Dist. Alumni Bios
The School of Law's Distinguished Alumni include:
Christopher Andreoff, '72 – Christopher Andreoff has been a partner at Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss, PC since 1994. He focuses his practice on civil and criminal litigation, family law, administrative law, and appellate practice in both state and federal courts.
While at UDM, Andreoff was a member of the Moot Court Board of Advocates and competed on the National Junior Moot Court team. He has remained active with the School of Law, speaking at Lunches with Lawyers and serving as an alumni mentor for students interested in criminal defense work.
Prior to joining Jaffe Raitt, Andreoff served as assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan. He followed this with a stint as deputy chief and acting chief of the Detroit Strike Force for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Honorable Michael F. Cavanagh, '66 – Michael F. Cavanagh was born October 1940 in Detroit, Michigan. He is a 1962 graduate of the University of Detroit, and a 1966 graduate of the University of Detroit School of Law. He is married to Patricia Ferriss. They are the parents of three children: Jane, Michael Jr. and Megan.
Cavanagh was the Lansing City Attorney from 1967 – 1969; partner in Farhat, Burns and Story, P.C. from 1969 – 1973; elected to District Court in 1973; and served on the Michigan Court of Appeals from 1975 – 1982. In 1982, Cavanagh was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court, where he is currently serving his third term. He was elected Chief Justice of the Court in 1991 and 1993.
Honorable Maura Corrigan, '73 (2004 Alumna of the Year) – Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Maura Corrigan, '73, has devoted her life to public service. Before law school, she did sociology fieldwork in Detroit Recorder’s Court. She worked as a probation officer while she attended night school at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. While in school, she was active in the Urban Law Clinic and was elected the first woman president of the Student Bar Association.
In 2004, Chief Justice Corrigan received the Law Alumna of the Year Award from the School of Law Alumni Association.
“I am honored to have been selected by the Alumni Board of my alma mater to receive the Law Alumna of the Year Award,” says Corrigan. “I think back with fondness and gratitude of my years spent at the law school. The School gave me a solid foundation for the 30 years I have been privileged to labor in our profession.”
She began her illustrious career as a law clerk to Judge John Gillis of the Michigan Court of Appeals. In 1974 she was hired as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Wayne County, where she served until 1979. That same year, she became Chief of Appeals in the United States Attorney’s Office in Detroit. In 1986 she was promoted to Chief Assistant United States Attorney, the first woman ever to hold that position. Her career continued to thrive and included such positions as a partner in the law firm of Plunkett & Cooney, judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals and chief judge.
In 2001 she was elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Corrigan continues her commitment to public service through her participation in numerous community and professional activities. She is vice president of the Conference of Chief Justices, chair of the Conference of Chief Justices Problem Solving Courts Committee, a faculty member of the American Inns of Court and a member of the Pew Commission investigating foster care issues in the U.S.
She has also been the recipient of numerous honors, including recognition for Outstanding Performance as an Assistant U.S. Attorney from the U.S. Department of Justice, and Outstanding Practitioner of Criminal Law by the Federal Bar Association. In 2002 Chief Justice Corrigan was honored by the University of Detroit Mercy with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. She was also the 2004 University of Detroit Mercy School of Law Alumna of the Year.
Chief Justice Corrigan is also an ardent supporter of the School of Law. Quite simply, when it comes to helping her alma mater, “no” has never been in her vocabulary. In 2004 alone, she led the Renewal of the Lawyer’s Oath at the Red Mass; served on the Honorary Committee for the Founder’s Gala; lectured to law students as part of the “Legal Heroes” series; met with the ABA Accreditation Site Team; and served on the Honorary Committee for the Riverfront Campus Campaign.
Dennis Dabney, '00 –Dennis Dabney is senior vice president, National Labor Relations, for Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. Based in Oakland, California, Dennis heads National Labor Relations and leads the development and execution of Kaiser Permanente’s national labor relations strategy. He provides counsel to the Kaiser Permanente executive team on labor relations issues; oversee collective bargaining with their unions, and supports labor relations professionals across the organization.
Dennis has more than 30 years of experience in human resources, including extensive labor relations experience and expertise in workforce planning and recruitment, health and welfare benefits, HR compliance, and organizational HR service models. Dennis formerly served as vice president, Human Resources, at FirstEnergy, a large utility company headquartered in Ohio, serving six million customers across seven states. Prior to joining FirstEnergy, he was director of Human and Labor Relations at DTE Energy, the parent company of Detroit Edison. In addition, Dennis has worked at Thyssenkrupp Budd, one of the world’s largest automobile parts manufacturers.
