate Jon Kohler: Leading Plantation Broker in USA

WMU-Cooley Law School graduate Jon Kohler (Adams Class, 1997), is the founder of Jon Kohler & Associates, the #1 plantation brokerage in the United States. Kohler attributes the work ethic and education he gained at WMU-Cooley Law School with his continued success. Read below Mr. Kohler’s interview with writer Adam York._dsc7439

Q: How did you end up at WMU-Cooley Law School?

A: After undergrad at Florida State University, I interned for Florida senator Sherry Walker in her senate office and law firm. She was the youngest state senator at the time and a neighbor to my ranch today. She went to Cooley, and literally flew up there with me and told me this is where I was going to law school. They still remember her as a student years later because of her country accent.

Q: Tell us a bit about your time at WMU-Cooley.

A: I actually graduated in fewer than three years in 1997. I was president of the Cooley Outdoors Club and met some lifelong friends from this experience.  I sold Barbri Bar Review Courses while at Cooley. One of the funniest memories I have about my time there is that in one class I wrote a business plan on essentially what I am doing now and only got a C! Haha. I bet the professor never thought I would become the top plantation broker in the country. I believed getting paid on a commission basis as a broker rather than hourly as an attorney. It was a no-brainer. The major reason I went to law school was to learn how to broker large tracts of land and be the best broker one could be.

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Cooley was very, very tough. In undergrad, I wasn’t a very focused student. Cooley is what I needed to build my confidence and learn how to be assertive. It was very hard work, and they never took the pressure off, even for seniors. You had to really want it, and badly enough to graduate. I was in the top half of my class, but I didn’t feel special. I received the “Book Award” in Evidence, which is a big deal since you received the best grade in the entire class. I remember watching the OJ Simpson trial a lot during my time at Cooley – maybe I watched too much of the trial on TV while I was going through law school!

Q: What did you do after you graduated from WMU-Cooley?

A: I had no problems whatsoever with the Florida Bar and Montana Bar. The Cooley education was excellent, and I seemed to have quite a knowledge advantage over other recent graduates from other schools. I always felt I had a much better education than any other recent graduate I encountered, and they always seemed very impressed.

Q: Tell us about your business, Jon Kohler & Associates.

A:  Jon Kohler & Associates specializes in selling plantations, ranches, and high quality timberland, primarily in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. We’ve recently brought our services into South Carolina. Over the past 25 years, we have developed a specialty brokerage, such that we represent the major landowners and investors in the plantation niche. We are best known as the preeminent source of knowledge of high-quality land investment opportunities and for representing the very top properties in this niche.

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Since the “market-reset” of 2008 alone, we have closed nearly 200,000 acres. Examples include some of the most prestigious plantation sales in the Thomasville/Tallahassee and Albany markets such as Disston (twice), Greenwood, Longpine, Southern Heritage, and Nochaway, as well as holding title to the largest timberland sale (Rock Creek/Molpus) in the Southeast in eight years.

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Jon Kohler with wife Erica and sons Ashton and Greyson

 

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Nikki Filizetti Racine: Journey to Health Changes Lives, One Step at Time

WMU-Cooley 2001 graduate Nikki Filizetti Racine is Detroit Medical Center’s 2016 Epic Heart HeroNIKKI’S STORY started on August 14, 1992. “It was a day that literally took my breath away. I was 16, cruising around Marquette, Michigan with two of my high-school girlfriends, young and carefree. We were at a stop sign when I suddenly saw headlights and everything went black. The next thing I knew, I was strapped to a stretcher, unable to see, a neck brace in place, and being placed in an ambulance.”

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“I remember the doctor coming into my hospital room that evening and telling me that I was incredibly lucky: I had nearly been paralyzed from the neck down. In a matter of seconds, everything had changed. My basketball career had come to a halt, my short-term memory was drastically affected, and my freedom was gone. All that I could control was the food that I put into my mouth … or didn’t.

I regained my health, fought back from my closed-head injury, and — on September 15, 2001 — I earned my law degree. This was the first time in my life that I was truly proud of myself and what I could achieve. With the ups in life come the downs, however. Less than six years later, thanks to a root canal gone drastically wrong, I became victim to a rampant infection that ate away a large portion of my jawbone. After countless surgeries and procedures, I had to have all of my teeth pulled. This was an excruciating experience; for years, I was unable to chew and properly nourish my body and, as a result, my heart continued to weaken. I remained unaware of what my heart was going through until 2009, when my husband went to Australia on a fishing trip. A few days after he left, my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest.

