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2013 Treasure of Detroit Gala to honor four Wayne Law alumni Sept. 28

September 18, 2013

John Conyers, Jr.DETROIT - Wayne State University Law School, Wayne Law Board of Visitors and Wayne Law Alumni Association have announced the Wayne Law alumni honorees for the 2013 Treasure of Detroit Gala on Saturday, Sept. 28.

The honorees are:

  • U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Detroit, Wayne Law Class of 1958, a Democrat serving his 24th term in Congress.
  • Michael Pitt of Huntington Woods, Class of 1974, a founding member and managing partner of Pitt McGehee Palmer Rivers and Golden.
  • Michael Steinberg of Ann Arbor, Class of 1989, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan since 1997.
  • Gary Torgow of Oak Park, Class of 1982, chairman of Talmer Bancorp and president and founder of the Sterling Group.

Since 1998, the Treasure of Detroit has been Wayne Law's premiere event to honor the brightest lights in the legal profession and to celebrate the growth and success of the law school. Wayne Law alumni and friends are invited to reconnect with classmates and faculty members and be a part of honoring colleagues who have made a lasting contribution to the practice of law.

The Treasure of Detroit Gala will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. in the Atheneum Suite Hotel International Banquet Center, 400 Monroe St., Detroit. Tickets are $150, and the optional black tie evening includes open bar, plated dinner and awards program. Valet parking is included.

For tickets, visit go.wayne.edu/treasure2013. Reservation deadline is Monday, Sept. 23. For more details, call (313) 577-3113 or email lawalumni@wayne.edu.

Conyers is the second-most senior member in the House and one of the 13 founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The mission of the caucus, formed in 1969, is to strengthen African-American lawmakers' ability to address the legislative concerns of minority citizens.

The congressman grew up in Detroit and served in the National Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Korean War. He then returned to Detroit and earned his bachelor's degree at Wayne State University in 1957 and his bachelor of laws degree at Wayne Law in 1958.

Conyers announced in 2012 that the Damon J. Keith Collection of African American Legal History at Wayne Law will be the beneficiary of the papers and records of his decades in Congress. The materials will include original documents related to Conyers' work promoting civil rights and social justice. The congressman is widely considered as a civil rights pioneer.

Some of his major accomplishments include the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, 1993 Motor Voter Bill and 1983 Martin Luther King Holiday Act. Among the many social justice issues Conyers has championed during his long tenure is reformation of the nation's health care system. He is the founder of the 45-member Congressional University Health Care Task Force.

In 2006, Conyers was elected by his colleagues to lead as chairman the House Committee on the Judiciary in the 110th and 111th Congress. The committee's oversight includes the Department of Justice, FBI, federal courts, civil rights, consumer protection and constitutional issues. He also was a key member of the committee in 1974, when it held hearings on the Watergate impeachment scandal.

Conyers has been awarded many times for his leadership, including being presented by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Award.

Pitt, a board member of the Public Justice Foundation and a member of the Wayne Law Board of Visitors, got his first taste of public interest and social justice law as a student at Wayne Law.

His firm has handled a variety of important civil rights cases, including the landmark Neal v. Michigan Department of Corrections class-action settled in 2009 after a dozen years of trial for $100 million to more than 400 female prisoners who were sexually assaulted by male prison guards. As a result of the case, male guards no longer staff female residential units in Michigan jails and prisons. Pitt and his team earned many honors from their work on the case. He was named 2008 Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Trial Lawyers for the Public and 2008 People's Lawyer of the Year by the National Lawyers Guild; the team received the Wade McCree Award from the Federal Bar Association for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The firm, which includes Pitt's wife, Peggy Goldberg Pitt, also was co-counsel in Gilford v. Detroit Edison, an age- and race-discrimination class action settled in 1999 with a $45 million judgment for more than 1,500 victims. The firm also has played key roles in a number of other noteworthy civil rights cases.