Dennis serves of the Law Alumni Association Board of Directors. “It’s great to give back to the law school,” says Dennis, “given how they treated me like family when I was there.”
Catherine Dritsas, '97 – Carrying on the family tradition of a law degree from the University of Detroit Mercy did not seem to be in the cards for Catherine Dritsas. But after a long career as an educator, she found herself looking for a new challenge.
“I loved teaching,” says Dritsas, who spent 26 of 31 years in education as a teacher and administrator at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills, MI. “But it was time to take what I had learned and use those skills to help people in a new way.”
With a father who immigrated to the United States from Greece in 1914 and earned his UDM law degree in 1921, an older brother with a 1956 law degree and two nephews with law degrees, Dritsas found herself following in their footsteps with law as a second career.
During Dritsas’ third year of law school she landed a contract position in General Motors’ product liability division. While this assignment exposed her to corporate law, she wanted to gain experience in the courtroom and sought to become a litigator in insurance defense. Realizing her past experience could best be used in a more relevant area, she moved on to work with a Birmingham, Michigan family law firm for a year.
Today, she is a solo family law practitioner.
“During my teaching years I was also a coach. I feel very much at home using my coaching skills to help families navigate through the legal process,” says Dritsas, who was inducted in to the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame and continues to officiate interscholastic volleyball.
Practicing law has brought Dritsas and her brother closer together.
“It’s been a terrific union of sorts,” says Dritsas. “My brother practices in other areas of the law which has allowed him to become an important sounding board for me as I grow in my experience and practice.”
Betty Farwell, '49 – Betty Farwell, '49, is a survivor. She has outlived a cancer diagnosis while a student at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and a doctor’s prediction of a “short life line.”
Farwell worked as a legal secretary during the day and attended classes at night—the only woman in the evening program—to realize her dream of becoming a lawyer. After graduation, she entered private practice with her husband and also worked part time for Anco Windshield Wipers.
In 1962, she received a letter from the Army Corp of Engineers inviting her to join their district legal staff.
“I had recently been divorced and had just finished a very strenuous case and decided that this letter could provide a new opportunity for me,” says Farwell.
She answered the letter, eventually becoming the Detroit district counsel for the Corps. A move to Washington, D.C. in 1968 with her second husband led to a position at the Corps’ headquarters. She progressed from assistant chief in the real estate acquisition department to chief of litigation. In 1978, she was named director of real estate—the first female director in the Corps.
In the early 1980s she and her husband retired to Florida. But Farwell wanted to use her skills to help others. So she became head of the legislative department for the local AARP chapter and volunteered at the local hospital.
Still interested in helping the people around her, the octogenarian currently sits on the board of directors of her retirement community, where she provides advice and counsel.
Her advice for today’s students? “Students, whether men or women, should aim for the highest professional standards. Too many young professionals don’t even bother to be well groomed in their dress or demeanor. To gain respect, you must respect yourself first.”
Sebastian Grassi, Jr., '79 – As a member of the firm Grassi & Toering, Sebastian Grassi, Jr. has been a Michigan estate planning attorney for more than 25 years. His practice emphasizes business law, estate planning, special-needs planning, probate, and commercial real estate.
Grassi is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC). He Is also a member of the Michigan Probate and Estate Planning Council, which advises the Michigan legislature on changes in probate and trust law.
Although Michigan has a comprehensive probate statute (and has had one for many years), Michigan does not have a similar trust law. The Michigan Probate and Estate Planning Council hopes to change that. The Council is working on a version of the Uniform Trust Code (UTC) to recommend to the legislature.
“Because of the proliferation of the use of trusts, it has become evident that there is a need to adopt uniform trust laws across the country that will provide guidance on the formation and admission of trusts,” says Grassi. Further, “Michigan is a state of minimal development in terms of trust laws, and everyone involved with trusts needs greater certainty in the law. The UTC is designed to promote and provide that certainty and guidance.”
Grassi is the author of A Practical Guide to Drafting Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts and A Practical Guide to Drafting Marital Deduction Trusts. Both are published by the American Law Institute through the American Bar Association.
Grassi has also been very active in writing articles, having contributed more than 70 on business law, estate planning, and tax matters in journals such as The Journal of Taxation of Estates and Trusts, Michigan Bar Journal, and the Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal. He also frequently lectures for the Institute of Continuing Legal Education.