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Ironically, my husband is an ER Physician but, with him being away and unreachable, I had to take matters into my own hands: I headed to the very Emergency Room where my husband was employed. There, I learned that my immune system had been severely weakened from my dental nightmare and, as a result, my body could not fight off infection. I was diagnosed with Viral Cardiomyopathy; my heart was functioning at only 30 percent. A bicuspid aortic valve (heart murmur) was discovered during this time, making it more difficult for the weakened heart muscle to pump. My cardiologist reported that there was a 50 percent chance that I would need a valve replacement in the future.

I was so scared; I still had so much to accomplish. I desperately wanted to have children. I wanted to make a difference in the world. I took my heart health into my hands and I concentrated on my healing. Nearly two years later, an echocardiogram showed that my heart function had improved to nearly normal. My husband and I were concerned with the cardiac stress pregnancy might cause, however. After several consultations, we learned that a risk of relapse was indeed possible with pregnancy. Knowing this, we chose to create our family through adoption. We soon received a call from our adoption agency that a baby boy had been born, and we had been chosen to become his parents. My joy was indescribable: I was now a mommy. I now had another reason to remain healthy and to keep my heart happy. We have since added a beautiful little boy from Ethiopia to our family.

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My husband and I continue to live a healthy lifestyle and promote wellness among our family and friends. I have completed two full marathons and numerous shorter distances, and I am currently training for my third (and bucket-list) marathon, the New York City Marathon in November 2016. In 2012, I became the Director of Fund Development and Outreach for Adoption Associates, Inc., the very agency through which we had adopted our baby boy. I’d finally found my niche. I raise funds to help other children find their forever families. I created the annual Touched by Adoption 5K Run/Walk, where we celebrate adoption while promoting a healthy lifestyle. My heart continues to remain healthy as I spread the word about living life to the fullest. I certainly have fought my way back from moments that almost took my breath away forever, and I cherish moments that create memories with each breath I take. My heart is so full.”

nikkiracinec-183x3005,154 PRECIOUS MIRACLES
“This is the remarkable number of children that Adoption Associates has placed into loving homes since its creation in 1990. Two of those beautiful souls are right here in my home. I created this 5K Run/Walk five years ago as a way to celebrate adoption, promote health and wellness, and to and bring together all those who have been “touched by adoption” and/or support our mission in some way. This is one of my favorite days of the year. Changing lives … one step at a time.”

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Swearing-in counts as a best day in an attorney’s life

Being sworn in as a brand new attorney is an important day in the life of every lawyer. The Hon. Christopher C. Sabella of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Florida agrees wholeheartedly. He warmly welcomed the seven WMU-Cooley Law School graduates and their families this evening and reminded each of the former law students of the hard work and dedication that got them to this day.

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He noted that, this day, the day an attorney is sworn in, counts as one of the best days in an attorney’s life. He aligned the importance of this day to the day you marry or the day of a child’s birth. And the smiles on every one of the new attorney’s and their loved ones faces looked like he might be right! WMU-Cooley Law School Tampa Bay campus graduates (left to right) Michelle Ace-Carroll, Jennifer Alderman, Elizabeth Devolder, Philistine Hamdan, Eric Bossardt,  Cristina Solis, and Kymberly Starr were sworn in to The Florida Bar on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016.

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House Criminal Justice Committee Unanimously Supports Bills for the Wrongfully Convicted: Will Michigan be the 31st state to right the wrong?

Take a minute to consider all that you might lose during the years of a wrongful incarceration. Then consider how you would begin to put your life back together. Where would you live? How would you support yourself? How would you explain where you have been when you apply for a job? How would your medical and psychological needs be met? These are just a few of the challenges that Michigan citizens who have been wrongfully convicted face on a daily basis. – Director of WMU-Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project Marla Mitchell Cichon

My client, Donya Davis, is a case in point. Mr. Davis was wrongfully convicted in 1997. Mr. Davis was convicted of criminal sexual assault. At trial, Mr. Davis presented an alibi defense. And there was DNA evidence excluding Mr. Davis from the rape kit. Nevertheless, Mr. Davis was convicted after a bench trial. The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project obtained additional DNA testing in 2013 and Mr. Davis was excluded on all the tested samples and the new evidence pointed to another male contributor. In light of the post-conviction DNA results, the State agreed to the Project’s motion for new trial and all charges against Mr. Davis were dismissed in November 2014.