In 2001, Pitt and his wife set up the Michael L. and Peggy Goldberg Pitt Endowed Award Scholarship to provide financial assistance and improved access to Wayne Law students with physical disabilities. They also spearhead efforts each year for the Mark Weiss Endowed Scholarship Fund at Wayne Law for students and recent graduates committed to public interest law careers.

Pitt, his law partners and Public Justice also established the Dean A. Robb Public Interest Lecture Series at Wayne Law to inspire law students, attorneys, public interest groups and everyday citizens to become more active in public service and public interest law. The inaugural lecture in the series was in 2012, and Pitt and Robb, a famed civil rights attorney and social activist who is also a Wayne Law alumnus, were on hand to introduce the speaker, Arthur Bryant, executive director of Public Justice and the Public Justice Foundation.

Steinberg is director of Wayne Law's new Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Clinic.

He began his law career as a clerk for then-Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Marilyn Kelly and then went into private practice in Ann Arbor, specializing in civil rights litigation and civil and criminal appeals. Among his cases was a successful challenge to the Ann Arbor Police Department's practice of coercing African-American men into giving blood for DNA testing during a serial rapist investigation.

Since joining the staff of the ACLU, Steinberg has worked on many high-impact, high-profile cases on a wide range of civil liberties issues.

In one such case, Bassett v. Snyder, the ACLU, under Steinberg's direction, filed an equal protection challenge in federal court on behalf of several same-sex couples after the state in 2011 passed a law to make it illegal for most public employers to voluntarily provide health insurance coverage to same-sex domestic partners of employees. In June 2013, U.S. District Judge David Lawson struck down the law, agreeing with the ACLU argument that the law denied equal protection to people in same-sex relationships.

In another case, People v. Likine, in 2012, a mentally ill woman whose children were taken from her was court-ordered to pay $1,100 per month in child support to her husband when her only source of income was Social Security benefits. After a hospitalization to treat her schizophrenia, she was arrested and put in jail for failure to pay child support. At trial, a judge refused to allow her to present evidence of inability to pay, and she was convicted of a felony. The ACLU, under Steinberg's direction, helped argue successfully in the Michigan Supreme Court that it is unconstitutional to convict a person for being too poor to make court-ordered payments.

Torgow and longtime friend David Provost joined forces in 2007 to operate First Michigan Bancorp. In April 2013, they renamed their venture Talmer Bancorp. The name honors both of their grandfathers and is formed from their surnames. Along the way, it completed six bank acquisitions and grew from a $90 million banking institution in April 2010 to a $4.5 billion banking institution as of March 2013. Talmer Bancorp is the third largest bank headquartered in Michigan. It operates 87 branches and 20 loan production offices throughout the Midwest.

Torgow founded the Sterling Group in 1988. The real estate and development, investment and management company has acquired, developed and operated a number of landmark properties in southeastern Michigan. Torgow's company was part of the partnership that developed the commercial buildings of Campus Martius in Detroit. The Sterling Group also bought the Guardian Building in downtown Detroit in 2003, renovated it and sold it to Wayne County in 2007.

Torgow serves on the boards of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, First Place Bank of Ohio and Jackson National Life Insurance Co. of New York. He is a trustee and board member of the Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan and serves on the foundation boards of Wayne State University and Henry Ford Hospital. He is vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit Executive Board and is volunteer president of Michigan's largest Jewish day school, the Yeshiva Beth Yehudah in Southfield and Oak Park. He has served as a volunteer on numerous civic and communal boards, having served as chairman of Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

He has been honored many times for his civic and charitable efforts. Awards he's received include the NAACP's Fannie Lou Hamer "Keeping the Spirit Moving" Award, Fair Housing Leadership Award from the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit, Ohio Civil Rights Commission's "Keeping the Dream Alive" Citation, Spirit of Detroit Award from Detroit City Council and Frank A. Wetsman Young Leadership Award from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

Photos: (Top to Bottom) John Conyers Jr.; Michael Pitt; Michael Steinberg; Gary Torgow

  • Contact: Shawn Starkey
  • Voice: 313-577-4629
  • Email: sstarkey@wayne.edu
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