Spotlight On: Spotlight On: Stuart G. Friedman

What Made You Want to become a Lawyer?

I always knew I wanted to be an attorney.  My father was a CPA and my childhood afterschool job was filing the Commerce Clearing House Tax Court and IRS Rulings Service.  While the tax code was boring, it gave me a comfortability with law books from a young age.

I grew up with a particular sensitivity against discrimination.  Many of my friends were the children of Holocaust survivors, and having spent part of my childhood growing up on the East Coast, I was aware about how divided a city Detroit was.  As a bit of a rebel from a young age, I also had particular disrespect when authority figures (teachers, police, government, etc.) didn't follow their own rules and skewed the results to reach their preordained outcome.

Why criminal law?

As a college student, I gained experience in several different law offices developing an exposure to criminal, divorce, personal injury, and administrative law.  Criminal was always my favorite, but I have always also had an attraction to administrative law.  My earliest exposures were helping writing briefs arguing that prisoners were “persons” for the purposes of the Administrative Procedures Act.  This was a position the Court ultimately adopted in Martin v. Department of Corrections (not our case).  I remember sticking to my guns on the issue even though the attorneys who were mentoring me thought that I was nuts.  As an attorney, I would later relive this feeling in Wayne County Prosecutor v. Department of Corrections / People v. Young [451 Mich. 569 (1996)].

Who Were Your Inspirations?

I credit my early attraction to criminal law to James L. Feinberg, James C. Thomas, Gail S. Benson, my best friend Mark Peter Stevens, and my wife Suzanne Schuelke.  They all taught me the importance of fighting for the client, the value of preparation, and to never forget you are dealing with human beings. A special credit goes out to Gail Benson for teaching me to "not bury my problems in Jackson Prison."

On the day that I was sworn into the Bar, we received a call from William Suter (Clerk of the United States Supreme Court) that the Court had granted certiorari against us in Withrow v. Williams [507 U.S. 680 (1993)].  I had been working on the case throughout law school.  On the docket was whether Miranda v. Arizona [384 U.S. 436 (1966)] should be overruled.  Myself and good friend (and also very young lawyer) Daniel O'Neil made the difficult decision to let an outside attorney take lead on the case.  After much searching, we selected Seth Waxman who went on to be President Clinton's Solicitor General.  Working with such amazing legal talent so early in my career was a defining moment.  We won the case on narrow grounds and several years later Solicitor General Waxman successfully defended Miranda v. Arizona based in large part on Justice Souter's key holding in Withrow:  just because Miranda is a prophylactic measure does not mean it is constitutionality insignificant.  In my mind Withrow helped reaffirm not only Miranda, but also the legality of the Supreme Court creating bright line rules.

What Appellate Victory Are You Most Proud of?

While I have a number of appellate victories of which I am very proud, I think the one that is the most special to me is Barker v. Yukins [199 F. 3rd 867 (6th Cir. 1999)], where the Sixth Circuit found that an appellate court invades the province of a jury when it declares an error harmless because they don't believe the defense witnesses.  The Court held that an accused has a right to a trial by jury, "not appellate court."  The court reversed my client's first degree murder conviction.  Having lunch with Stacy Barker at an Ann Arbor cafe several years later was a moment I will always remember.

Tell us your thoughts about our current appellate courts and Legislature.

I'm optimistic.  I think our state Supreme Court is less conservative than it was in the last decade.  I think the "Textualist Revolution" has waned.  I believe that there are more members of the Court who believe that the job of the court is to protect the rights of the innocent and that this is not purely a legislative function.  I also believe that the Legislature has moved away from some of the excesses.  You are hearing more Senators and Representatives talking about getting "Smart on Crime," rather than "Tough on Crime."

I also see a recognition that people can change.  I was surprised and then pleased to find support for many of these reforms from conservative legislators who see both the dollars and sense (pun intended) in giving people a second chance.  This is particularly important nowadays when you can background check someone on your iPhone with a 99 cent application.  Expungement reform, for example, has given more people a chance to rebuild their lives.  As someone who spends a great deal of his practice on dealing with the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, I see the people who never go back to prison.  Unfortunately, they tend to be forgotten about in too many discussions.

What are your other interests?

I love bicycling, traveling, reading, wine collecting, and more.  I am also proudly a "nerd."  I love technology.  I like playing with the newest technology and writing/blogging about these developments.  I was even once mentioned in the Wall Street Journal for one of my technology projects.

The non-legal accomplishment I am most proud of was overcoming my fear of heights and successfully climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro -- the highest mountain in Africa.

Mr. Friedman’s website:

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor