Prestigious Darrow-Harris Award Recognizes Extraordinary Pro Bono Work of Local Attorneys

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From Washtenaw Co

Home for Generations assists families living in inherited homes or homes purchased informally during segregation and discriminatory lending. Attorneys and family mediators work pro bono to provide targeted assistance to clear title, establish ownership and create property wealth for families, often for the first time. 

This exceptional partnership stabilizes housing options; preserves homeownership; and has transferred, to date, over $1.3 million in wealth to families in Washtenaw County.

Catherine McClary, Washtenaw County Treasurer, and Teresa Killeen on behalf of presiding Probate Judge Julia Owdziej accepted the prestigious Darrow-Harris Award for the Home for Generations program. The award recognizes the generous contributions of 30 local attorneys and family mediators for their extraordinary pro bono work. The Award was presented at the annual Washtenaw County Bench-Bar conference and luncheon on Friday, May 6, 2022. 

The attorneys provided 662 hours of pro bono service for Home for Generations.

McClary, Treasurer since 1997, oversees the receipting and accounting of a billion dollars each year for Washtenaw County. She manages the County’s investment portfolio of $275 million and collects delinquent property taxes. She initiated the program with Judge Owdziej to prevent property tax foreclosure.

Judge Owdziej started her legal career as an Assistant Michigan Attorney General. She began working for the County in 1991 and presides over juvenile delinquency matters and probate cases. Elected as Judge in 2014, Owdziej is a member of the State Drug Treatment Court
Advisory Committee and a long-time 4-H leader.

The Darrow-Harris Award, named for Peter Darrow and Robert Harris, is bestowed annually for
significant contributions to pro bono or public service work in Washtenaw County. In giving this
the award, the Washtenaw County Bar Association, in collaboration with Legal Services of South
Central Michigan, remembers in memoriam the generous personal contributions of Peter Darrow and Robert Harris to individuals in need of legal services.

Attorney General Dana Nessel served as the Keynote speaker and 150 attorneys attended the
Bench-Bar Conference. Other dignitaries included Ann Routt, Executive Director of Michigan
Advocacy Program, Tish Lee, Managing Attorney of Legal Services of South Central Michigan,
Kyeena Slater, Executive Director of the Washtenaw County Bar Association, Charles W.
Borgsdorf, the 2020 Darrow-Harris Award recipient, Belinda Dulin, Executive Director of the
Dispute Resolution Center, Sue Bos, Deputy Treasurer, Eli Savit, County Prosecutor, Victoria
Burton-Harris, Chief Assistant Prosecutor, and Sue Shink, Chair of the Board of Commissioners.

Each of the Chief Judges provided updates on the County’s courts: Chief Judge Karen Quinlan
Valvo of the 15th District Court (City of Ann Arbor), Chief Judge Erane C. Washington of the 14B
District Court (Charter Township of Ypsilanti), and Chief Judge Carol A. Kuhnke of the
Washtenaw Trial Court and 14A District Courts (Cities of Saline, Chelsea, and Ypsilanti and
Charter Township of Pittsfield).

Thirty attorneys were honored for their pro bono service:

Laurie D. Brewis – The TGQ Law Firm
Virginia A. Cardwell – Ferguson, Widmayer and Clark, PC
Kathleen M. Carter – Kathleen M. Carter, PLLC
Peter C. Clark – Ferguson, Widmayer and Clark, PC
Michael C. Crowley – Conlin, McKenney & Philbrick, P.C.
Bradley S. Defoe – Varnum Law, LLP
Charles R. Drabik – Suzanne R. Fanning, PLLC
Jailah D. Emerson – Varnum Law, LLP
Suzanne R. Fanning – Suzanne R. Fanning, PLLC
Paul C. Fessler – Fessler Law, PC
Joshua R. Fink – Fink & Fink, PLLC
James W. Fraser – Fraser Legal, PC
Joelle L. Gurnoe-Adams – Chalgian and Tripp Law Offices, PLLC
Bryce C. Harrison – Ferguson, Widmayer and Clark, PC
John A. Hohman – John Hohman Mediation and Arbitration
Tyler J. Kemper – Dykema Gossett, PLLC
Mara E. Kent – Ferguson, Widmayer and Clark, PC
Sarah M. Meinhart – Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels, P.C.
Hannah R. Muller – Conlin, McKenney &Philbrick, P.C.
Samuel E. Nuxoll – Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, PLC
Elizabeth M. Petosky – Conlin, McKenney & Philbrick, P.C.
Steven A. Reed – Reed Law Group PC
Miriam Saffo – Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach, Buiteweg & Solomon, PC
Paul C. Schultz – Dennis M. Mitzel PLC
Michael D. Shelton – Ferguson, Widmeyer and Clark, PC
Eileen J. Slank – Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach, Buiteweg & Solomon, PC
Eric F. Sloat – Ferguson, Widmeyer and Clark, PC
Kyra D. Sims – Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, PLC
Robert P. Tiplady – Dykema Gossett, PLLC
Christopher J. Wallaker – Conlin McKenney & Philbrick, P.C.

Home for Generations was initiated by Treasurer McClary and Judge Owdziej to assist families
living in inherited homes. The project establishes ownership, allowing homeowners access to
tax code entitlements, financing, and other benefits. Many families in need of probate assistance live in homes purchased informally during times of racial segregation, red‐lining, and discriminatory lending.

White Americans have seven times the wealth of Black Americans on average and the majority
of their wealth is in their primary residence. Our racial wealth gap today, codified into law and
public policy is a harsh legacy of American slavery. The federal government actively excluded
Black people from government wealth‐building programs. The Veterans Administration and the
Federal Housing Administrations, for example, guaranteed bank loans only to whites. Without
access to conventional loans and formal property transfers, Black families often resorted to land
contracts and informal sales and inheritances. Title can become clouded which reduces resale
value and further limits access to conventional transactions. Clearing title and establishing
ownership secures property wealth.

The success of Home for Generations is due to the generous, pro bono assistance of 30
attorneys, led by Teresa Killeen, Judicial Attorney to Judge Owdziej, providing legal assistance
to return $1.3 million in property wealth to families in Washtenaw County. Treasurer McClary
and Judge Owdziej offer profound thanks to the 30 attorneys whose work enabled long-time
Washtenaw County homeowners to secure property wealth and stability for their families.

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