Category Archives: Student News, Achievements, Awards

The best people, an excellent legal education program, and first-class facilities – essential attributes of every successful law school.

Military Feature Brien Brockway: Military Background Great Training for Law School Success

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 December, we feature WMU-Cooley law 1L student Brien Brockway, a U.S. Army Veteran. He was a Fire Team Leader with the infantry in Afghanistan. After careful consideration, he decided to change careers to allow more time with his family. That decision led him to law school at WMU-Cooley.

Military rank and title: U.S. Army Veteran, Fire Team Leader Specialist

Why did you decide to go to law school: I decided to go to law school for several reasons. First, for my personal knowledge. Second, for my family and the future of my children. Third, for those that I will serve in the future. At first, the idea of law seemed like a large and daunting task, but what I found was that my experience in the military, and the lessons I learned, really prepared me for what lay ahead in law school, like handling the stress and the workload. The professors have also been very good about setting students up for success. I am also working closely with the Academic and Career Services to start networking now to figure out my best fit and career path after law school.

Why did WMU-Cooley stand out for you: Although I like working in the military and service, I felt like there was something missing, so I did some research on law schools and WMU-Cooley made a lot of sense. They offered good scholarships and, most importantly, they offered part-time and evening classes, which was key since my wife and I work full-time and we have a family.

Career: My career took multiple turns. I have worked in lead abatement, education, and the military. Then after leaving the military, I pursued a degree in public administration knowing that I still wanted to be involved in some aspect of service. My present job is working with the Kalamazoo County Area Agency on Aging, working for veterans, and with veterans. After law school, my goal is to stay in southwest Michigan and practice business and civil law.

Tell us a little about you: I have lived in southwest Michigan since I was 11 years old. I completed my bachelors in history and theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I spent nearly 24 months in the Army National Guard and three years on Active Duty with 2-2 Infantry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. After being discharged, I moved my family back to Kalamazoo, Michigan, then started law school at WMU-Cooley in May 2016.  My wife and I have been married seven years and we have three children.

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Military Feature John O’Neill: Sees bright 2nd career in the law after serving country for 28 years

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 WMU-Cooley law student John O’Neill who retired from the U.S. Army at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after 28 years of active service.

Military rank and title: Ret. U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel

Why law school and WMU-Cooley: As my retirement drew near, the natural progression for many of my peers was to go into government service or to serve as a civilian military contractor. Yet those options did not appeal to me. Law school did. My biggest concern, though, was time. I knew that I didn’t want to spend three years attending school after I retired. Fortunately I was stationed in Michigan when I heard about WMU-Cooley Law School’s flexible scheduling options and generous scholarships. I was able to start taking classes part-time while I was still on active duty, which allowed me to complete half of my courses before I retired. Now that I have less than a year to go before I graduate from law school, I am looking forward to launching a new second career as a public defender.

Career description:  While serving in Alabama in the ’90s, I completed a bachelor of science degree in Justice Studies from  Athens State College, along with a master of science degree in Management from Troy State University.  I received my commission as an Army Aviator from Alabama A&M University where I was cross-enrolled in their ROTC program. Over the decades, I have served throughout the world, including Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Germany. My military career consisted of: 4 years (1984-1988) as an enlisted infantryman with the second Ranger Battalion in Ft. Lewis, Washington, and 24 years (1991-2015) as a commissioned officer. During the years in between (1988-1991), I also served as a police officer in Huntsville, Alabama.

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Career responsibilities: I have served at every level of management in the U.S. Army, most recently as the Network Integration Lead for the Program Executive Office , Ground Combat Systems, until my retirement. I was responsible for the integration and commonality of all networked systems among the Army’s ground combat fleets, plus the coordination of all staff actions within a PEO that manages the entire Abrams Main Battle Tank fleet, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle fleet, and numerous other ground combat systems.

