Altonites in the News VIII

These are the positings from the old message board !!

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Michael Kupersmith

Altonites in the News VIII

Post by Michael Kupersmith »

The following is taken verbatim from the January 2005 issue of the King County Bar Bulletin and features my cousin, Michael Reiss, who climaxed his illustrious camp career as a kitchen boy in 1959 with the notorious Brecker.

You will note that Reiss cleverly, but discreetly concealed his Alton connection from the interviewer.

King County Bar Association
1200 Fifth Avenue Suite 600
Seattle, WA 98101
Phone: (206) 267-7100
Fax: (206) 267-7099


Mike Reiss
By Hollis Hill
This year Mike Reiss was selected as President of the William L. Dwyer Inn of Court, an organization of local judges, lawyers, law educators and law students that seeks to promote excellence in legal advocacy, to facilitate the professional development of students and recent law school graduates, and to promote collegiality in the profession. Superior Court Judge Robert Alsdorf, who followed Judge Barbara Rothstein as the second President of the Dwyer Inns, says of Mike, ?the third time is a charm. I am thrilled that Mike is taking over and I have the utmost confidence that he will do really great things...? during his tenure.

As a lawyer, mentor, teacher, parent and a friend Mike Reiss lives the wisdom of the adage, ?much is expected of those to whom much is given,? because many talented and caring people mentored and taught him along the way, and he in turn has consistently used his enormous intellect, talent and good will to pass on to others the best of what he has learned.

The Dodgers Fan
Mike was born on Governor?s Island in New York Harbor in 1943 where his father was stationed in the U.S. Army before shipping overseas to serve in France and Germany. Mike attributes his parents with instilling in him the values of service and justice and the motivation to be involved and engaged in the world.

He lived in Brooklyn long enough to see his first Dodgers game at Ebbetts Field in 1950, and can still tell you who pitched for the Phillies that night. Although you may see him rooting for the Mariners at Safeco Field, in his heart of hearts he remains a Dodgers fan.

In 1954 Mike moved with his parents and brother Paul, now a surgeon with Group Health, to Attleboro, Massachu-setts, where he graduated from Attleboro High School and went on to Harvard.

Phillips-Brooks House
While Mike was an undergraduate at Harvard from 1961-1963 he worked at a state mental hospital through the Harvard-Radcliffe volunteer organization Phillips-Brooks House (PBH). For three years Mike worked on the wards one-on-one with patients, assisting them in any way he could.

Mike took valuable lessons from one of his first mentors, Ken Watson, the social worker who supervised the student volunteers, about being effective in a helping role and, at the same time, being realistic about what one could and could not accomplish for people. Ken emphasized and reinforced the skills involved in active, empathetic listening which are also critical in representing clients, working with witnesses and in negotiating and mediating.

Mike?s first lessons in how to be a teacher came between his junior and senior years of college when, under the auspices of PBH, he took a year off to teach in a high school in a refugee camp outside Dar-es-Salaam, Tanganyika, then the southernmost independent nation in Africa. PBH volunteers had started the school where Mike taught math and Basic English.

In December 1963, Mike traveled to Nairobi to witness Kenya?s Indepen-dence Day. Earlier he and a friend, each carrying a couple of cans of beans and three wine bottles filled with water, climbed to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The Civil Rights Movement
In the summer of 1966, after his first year at the Yale Law School, Mike worked through the Law Student Civil Rights Research Council (LSSCRC) for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund doing voter registration and school integration work in rural Holmes County, Mississippi under the supervision of Seattle?s Henry Aronson and Marian Wright Edelman.

Out of Holmes County?s population of 28,000, two-thirds of whom were African-American, only seven African-Americans had been able to register to vote since Reconstruction due to an array of tests, stratagems and outright scare tactics by the County?s ?High Sheriff? and other local officials. The workers held community meetings, met in churches and talked about voter registration and enrolling African-American children in formerly all-white schools under the state?s ?freedom of choice? plans. Mike returned in November, 1967 to see the first African-American elected to the Holmes County Board of Supervisors.