Grassi credits the start of his scholarly career to the Christian Legal Society and to former dean of men Arthur Lovely, S.J., who encouraged him to start a chapter of the CLS at the University of Detroit in the late 1970s.
After he graduated from law school, Grassi stayed a member of the National Christian Legal Society. In 1987, he received a phone call from a fellow Christian Legal Society member living in Tinjin, China, who asked Grassi to become involved in a federal district court lawsuit involving the People’s Republic of China and Citizens National Bank in Flint. Grassi’s involvement in the lawsuit led to a stint teaching international business law in Beijing during May and June of 1989.
Most dramatically, Grassi was in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square protests. On one of the most violent days, he happened to be in Tiananmen Square and took several photographs of the incident. He left a day after the incident, as did most expatriates.
Subsequently, Grassi opened his own practice in 1992 and became a member of the national board of directors of CLS.
As Grassi puts it, “After I came back from China, things really started to come together.” Several articles were written about him after his return, and he was introduced to that Institute for Continuing Legal Education, which began a relationship that continues to this day.
At home, Grassi is a dedicated family man. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have three children, Laura, Stephen, and Carolyn. Laura has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around.
Grassi feels that he has been truly blessed by his family and by his work. Religion is important to Grassi, as is the fact that UDM remains a Catholic institution. Says Grassi, “UDM is a Catholic, Jesuit school, and I stand where I am today because of the grace of God.”
Tracy Hackman, '86 – Tracy Hackman is the vice president, general counsel, and secretary for the Americas Region of Chrysler Financial Services North America, a position she assumed January 1, 2006—the first female executive in the company’s 41-year history to lead the Office of the General Counsel.
In announcing her appointment, Klaus Entenmann, president and CEO of then DaimlerChrysler Services of North America said, “Tracy’s institutional knowledge of our company and the automotive financial services industry, combined with her expertise in regulatory affairs, commercial transactions and corporate affairs, will serve us well in our highly competitive business environment.”
While her business skills are important—Hackman also holds an MBA—her legal skills learned at UDM have paved the way for her continued advancement.
According to Hackman, “Our traditional legal education is the sound formation that we as lawyers build upon for the rest of our careers.” Those legal skills are the building blocks for on-the-job training. “It is all well and good to read about it in a book, but it is the application of the legal requirements to the actual transaction or situation that really counts.”
The benefits of climbing the corporate ladder have been readily apparent. According to Hackman, “The further up you move in an organization, the more likely it is that you will be able to see how the overall organization functions and how all the moving parts fit to make you a global enterprise. That is challenging, while at the same time fascinating and intriguing.”
Hackman worked while in law school at UDM, and as she explains, “I started working at law firms when I was in high school, so it is no surprise that I continued to work through law school.” She believes that this was advantageous, because it allowed her to experience several different areas of law and then focus on the area—business law—that interested her most when she graduated from UDM.
In addition to her duties with Chrysler Financial, Hackman sits on the Board of Directors for RouteOne, a joint venture between Chrysler Financial Services, Ford Motor Credit Corporation, General Motors Acceptance Corporation, and Toyota. She also participates on Chrysler Financial’s Diversity Council and the School of Law’s Dean’s Advisory Board.
Her busy schedule means that making time for family and fun is a priority. “I really like to golf—but that takes an enormous amount of time, so a quick boat ride or two on a Sunday afternoon is just right and something we can do together with friends and family.”
Denise Ilitch, '80 (2007 Alumnus of the Year) – Probably best known for having been the president of Ilitch Holdings, Inc. and for her role as publisher of Ambassador Magazine, Ms. Ilitch has also dedicated herself to numerous other organizations. She spends her time not only supporting the city of Detroit with her family’s many businesses and sports teams, but also working hard to care for Detroit’s people. She is president of the Board of Directors for Kids Kicking Cancer in Detroit, as well as founder or co-founder of such organizations as Ilitch Charities for Children, the Lovelight Foundation which enhances the lives of the poor, and the Atanas Ilitch Osteosarcoma Foundation.
Her role as Publisher of Ambassador Magazine is bringing increasing positive attention to the city of Detroit.
As an attorney, Ms. Ilitch is Of Counsel for the firm Clark Hill PLC. She works in business development, and brings years of personal experience into the field.
Denise Ilitch has also provided significant time and energy to the School of Law. She has met with students, spoken in classrooms and assemblies, provided advice, and is currently chairing a board of businesspeople helping the Dean to develop innovative ways to expand the applicant pool even further.