Decorations: Legion of Merit,  Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal (2), Meritorious Service Medal (5),  Joint Service Commendation Medal (2) , Army Commendation Medal (3), and  Army Achievement Medal (4)

Skill Qualifications: Senior Army Aviator Wings, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Wings, Expert Infantryman Badge, Air Assault Wings, Jungle Expert Badge

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Cadets Learn Testifying Skills and Rules of Law to Protect Courtroom Justice

Courtroom truth and justice depends on reliable testimony, tested by skilled cross-examination. When the witnesses don’t know the evidence rules and courtroom conventions, though, honest witnesses giving accurate accounts can look confused or (worse) dissembling. Justice is then undone, not done. WMU-Cooley has long supported programs that train testifying professionals in varying fields on those evidence rules and courtroom conventions, to ensure that courtrooms are places of justice rather than injustice.

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The law school’s students and professors, with the help of visiting judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and other lawyer practitioners, have direct- and cross-examined family court caseworkers, social workers, police officers, and other social-service professionals in the law school’s trial courtrooms, while training them in the rules and critiquing their performances.

Most recently, Grand Rapids-campus students hosted 32 police academy cadets. Muskegon County District Court Judge Raymond Kostrzewa presided in the campus’s trial courtroom, while Chief Trial Attorney Matt Roberts and Public Defender Chad Catalino conducted the cadets’ direct and cross-examinations.

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Law students sat second-chair and also served as jurors, while helping to guide and critique the cadets. Two law students Jon Paasch and Amol Huprikar, both of them experienced law enforcement officers, addressed the cadets, skillfully answering their many questions to great appreciation. Adjunct Professor Brett Gardner, a former chief assistant prosecutor, coordinated the event.

While the lawyer, law student, and judge participants share their abundant knowledge and expertise with the cadets, the main service that the programs provide may simply be acclimation to the often-intimidating courtroom environment. Courtrooms and the high stakes that their matters entail make people nervous. Nerves and other emotions undermine concentration, listening, memory, recall, narration, and other communication skills. Nervous witnesses do poor jobs of testifying.

WMU-Cooley values the public service and commitment of the professionals who participated.

miller_nelsonBlog author Nelson Miller is the Associate Dean and Professor at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus. He practiced civil litigation for 16 years before joining the WMU-Cooley faculty. He has argued cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, and United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and filed amicus and party briefs in the United States Supreme Court. He has has many published books, casebooks, book chapters, book reviews, and articles on legal education, law practice, torts, civil procedure, professional responsibility, damages, international law, constitutional law, university law, bioethics, and law history and philosophy. He also teaches law classes on the Kalamazoo, Michigan campus of Western Michigan University.

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Quintessential Practical Legal Scholarship: WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Intern Joseph Daly Argues Client’s Case

Blog author, Marla Mitchell-Cichon, is the director of WMU-Cooley 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.

What if you had to argue your first case before you passed the bar examination? Cooley graduate and legal intern Joseph Daly did just that.

Joseph Daly and Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon at graduation in May 2016

Joseph Daly and Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon at graduation in May 2016

In March, the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of Octaviano Molina Jr., citing new evidence that casts doubt on Molina’s involvement in a 1998 rape case. Legal intern Joseph Daly wrote the motion under my supervision. He spent countless hours researching, drafting and fine-tuning his arguments.

In May, Joseph graduated from WMU-Cooley, but stayed on with the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project as a volunteer. His hard work paid off — the case was set for oral argument on the motion on June 27. In his first court appearance, Joseph argued the motion before Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph J. Farah.

The Cooley Innocence Project Team

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project team

Our office put Joseph through several practice arguments. I assured him that he was prepared for any question posed by the judge. Except for the one he was asked right out of the box. Judge Farah asked Joseph if he was familiar with the Michigan Supreme Court decision in People v. Swain. I gulped. We didn’t cover that case in our practice arguments. The case itself wasn’t particularly relevant to our case, but I was concerned the question would throw Joseph off. But then I heard Joseph respond that he was familiar with the case and that he had watched the oral arguments. Yes, I recommended to all of the innocence project interns to watch the oral arguments in the case, but students don’t always do the “extra reading.” But Joseph was thinking and acting like a lawyer.

