First Job and Law School Success
I grew up working at a neighbor's dairy farm at age thirteen, then as an engineer's aide with the State of Michigan during the road construction season, putting myself through college. After graduating EMU, with a degree in economics, I quickly decided I did not want to work for "the man" and returned to work road construction another summer whiIe I studied for the law school admissions test. That fall I was fortunate to begin tagging around at a local lawyer's office in Adrian, Michigan. Under the guidance of Lawrence Force, in his law library, I became a student of the law. That next fall, in 1993, I entered the University of Toledo School of Law on a full scholarship.
After completing my first year of law school, I began working as a law clerk at Cooper & Bender, P.C., in Adrian, Michigan, at the time a leading worker's compensation firm, and continued my studies. At law school, I earned the American Jurisprudence Award for being top of the class in Legal Research & Writing. My roommate was impressed; I put the award in an envelope in a desk drawer and forgot about it. I graduated, then passed the Michigan Bar Exam in the fall of 1996. My first court appearance was one month later, in federal court in Detroit, and the rest, as they say, is history.
But, let me tell you how I ended up fighting for the rights of disabled people. During the six years I spent with Cooper & Bender, I found myself handling mainly car crash and employment discrimination cases. Some of these cases ended up at the court of appeals, both state and federal. I was very fortunate for the experience of immediately working directly in the trial courts and the appellate courts. Consistent with my academic background, I learned I really liked appeals. Seeking compensation for people hurt in car crashes, or discriminated against at work, was rewarding; but what I did best was appellate work -- I really liked writing and presenting intricate legal arguments, and was good at it -- It was not even "work" as that old saying goes.
A new door opened when I litigated one particular case, White v Stewart and the City of Detroit. I represented the widow of a Detroit Police sergeant who was involved in a wild high speed chase where another officer struck and killed Sergeant White. I was arguing that the City of Detroit Police violated the constitutional rights of Sergeant White and others, by failing to train its officers in the use of a police car as dangerous force. It was a long shot, but certainly worthwhile, as a victory would help the deceased's family and force a change for the better of all in society. I lost the case at the trial court level and in the Michigan court of appeals, and lost it again at the initial level in the Michigan Supreme Court. In the aftermath I was crushed. In my eyes, I failed, and the law failed. I turned in my company car, quit my job and retreated to contemplate if I should be doing something else.
During that period of time, unemployed and languishing, a friend from law school asked for my help on an administrative appeal in the state of Pennsylvania. There the government denied a small town pizza joint a license to sell beer and wine, instead favoring the big guys. My friend represented the mom and pop shop at the initial level, and when they appealed, I got involved. I formulated a few intricate arguments, and wrote the briefs in the appeals court, and lost. But then, I took this case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. When you go to the "highest court of the state" it is almost always a two-step battle. First, you need to convince that court to even consider hearing the case (this is because appeals to these courts is not a right, but it is discretionary -- the court chooses what it wants to hear). This case got in the door. Woo-hoo! Time to celebrate, I'm in the big leagues!
But soon after that elation, reality hit: You have to do good to get through the door, but once you are in you have to then do even better. So, back to the drawing board, and more time fine tuning the arguments in my appeal brief. I finished all the written arguments and my friend appeared before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to argue the case (I was only licensed to practice state law in Michigan). The Chief Justice recused himself from the case (his wife was involved with the state agency), leaving an even number of eight to hear the case. The decision came back 4-4 -- a tie. This meant the intermediate appeals court ruling remained standing, a loss, uggh... But I had a taste of working in the highest courts, and wanted more.
Michigan Supreme Court Experience. . .
At this point in my life my partner, now wife, Nancy and I decided to start a family -- the best decision ever made in my life. We left Toledo and moved to a really old farmhouse in Jackson, Michigan to have and raise our daughter. I hung out a shingle working mainly in the lower level Jackson County District Court. After a few years, I joined with a respected local firm, Rappleye & Rappleye, P.C. There, in addition to doing normally what a lawyer does, I took on a contract with the county providing service as a felony public defender. This work gave me lots more trial experience and complicated cases, fast. I handled everything from traffic tickets to murder cases.
And, I found myself having time to move cases to the appellate courts again. This time, however, I would get them into the Michigan Supreme Court and argue them there myself. I successfully got in the door and argued three cases before the full Michigan Supreme Court, People vs. Schaefer and Large, People vs. Flick and People vs. White. There were thoughts the White case, decided on pure Fourth Amendment constitutional grounds, would be a case to seek appeal to the United States Supreme Court, but that did not happen. This period of my career took a lot of work, and I liked it... But, during this time I became involved in another case that would cause another turn in my career, James Chandler vs. The Wackenhut Corporation.
To the United States Supreme Court
In 2007 I received a call from my old boss, David Cooper. He had an odd long-shot case and wanted to see if I was interested. I was. The case involved the cracking of a cold case murder of a young woman in 1979, in Holland, Michigan. Her name was Janet Chandler. A group of students at Hope College produced a documentary, Who Killed Janet Chandler. The film led to a renewed interest in the investigation and ultimately to the discovery, prosecution and conviction of many people related to Janet Chandler's brutal and senseless murder. David knew the wife of the professor who oversaw production of the documentary, who knew the parents of Janet. It turned out the leaders of the sick plot were security guard supervisors for Wackenhut. This case would take over my professional life for the next four years. The law involved was super complicated. I filed the case in United States federal court for the Western District of Michigan, in Grand Rapids. The assigned judge eventually dismissed the case, saying we waited too long to sue (even though a story concocted by the guards "successfully" hid their identity and the crime until it was discovered over 25 years later).
I swiftly appealed to the United States Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the time, in our favor, there was a case before the Michigan Supreme Court that looked like it would change the Michigan law about delayed discovery of a case --- if that case went our way it would mandate an automatic reversal for the Chandlers. So, we waited. Virtually at the last second, the parties to that case in Michigan settled, taking resolution of the law involving delayed discovery off the table in Michigan -- taking away our potential silver bullet argument. There were still good reasons for reversal, so the case proceeded to oral argument in Cincinnati. With Jim and Glenna Chandler in the front row, flanked by David Cooper and David Schock, before a packed courtroom, I argued the case to a panel of three judges in Cincinnati, it was the first case called. The decision came back 2-1, with a scathing dissent, but it went against us.
Undeterred, I took the case to the United States Supreme Court, a monumental task. The United States Supreme Court is a discretionary court; like in the state supreme courts, they pick what they want to hear and the first battle is getting in the door. However, unlike the Michigan Supreme Court, the key to the door is at least 50 times harder to crack. On June 12, 2011, in case No. 11-1509, I filed our Petition for a Writ of Certitorari with the Court in Washington D.C. On October 1, 2012, the Court entered an order Denying Certiorari -- It was the end of the road, but certainly not wasted time.
Now, For the Last Decade, Focusing 95% on SSI and SSD Cases
Following my experience with Chandler vs. The Wackenhut Corporation, and all of the other thousands of cases I've handled, I began working with an older lawyer in Jackson, Michigan, William K. Christie, who introduced me to Social Security Disability law, at that time his entire field of practice.
Now, and over the past ten years, I've focused almost entirely on providing legal aid to people in Social Security Disability Appeals, both in SSI and SSD matters. I handle these cases at all levels in the administrative process and in the federal courts, with over 1,000 clients served to date. All of my experience brought me to this point. I bring with me an unrelenting drive to win, and well-sharpened tools to get it done. If you made it this far, thank you for your interest.
I want to leave you with this:
I Know The Law and I Care
I Will Treat You With Respect and Dignity
I Will Help You Win The Disability Benefits You Deserve