Do you know lawyers or judges who are champions of justice?
Then consider nominating them for State Bar of Michigan Champion of Justice Awards. The Champion of Justice Award is given to practicing lawyers and judges each year by the State Bar of Michigan for integrity and adherence to the highest principles and traditions of the legal profession, superior professional competence and an extraordinary professional accomplishment that benefits the nation, the state, or the local community in which the lawyer or judge lives. In 2018, the State Bar of Michigan named two champions of justice: Miriam Aukerman and Robert Heimbuch.
Miriam Aukerman’s willingness to become a voice for the least powerful people in society has led to legal precedents protecting them. Three federal court cases highlight the magnitude of her work with the American Civil Liberties Union in Grand Rapids. In 2013, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her challenge to Michigan’s anti-begging law, which Grand Rapids had used to arrest nearly 400 people, on First Amendment grounds. In 2016, the Sixth Circuit agreed with her argument that the state’s sex-offender registry law was unconstitutional because it punished registrants without delivering a corresponding public safety benefit. Also in 2016, the Sixth Circuit agreed with Aukerman’s challenge of the state policy of automatically denying food assistance to qualified citizens based on a match with a computerized list of outstanding felony warrants. Assistance was restored to approximately 20,000 people. Prior to her work with the ACLU, Aukerman developed and oversaw the Legal Aid of Western Michigan Reentry Law Project to help people with criminal records fight legal barriers preventing them from being productive citizens.
Since being named deputy chief of the Juvenile Division of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in 2001, and then chief in 2004, Robert J. Heimbuch has developed and operated several highly successful diversion programs such as Right TRAC, Correct Course, and Erase Truancy, that give deserving youthful offenders a chance to bypass the formal court system and avoid delinquency adjudication. Young people who graduate from the programs have recidivism rates under 10 percent. This ultimately translates into efficiencies that have saved the county millions of dollars, and, more importantly, safer communities, which has been reflected in yearly declines in new delinquency complaints filed by police departments in the county. Judge Virgil Smith said Heimbuch recently collaborated with the court to create a Juvenile Mental Health Court to address the special rehabilitative needs of delinquents with significant mental health issues. Judge Demetria Brue said Heimbuch’s style as a supervisor and unrelenting determination to administer justice has influenced the way she runs her courtroom.
Nominations are due by 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. For more information, visit State Bar of Michigan Champion of Justice Award.