After hearing argument, Judge Farah ordered an evidentiary hearing to consider new evidence, including DNA evidence that identifies a second man never charged with the crime. Joseph had to remind the judge that the hearing would have to be scheduled after the July bar exam.

Joseph promised Mr. Molina that he would follow through with his case to the end.  Joseph has stayed on with the project to do just that. You can’t argue with that.

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Law School Transforms into Actual Court: Students Get to Listen and Learn

Western Michigan University Cooley Law Tampa Bay recently got to host, for the second time, the Second District Court of Appeals. “It is a rare and amazing opportunity for students to see an actual Appellate court session with working attorneys offering oral arguments and those attorneys being asked questions by the judges,” exclaimed WMU-Cooley student Kimberly Canals Simpson.  

In fact, she felt that students and faculty alike were riveted for hours listening to the three arguments, which included two criminal cases and one civil cases. The cases were heard by Judge Edward C. LaRose, Judge Samuel J. Salario, Jr., and Judge Daniel H. Sleet.

The 120 person Courtroom Classroom at WMU-Cooley was packed with law students and local attorneys. All there to listen and learn. The three judges agreed. This is exactly the kind of opportunity every law student should experience before they ever graduate.

After the conclusion of the court session, the three judges came back into the Appellate Courtroom without their robes and allowed the Cooley students to ask any questions they had about the appellate process, what judges are looking for in an intern and many other subjects.  It was a great day to observe the Second DCA’s docket and as a fantastic opportunity to educate and train law students in court procedure.

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This is the third time in the last two year that the Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal held oral arguments at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus. The law school’s state-of-the-art courtrooms transform easily into a court site for students, attorneys, and other members of the public.

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Military Feature Sierra Whitaker-Davis: Law Profession Shares Military Values of Integrity, Service, and Excellence

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 WMU-Cooley law student Sierra Whitaker-Davis. Sierra is a  Master Sergeant with the United States Air Force Reserve.

Military rank and title: Master Sergeant (E7), United States Air Force Reserve

Why did you decide to go to law school and why did you choose WMU-Cooley: I decided to go to law school for various reasons. When I did decide to go to law school, I was still on active duty and stationed in Germany. I took the risk of applying to various law schools in hopes that once I was selected that I would be able to leave the active duty sooner than expected. Stars aligned and not only was I accepted to law schools, but I was also granted the opportunity to go into the Air Force Reserves and maintain my rank. I knew at that time it was meant to be for me. I chose WMU-Cooley due to its location and it being a flexible schedule. I am able to manipulate each term schedule to meet my rigorous personal schedule, as well as make time for internships. There is no other law school that has the flexibility that Cooley has when it comes to how many credits are taken during a term and the time of day that the courses are held. Additionally, the staff and professors are fantastic.

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Military Experience: Joining the Air Force is one of the best decisions I have ever made for my professional career. It granted me the opportunity to perform a job that would not have been experienced in the civilian world. Right after basic training, I was hand selected to join the elite honor guard in Washington D.C., which provides presidential support ceremonies as well as providing honors for the fallen in Arlington National Cemetery. This experience allowed me to march in President Reagan’s funeral procession, provided ceremonial honors to Chief Justice Rehnquist, various Tomb of the Unknown Soldier wreath- laying ceremonies, and much more. After that tour, I became a logistic planner. This job (which I still work) has afforded me the opportunity to deploy in support of OIF, OEF, as well as other operations. After over 10 and half years of active duty, I have joined the Reserves out of MacDill Air Force Base. The Air Force is rewarding and my love for the military will keep me around until I am forced to retire. I am looking forward to my second career in practicing law. I appreciate that the profession shares the same level of integrity, service, and excellence that I abide by.