Todd Macaluso, ’87 – Todd Macaluso was recognized during 2007’s Commencement ceremonies with the prestigious President Maureen A. Fay, O.P., Public Service Award. The Award is bestowed each year upon an alumnus who exemplifies the commitment to service and dedication to the community that characterized Sister Fay’s tenure at UDM.
President of Macaluso and Associates since 1995, Macaluso has represented a wide range of plaintiffs in products liability, aviation, medical malpractice and other personal injury actions. Macaluso has consistently used his representation of individual clients to speak out for broader public improvements. For example, he actively lobbied Congress regarding the Ryan Haight Act which would strongly regulate the internet pharmacy business.
He also used his knowledge representing the victims of an ephedra-based diet pill to serve as a key witness in getting Congress to ban the sale of ephedra-based diet drugs within the United States. As a consistent champion for victims, Macaluso has had a major impact on both litigation and public policy.
Macaluso was joined at the ceremony by his wife, Angie; their son, Aidan; Todd’s mother, Joan Macaluso; and his in-laws, Darlyn and Charles Davenport.
Ralph Margulis, '77 – Ralph Margulis is a partner at Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss, PC who serves as co-chairman of the aviation and financial institutions practice groups. He has also served on the firm’s executive committee and as the marketing director.
Margulis is an expert in aviation law and has represented clients in all aspects of the industry, ranging from sales of small single-engine airplanes to FAA settlement negotiations. He is also a business owner who uses his experience to work on business transactions.
While at UDM, Margulis was chairman of the Moot Court Board of Advocates and served as associate editor on the Law Review.
L. Brooks Patterson, '67 (2005 Alumnus of the Year) – After serving as county executive of Oakland County for the past 14 years, L. Brooks Patterson, Liberal Arts '61, Law '67, is probably best known as a proponent of fiscal responsibility who isn’t afraid to take the political heat for defending what he sees as his constituents’ best interests. A closer look at his record reveals a leader who believes government can make a real difference in people’s lives.
“Politics is one of the few professions where you can actually change things, and I like to think I’m changing them for the better,” Patterson says.
Patterson was 2005’s Alumnus of the Year for the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law because of the high standard he sets for government leaders in Michigan, according to Robert Martin, '66, an attorney with Plunkett & Cooney, who has chaired the nominating committee for many years.
Martin commended Patterson for his ability to solve problems quickly, often by finding creative ways to involve private enterprise without burdening the taxpayer.
“Brooks Patterson is ahead of his time and always has been,” Martin says. “He is a man of great principle and vision.”
Three recent program demonstrate how Patterson uses his leadership skills to improve the quality of life in Oakland County.
-In 2004, he started the Count Your Steps program to combat childhood obesity. He raised $250,000 from private companies to buy pedometers for 30,000 third- and fourth-graders. The students counted 2.2 billion steps in the first county-wide competition.
-He implemented a low-income prescription relief program for Oakland County residents. Those who meet certain income guidelines pay just $7 a month for a prescription regardless of the retail cost.
-And four years ago, Patterson prompted the county health department to develop a pre-natal care program with a nursing association that has reduced the infant mortality rate among African Americans in Pontiac from 28 to 9 per thousand births.
As county executive, Patterson’s main responsibility is managing a $620 million budget in 4,400 employees. One measure of his success is Oakland County’s triple-A bond rating that Wall Street gives to fewer than 20 counties in the country.
While Patterson gets high marks for efficient government, his heart is in finding ways to promote positive change. “I would be bored stiff if I had to just sit here and do what’s in the job description,” he says. “I like politics because you can make things happen.”
He has worked tirelessly to diversify the county’s economic base, which he argues can no longer depend on the auto industry for continues growth.
In 1998, he provided the leadership to create Automation Alley, a consortium that has grown to more than 500 high-tech companies in southeastern Michigan. Funded completely by membership dues, Automation Alley opened a new technology center in 2004 to provide marketing support for new products.
In 2003, Patterson launched Oakland County’s Emerging Sectors economic development program that targets top companies worldwide in growth industries such as robotics and alternative energy. As a result, several companies have already agreed to build facilities in the county.
“We’re trying to change the image of this region from rust and heavy manufacturing, to high tech,” he adds.
Patterson’s latest initiative is free wireless Internet access for the entire county at no cost to taxpayers. The county and cities will provide locations needed for transmission equipment. The private company that builds and maintains the system providing free low-speed access would be able to sell lucrative high-speed access and advertising.
