Law Day to honor nine award winners

April 27, 2009
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What could inspire Abraham Lincoln to come back from the dead? How about an invitation to speak at the Grand Rapids Bar Association’s celebration of Law Day?

On May 1, GRBA will hold its annual Law Day luncheon in honor of the nationwide Law Day. This year’s luncheon is titled “A Legacy of Liberty: Celebrating Lincoln’s Bicentennial.” Retired attorney and local actor Gary E. Mitchell will deliver the keynote as Abraham Lincoln.

The day will celebrate four award winners, along with five attorneys who will be recognized for 50 years of practice. Those with 50 years under their belts are Peter J. Armstrong, Roger B. Boerema, Paul K. Gaston, J. Lee Murphy and Hilary F. Snell.

Janice P. Yates, a government and economics teacher at East Grand Rapids High School, will be presented with the Liberty Bell Award for her work as a We the People coach.

“The award recognizes outstanding performances by a non-lawyer citizen — somebody who has given up their time and energy to strengthen the effectiveness of the American system of freedom under the law,” said Kimberly Coleman, executive director at GRBA. “She’s been team leader and a participant in the Center for Civic Education yearly, with outstanding work.”

We the People is a federally funded program through the Center for Civic Education and is aimed at high school juniors and seniors. The program results in a mock congressional hearings tournament on the regional, state and national level. Yates’ East Grand Rapids team has made it to nationals eight times in the last nine years.

“I can’t even express how overwhelmed I am that they decided to give me the award. I appreciate it more than anything,” said Yates. “The fact that they chose me as the person that helps get knowledge out about the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the law — which I really feel like we do every day — I’m very, very honored to receive it.”

The Donald R. Worsfold for Distinguished Service Award will be presented to James S. Brady of Miller Johnson.

“This award will recognize a member of the association who is highly respected by his or her colleagues and who’s made significant contributions to the association, the legal profession and to the community,” said Coleman, stating that Brady has made contributions across the board.

“I have been fortunate enough to be involved in my profession as well as the community and also my church. I feel that as part of my legal education, I was taught that lawyers have an obligation to give back,” said Brady. “Grand Rapids has a lot of good lawyers and a good bar and a good bench. I could give you hundreds of examples of lawyers who have given back and have given back greatly.”

Looking back on his career, Brady gave credit to his mentors in the law profession, who taught him to give back.

“My mentors in this profession also were very involved in the community,” he said. “I think their involvement was a good example for me and I hope I learned from them.”

Brady has been recognized as one of 25 Leaders in Law by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, the only lawyer from the Grand Rapids area to receive the recognition.

Thomas R. Behm of Gruel, Mills, Nims & Pylman will receive the GRBA Annual President’s Award for his work with the association.

“He’s done a significant amount of work with the organization in order to help us make significant steps in keeping with our strategic plan,” said Coleman.

“I was touched by the award. I certainly didn’t anticipate receiving it,” said Behm. “I was very surprised — I had no expectation of that.”

Behm also serves as co-chair for the Justice Foundation of West Michigan, the charitable arm of the GRBA. The foundation supports those in the community who need help in the legal system but can’t afford it. It’s a service Behm treasures.

“I think it’s important that the lawyers in our community do whatever they can to help disadvantaged folks,” said Behm.

Coming out of the 62-B District Court, the Honorable William G. Kelly has been named as the first recipient of the Marion Hilligan Public Service Award. This particular award is given out by the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and is named in honor of the late associate dean of Cooley's Grand Rapids campus.

“I was really shocked that they considered me, and I’m really humbled by the award,” said Kelly. “I was fortunate to know Dean Hilligan. She was a wonderful lady and I’m very happy that Cooley and the Grand Rapids Bar established this award. I’m humbled by being the first recipient.”

The luncheon will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Conference Center of Western Michigan University’s Graduate Center, 200 Ionia Ave. SW. All are welcome to attend.

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