Career Goals: I love the military and plan to utilize my degree to join the JAG Corps Reserve. With my civilian career, I am pretty flexible. After interning with various governmental agencies in the Tampa area, including a judicial internship with a circuit court judge, an appellate state court judge, assisting the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the State Attorney’s Office, I believe that I will end up working for the government at some point. However, there is so much to learn in the civilian sector and I do have an interest in international law, contracts, and other transactional areas of law. In the end, my goal is to be successful in the law. “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” ― Abraham Lincoln

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Tell us a little about you: I am pleased to say that I am Californian, though I haven’t lived there in the last 12 years. I have been married to my best friend for seven years and am a full time mother to my two step-daughters that are now 13 and 9. They keep us very busy with their various activities. I also raised my baby sister during her teen years, who I am very proud of. She is a soldier in the Army National Guard and will be attending the police academy to become a law enforcement officer. Her twin, my other sister, has followed in my footsteps and is currently active duty Air Force. Traveling is the favorite activity that our family likes to do. We will take weekend trips and week-long trips, sporadically throughout the year. I am a huge animal lover (and so are my girls), as a result we have three cats and a greyhound. I love to support local animal charities. Lastly, you can find me most of the time in the gym, reading an autobiography, or making time for friends and family.

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Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter explains to fellow WMU-Cooley graduates that your career is often like “tacking”

kevin_cotterState Representative Kevin Cotter earned his Juris Doctor from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in 2006 and was the keynote speaker for WMU-Cooley’s graduating class this May. He was first elected in November 2010 to serve the citizens of the 99th House district in Isabella County, Michigan, as well as 10 townships in Midland County. Representative Cotter serves as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the Majority Vice Chair of the Elections and Ethics Committee, and is a member of the Insurance, Michigan Competitiveness, and Tax Policy committees. Below are his words of wisdom to his fellow graduates during the May 22, 2016 commencement, along with his Michigan’s Big Show radio interview.

Good afternoon graduates, administrators, faculty, family and friends. It is an honor to be here with you today to celebrate the achievements of this graduating class.  I am especially honored, because it was 10 years ago this month that I sat in your seats and received my law degree from this fine institution.  I am thankful to this institution for giving me a unique education that set me up for success for a lifetime.

Congratulations to those of you who are crossing the finish line today and moving on to the next phase of your professional lives.

For some of you, that means beginning your careers. For others, it means finishing a goal and advancing careers that already exist.

You should all be proud of the incredible effort that you have put in to get here today. Like all important life milestones, the time you spent here will change your life.  It will start you on a new path, and it will open you up to new people and new ideas.  You now have the tools you need to accomplish great things.

The classes and instructors at Cooley have given you skills you can’t get elsewhere and an opportunity to prepare yourselves for a lifetime of making a difference.

As I think back to my special day 10 years ago, many of the memories of that day have faded. But I can remember one aspect as clearly as if it were yesterday.  I can remember sitting in my seat almost in tears thinking about my family and friends that joined me that day.  I was amazed by the sacrifices that they had made and all of the love and support that they gave me throughout the journey.  I have no doubt that all of you are feeling the same way today.  Graduates, will you please rise and with a round of applause, make sure that those that have joined you today know how thankful you are for all that they have given to you.

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Graduates, today is a milestone, and it is a significant one. It should be celebrated and cherished, but remember that it is a milestone and not a final destination.  Now the question becomes, what will you do with the degree that you receive today.  It will be proudly displayed on your home or office wall for the rest of your life, but don’t look at it as a piece of paper in an expensive frame, look at it as tool.  A tool to do great things in this world to advance your life and to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

I would like to share with you some advice that I received long ago from a mentor. He was talking to me about life and I believe trying to open up my mind to the many options that existed that I may not have seen at the time.  He asked me if I had ever sailed and if I knew what tacking was?  I answered “no” to both questions.  He explained that when you are sailing, the wind often is not blowing in exactly the direction that you need it to, to get to where you would like to go.  Sometimes you have to go this way and then that way to make incremental progress toward your ultimate destination. This is tacking.  This conversation stuck with me and my professional career has certainly been, and I expect will continue to be, one of tacking.