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In prison, Mr. Davis took advantage of all the education and training he could, including earning a paralegal certificate and attending culinary school. Fortunately, Mr. Davis has strong family support and he has worked hard to get back on his feet since his exoneration. Nevertheless, life continues to be a challenge. This week the House Criminal Justice Committee considered Senate Bill 291. The proposed law would provide compensation for wrongfully convicted Michigan citizens. If passed, Michigan would become the 31st state, along with the District of Columbia and the federal government, to provide compensation to wrongfully convicted individuals.

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The Committee also considered  House Bill 5815 which provides exonerees with the access to housing and other services. Both bills were supported unanimously by the committee. Both bills would make a difference in Mr. Davis’s life. These two pieces of legislation will give Michigan exonerees the ability to reintegrate back into society and improve their quality of life. Making these bills law is both right and just.


Blog author, Marla Mitchell-Cichon, is the director of WMU-Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project as well as the co-director of the Access to Justice Clinic for Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. Professor Mitchell-Cichon has extensive practice experience in criminal and poverty law. Her litigation experience includes practicing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the Ohio Supreme Court, and trial courts in both Ohio and Michigan.

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Military Feature Jordan Wilson: Distance No Barrier to Getting Sworn into the Michigan Bar While on Active Duty

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. This month we feature U.S. Army Judge Advocate Jordan Wilson who recently graduated from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, and was able to get sworn into the Michigan Bar while on active duty alongside his parents Larry and Melissa Wilson via video conference. Photos and video were also shared with Jordan’s siblings, including his brother in Ethiopia!

swearing in wlns

“What an honor it is to be able to do this in here at the JAG’s in Virginia and be able to be sworn in in Michigan,” said Lt. Wilson. “The huge support I got from Cooley specifically and General McDaniel for putting this on, being able to do this for me is truly a great honor.” – WLNS TV 6 coverage.

Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Amy Ronayne Krause administered the oath from the Michigan National Guard Headquarters, where Jordan’s family, friends and colleagues were able to attend the ceremony via video conferencing. The media was also there to cover Jordan’s important day. Wilson, who is serving at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, graduated cum laude in January 2016 from WMU-Cooley. He passed the Michigan Bar Exam in February. 

Military rank and title: First Lieutenant Jordan Wilson, Judge Advocate, U.S. Army
Why did you decide to go to law school and why did you choose WMU-Cooley: I knew that a legal career was always something that interested me. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to intern with the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office during college. That experience helped to cement the decision that I wanted to attend law school. Cooley was a perfect fit for what I was looking for in a law school. Being from mid-Michigan, I was very familiar with the school and had close friends attend Cooley. I was really interested in the different scheduling options offered as it helped me to be able to work all throughout law school and meet my commitments as an officer in the Army Reserves. Cooley also has some of the best scholarships for incoming students that I could find anywhere.

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Career description: I attended Liberty University on an Army ROTC scholarship. After graduating, I commissioned into the Army Reserves as a Military Intelligence officer. During my time in law school I served with two different reserve units in Michigan. I had the opportunity to serve as a Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, and as a Battalion Staff Officer. Cooley allowed me the chance to be a full-time student and continue my service. One of the highlights of law school was being able to attend the foreign study program in Oxford. During my 3L year, I submitted an application for the Army JAG Corps and found out I was selected for Active Duty literally as I was getting ready to leave for my final law school exam. It definitely increased the pressure on the last exam – which was Secured Transactions!
Career goals: I am looking forward to a career as a Judge Advocate for the Army. The JAG Corps has a reputation for giving new attorneys hands-on experience from day one. One of the things that really intrigued me about the JAG Corps is that there is chance to get exposure in a wide range of legal fields: Criminal Law, Fiscal and Contracts Law, Operational Law, and Administrative Law. Most of all, I am excited for the chance to continue my military service by putting into practice my legal education.
Tell us a little about you: I have grown up in Michigan and would love to make it back after my career as an Army JAG is over. Outside of the Army and the legal field, I love Detroit Tigers baseball and University of Michigan football. I also love to go salmon fishing out on Lake Michigan.
Wilson was commissioned as a military intelligence officer in the United States Army Reserve after attending Liberty University on a four-year ROTC scholarship. He has served as a platoon leader, executive officer, and battalion intelligence officer. While attending law school, Wilson gained experience in various areas of the law, which included estate planning, federal appellate brief writing, policy analysis, and serving on the Ingham County’s Veterans’ Treatment Court. He also interned with the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office.

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