Mike describes himself as somewhat impatient with the slow progress of these efforts until a seasoned organizer, Henry Lorenzi, who had lived in Holmes County for years and was there to stay, cautioned Mike that, as someone who would soon leave Mississippi, it was not for him to make decisions for people who would remain to live with the consequences of their decisions and the realities there. Mike describes this as a humbling lesson which he has tried to apply when advising clients to enable them to make the right decisions for their own lives.

After graduating from Yale Law School in June 1968, Mike ventured west to join the law faculty at the University of Southern California in August where, he says, ?I was probably pretty unqualified to be teaching law students just having graduated myself only a couple of months ago, and looking back on that, it must have involved some unwarranted hubris? to teach Constitutional Law, Family Law and Criminal Law and Procedure.

Judge Dorothy Nelson of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who was Dean at USC during Mike?s tenure there refers to Mike as one of the law school?s finest teachers, not only because he was intellectually astute and well prepared, but because he showed genuine interest in whether the students understood what was being taught and in whether they were reaching full their individual potentials. Judge Nelson recalls Mike as being one of the most popular teachers on the faculty.

In 1971, Mike took a three-year leave of absence from USC to become Directing Attorney of the Modesto office of California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), thought by many at that time to be the finest legal services agency in the country. He credits Gary Bellow as an influential mentor both at CRLA and in the clinical program at USC, where Gary consistently encouraged people to practice law at the highest level regardless of the nature of the case or client. While at CRLA Mike represented migrant workers and other indigent clients, handling cases involving jobs, education, field conditions, housing, welfare, and the like.

While Mike was on the USC faculty he team-taught an employment discrimination course with Barbara Schlei and Paul Grossman which was the genesis of the seminal treatise authored by them entitled Employment Discrimination Law. Mike declined authorship of the book but wrote what Paul Grossman refers to as, ?the best written chapter,? on the Old Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1871. Paul Grossman says of Mike, ?he is a fabulous human being, a highly skilled, moral and ethical person who combines excellence as a teacher, a writer and a jury trial lawyer.?

Throughout his career Mike has shared his skills as a lawyer by teaching trial advocacy. He has taught as a trial advocacy instructor at the University of Washington Law School for over twenty years. He was a student at one of the earliest National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) program in Boulder in 1974, and the following year he returned as Assistant Team Leader to Jim Brosnahan, a prominent trial lawyer with Morrison and Foerster in San Francisco.

Although Mike counts Jim Brosna-han as a great mentor who taught him among other things the appropriate use of humor in the courtroom, Jim says that he does not consider himself a mentor of Mike?s since Mike has taught him so much. Brosnahan deems Mike one of the best teachers of trial advocacy in the country.

Over the years Mike has taught in numerous basic NITA programs as well as advanced trial skills courses in Florida, California, and at three ABA-NITA programs in Oxford, England. He has also helped develop and taught some of the first NITA-style courses for the Legal Services Corporation, the EEOC, the National Employment Law Institute and the Washington State and King County Bar Associations. He helped develop the first NITA deposition program, and for over twenty years he was the Program Director for the Northwest NITA Deposition and Trial programs in Seattle.

Mike considers that teaching trial advocacy with NITA and other programs was probably the most significant aspect of his professional development. In turn, countless students of Mike?s consider themselves extremely fortunate to have had him teach them advocacy skills.

The Seattle Years
In 1979 Mike was selected to serve in the newly created position of Regional Attorney for the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Seattle. Interestingly, at this time Mike was also invited to return to Harvard, to serve as a visiting professor in the law school?s legal clinic. Mike recalls that many colleagues at the time told him he was crazy to decline the Harvard position. But Mike missed the collegiality and the challenges of practicing law and although he never stopped teaching, he was happier doing so from a base in practice.

I was hired by Mike in 1980 to join his legal team at the EEOC. Mike?s approach to the practice of law there was exactly as it would have been had he been in private practice, which is to say that he cut right through the bureaucratic red tape, prepared and tried cases. In those pre-Reagan days the EEOC was fully funded and empowered to use the federal courts to enforce the federal employment discrimination laws which was precisely what Mike did as Regional Attorney.