Tacking or coming about is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel (which is sailing approximately into the wind) turns its bow into the wind through the 'no-go zone' so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other. [Wikipedia]

Tacking or coming about is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel (which is sailing approximately into the wind) turns its bow into the wind through the ‘no-go zone’ so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other. [Wikipedia]

I expect that many of you can or will one day be able to relate to this.  Some of you came to law school directly from undergraduate school, while others like myself took a less traditional path.

After receiving my undergraduate degree, I entered the workforce while taking graduate school classes in the evenings. Laws school was not even on my radar at that time.  However after graduating with a master’s degree and working for a couple more years, I decided to pursue a different track and attend law school.  After receiving my law degree, and passing the bar exam in July, I returned to my hometown of Mt. Pleasant and opened a private practice.  I later merged my practice with another attorney and things were going very well.  However, I was about to make another course change.

Up until that point in my life, the only elected office that I had held was that of treasurer for my freshmen class in high school. I choose to forgo re-election and was at peace with permanently ending my political career.  However in 2009, Michigan was in a very dark place and I saw the effects on many in my community and my family firsthand.

I saw family and friends forced to leave the state looking for work. They had to leave their loved ones and their lives behind just to make ends meet.

I knew someone had to step up and make a difference, and so I chose to do it myself.

It was a risk, and it is scary to jump into the unknown in such a public and potentially embarrassing way.

What’s more, being a few years into practice it was not an ideal time to give up everything and essentially start over. But I felt that it was the right thing to do.

Now, six years later I couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out. I even had the honor of being elected by my peers to serve as the Speaker of the House.  This has allowed me to do even more and have an even bigger impact on the fortunes of this state.

I had to learn new skills to excel in this new role. But more than that, I had to relearn how to use and apply the skills I already had.

The education I received at Cooley prepared me for the world, not just for my legal practice. I only had to realize that and apply the skills in a new way. Don’t ever be afraid to tack.

My experience is not unique in the modern economy. All over the country, people are having the same realization. The days of 40 years at the same company and a gold watch are largely over in this country. That’s been hard for a lot of people to accept, but it also presents opportunities. Opportunities for the people who can adapt their skills and use their talents in new ways.

Many of you here today have already experienced mid-career changes, and that’s what brought you here. Many of you haven’t had the chance to experience it yet, but you know you may and that’s why you’re here, working on skills you can use anywhere, for a lifetime.

Now that I am in the legislature, I see how all the training I’ve received really did prepare me for this. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Many assume that most politicians are lawyers, but this is not the case. Having a law degree is very useful in drafting legislation and having an appreciation for how important every word or comma in a statute can be, but you would probably be surprised to learn that less than 10 percent of my colleagues are attorneys. They are doctors and dairy farmers. They are realtors and teachers.

They too took skills from every possible background and found a way to translate them to have an impact on the world. I’m certain the apple farmer and store clerk never started their careers planning to end up in the state legislature, and neither did I. But we all learned valuable skills and found new ways to use them to make a difference.

Even though I didn’t know what I would end up making of it, I couldn’t be happier with my education and every experience I had here at Cooley. The opportunities I had to grow and challenge myself set the stage for everything that has come after. I hope that sharing a bit of my story will is some way be helpful to you as you move forward in your exciting journey.

Speaker of House Kevin Cotter and WMU-Cooley President Don LeDuc

Speaker of House Kevin Cotter and WMU-Cooley President Don LeDuc

I can’t wait to see what this group of graduates goes on to accomplish. I look forward to reading about it and hearing the stories that you will all have to tell.

But don’t be scared if your circumstances change and all of a sudden you find yourself needing to tack. Believe in yourself and your abilities and know that you would not have made it this far if you didn’t have what it takes to overcome any challenge.

Be proud of your accomplishments, but be prouder of the skills you’ve learned that will allow you to succeed over and over again.

Thank you again for this opportunity and congratulations to our graduates!

Read Kevin Cotter’s story in WMU-Cooley’s alumni publication, the Benchmark, in the upcoming Summer 2015 issue.

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