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Sunday, 17 March 2013 22:00

Q&A: Matt Nelson, partner at Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP

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Gov. Rick Snyder’s appointment of a Macomb County judge brings another new justice to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Justice David Viviano joined the state’s highest court following the resignation of former Justice Diane Hathaway. The 41-year-old Viviano served as a Macomb County Probate Court judge since 2006 and previously practiced law at Dickinson Wright in Detroit and Jenner & Block in Chicago before forming his own law firm in Mount Clemens.

He holds degrees from Hillsdale College and the University of Michigan Law School.

“Judge Viviano has a distinguished record of judicial integrity and innovation. His deep respect for the judicial branch of government and his commitment to the rule of law will serve Michigan well. I have every confidence that he will be a compassionate, principled justice,” Gov. Snyder said in announcing the appointment.

Viviano will need to seek election in 2014 if he wants to serve the remaining two years of Hathaway’s term. He will also have to run for re-election in 2016 to serve a full eight-year term on the bench.

Viviano is one of two new justices — Justice Bridget McCormack was elected in November — this year on the Michigan Supreme Court, which over the years has been hit with partisan bickering between Republicans and Democrats. In 2008, the University of Chicago Law School even ranked the state’s highest court dead last among all states in terms of the court’s judicial independence.

With Viviano’s appointment, Republicans hold a 5-2 advantage on the court. For a few thoughts on how Viviano’s appointment may, or may not, change things, MiBiz spoke to Matt Nelson, who chairs the appellate practice group at Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP in Grand Rapids. He considers the latest addition to the state Supreme Court “very favorable to business.”

How do you view the appointment of Justice Viviano?

I think Justice Viviano is going to be a strong addition to the court. I haven’t had the privilege of appearing in front of him, but my colleagues in our Macomb County office have and they have nothing but high praise for how he runs his court. He is friendly and fair to both the attorneys and the parties who appear in front of him. He’s prepared and he approaches legal issues in a thoughtful manner.

The governor replaced a Democrat with a Republican on the court. Could this swing the judicial philosophy of the court?

I don’t expect so. Before Justice Viviano’s appointment, there were four justices with a rule-of-law judicial philosophy, all of whom are Republicans, so one more doesn’t change the tenor of the court.

There’s been a fair amount of acrimony in recent years between some justices. Will we see that change with his appointment?

We’ve already started to see that. The court is no longer issuing opinions with a sense that they are targeted at individual justices, so the language of the dissent has already improved and the additions of Justices Zara (who was first appointed in 2010 and won election last fall) and Mary Beth Kelly (who was elected in 2010) and now Justice McCormack and the addition of Justice Viviano is likely to continue that trend.

From everything I understand about him, he is very much a down-to-earth guy who should continue to contribute to that collegial atmosphere.

For businesses that become involved in a case that ends up before the Michigan Supreme Court, what can they expect?

They can expect that they will receive a fair hearing. The court overall is committed to the rule of law, and the appointment of Justice Viviano is very good for the business climate in Michigan. It’s going to be a court that remains focused on or dedicated to enforcing the law as it’s written.


Interview conducted and condensed by Mark Sanchez.

Read 2772 times Last modified on Friday, 15 March 2013 17:39

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