On a personal note, Mike was my mentor during the EEOC years. Along with two other lawyers we tried a month-long systemic sex discrimination case against General Telephone of the Northwest. As the presentation of evidence came to a close I suggested to Mike, my boss, that it would not necessarily be appropriate for a man to argue for the women of the phone company when there were two female lawyers at counsel table. Much to Mike?s credit, he ceded the argument to me, something I would not have expected many lawyers in his position to have done.

This generosity of spirit has been a part of Mike?s mentoring and training at Davis, Wright, Tremaine where he is now a partner and head of the Employment Litigation section. Lawton Humphrey, another partner of Mike?s at Davis Wright says Mike?s style is collaborative in that he builds a team when he is working on a case. He always takes associates to client meetings where he then compliments them so that the client will have confidence in the whole team. Lawton says that Mike will always make time to brainstorm with younger attorneys about their cases whether or not he himself is involved in the case.

While at Davis Wright, Mike has been appointed Special Deputy Prosecutor on several occasions to handle particularly sensitive and complex personnel matters within the King County Prosecutor?s office. Sally Bagshaw, Head of the Civil Division of the prosecutor?s office says that working with Mike has been a great pleasure because he is not only highly capable of handling such matters but he is willing to do so collaboratively which ensures the best outcome

For several years Mike organized bi-weekly lunches at which members of the section have been invited to bring and discuss any and every issue about their cases with one another. At these meetings Mike makes a point of engaging even the most inexperienced lawyers. Best of all, according to Lawton Mike?s enthusiasm makes working with him fun.

Mike has enjoyed his time at Davis Wright and acknowledges that he still looks to others, in particular Monty Gray, as professional mentors. Mike has had an interesting array of clients at Davis Wright including the American Red Cross, Virginia Mason, Bank of America, Boeing, Paccar, PEMCO, the Port of Seattle, the Seattle Seahawks, the Supersonics and the Superconducting Supercollider. He has also served as a mediator, and arbitrator and a Judge pro tem for the King County Superior Court.

On a personal note, Mike?s wife Shelly Brown Reiss is a successful lawyer in her own right who consults on public transportation issues and who is deeply involved in a nonprofit organization which supports children in foster care.

For three years Mike and Shelly mentored students at Cleveland High School through the ?Steps Ahead? or Commu-nity for Youth program, which required their meeting once a week with their students, participating in programs with them and guiding them through the rough adolescent years.

Mike?s son Josh, his daughter-in-law Angel, and their two-year-old son-Mike and Shelly?s grandson Tommy-live in Sunnyvale, California where Josh is a senior engineer at a company that makes implantable defibrillators. Mike?s daughter Morgan lives in Seville, Spain where she administers an American school abroad program. Shelly and Mike love travel including biking trips in France, Germany and New Zealand and walking trips in England and Scotland.

Conclusion and Coda
In June 2003, Mike was appointed Special Master to oversee injunctive relief arising out of claims of sexual harassment and discrimination at Western State Hospital. Mike filed his Final Report as Special Master in November 2004 and was credited by Pierce County Superior Court Judge Vicki Hogan for his outstanding efforts in helping to bring about significant change in that institution. Mike commented that in a way, this closes a circle that began with his own volunteer work as a college student at the state hospital in Massachusetts.

Those who know Mike professionally would be hard pressed to say whether they see him first and foremost as a superb lawyer or as an outstanding teacher and mentor. All would agree that he embodies a rare combination of these qualities. Mike Reiss describes himself as the product of those who have taught and mentored him. As is sometimes the case with highly successful yet self effacing people like Mike, he did indeed have many excellent teachers and mentors from all walks of his life but his success has occurred in larger part due to his natural gifts of extraordinary intellect, enthusiasm and drive combined with his ability and willingness as the student to identify, remember and put to use the essence of the lessons learned. Those who have the good fortune to know Mike, either as a colleague, a teacher, a mentor, a parent or a friend would surely say that Mike is a man who is constantly passing on what he knows by generously sharing the best of himself with those around him.

Hollis Hill worked as a staff attorney at the EEOC with Mike following which she had a plaintiff?s employment law practice at was was then Frank, Feed & Rosen. She has taught trials advocacy for 18 years at the UW Law School and is the Northwest Director for the National Institute for Trial Advocacy.

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