It’s a classic Patterson proposal that ties a partnership with private enterprise to a dynamic vision for Oakland County’s future. “To say that we’re the only wireless county in the country will give me a huge advantage when I go out to attract business,” he says.
Donald Burkholder, associate professor of Political Science at UDM, says Patterson has earned a reputation as an effective promoter of economic development who can work across party lines. While he hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with Detroit’s leadership, he has kept the lines of communication open for regional cooperation.
Patterson entered public service as a lawyer. After graduating from the School of Law in 1967—he was editor-in-chief of the Law Review—he joined the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office and quickly found his legal calling in prosecuting major felony cases.
“It’s very fulfilling to know that you put a cop killer or child molester behind bars,” he says.
He was elected county prosecutor in 1972, and his 16-year tenure included a successful appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court. He stepped down in 1988 and practiced law for four years before winning the election as county executive in 1992.
Patterson finds time to work for many charitable causes. He founded the Rainbow Connection, which raises money to grant the wishes of terminally ill children.
Now he is lending his support to the law school’s Riverfront Campus Campaign and the Veterans Law Clinic because his law school education has helped him achieve a satisfying and rewarding career.
“I think it’s time to pay a little back,” he says.
Alan Tilchen, '72 – After practicing law, Alan Tilchen decided he could help people even more by combining his legal expertise with his undergraduate degree in business to assist them with their personal financial goals. He established The Tilchen Corporation in Birmingham, Michigan, an independent insurance and financial services business, to do just this.
“Becoming financially independent, and remaining financially independent, means people can reach their career goals, support their families and give back to their communities.,” says Tilchen.
Understanding wills, trusts, accounting and tax planning can be daunting for any person. Acting as a facilitator, Tilchen works with his clients’ attorneys, CPAs and other advisors. Tilchen combines his knowledge of these areas with his expertise in financial tools, such as life and disability insurance, long-term care options and mutual fund investments.
“When I was a UDM student, so many students had to pay their own way. I worked in many different jobs and as a substitute teacher while studying for my law degree. Today, I help families identify their goals so they can set aside funds for their children’s’ college education and their retirement,” Tilchen says. “Having a plan means a better standard of living, less stress and more peace of mind as we cycle through life’s challenges.”
Tilchen also provides guidance on how individuals can give back to their schools, religious organizations, churches or social services as part of their estate planning. “Leaving a legacy is very important for many people. Yes, they want to leave their children an inheritance, but they also want to build a better world,” says Tilchen.
Tilchen believes in the UDM philosophy to serve and is very active in the community working behind the scenes to improve lives. A key component of his legacy will include his daughter, Lindsay. She joined his company in 2001. “Lindsay grew up discussing economics at the dinner table,” says Tilchen. “She also believes that we are here to serve and help others find success.”
He has authored several books and articles dealing with taxation of S-corporations and is a frequent lecturer on matters of taxation. Weiss has also served as an adjunct professor at UDM and other law schools.
Weiss graduated magna cum laude from UDM Law and also holds an LL.M. in taxation. While at the University, he was a member of the Law Review editorial board and the Moot Court Board of Advocates. He has also remained active with UDM, speaking at Lunches with Lawyers.
Nancy Westveld, '88 – While many UDM Law alumni become prominent members of the community, few find themselves portrayed by Kelly McGillis on national television. Nancy Westveld, '88, found herself in exactly that situation in the Spring of 2006.
In March 2006, the Lifetime Television network released Black Widower, a made-for-television movie about one of the more famous (or infamous) cases that Westveld prosecuted during her almost twenty-year tenure in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.
Black Widower revolved around the crime and prosecution of a Detroit executive, Lowell Amos, who was convicted of murdering his wife with a lethal dose of cocaine at a Detroit hotel in 1994.
Because she was a nurse before becoming an attorney, Westveld specialized in the medical aspects of murder cases. Westveld was intimately involved in the subsequent investigation, which uncovered evidence that Amos had murdered two previous wives and his mother and had collected substantial sums of insurance money.
During a lengthy trial—one that many observers thought would lead to an acquittal, or, at best, a conviction of involuntary manslaughter—Westveld was able to convict Amos of first-degree murder, and Amos was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without parole.
“Amos was in many ways a dream to prosecute, because he really thought that he could outsmart anyone,” says Westveld. “Although much of the evidence we could piece together was circumstantial, we were able to convict him in part because of his arrogance.”
The case was hotly contested, and featured two trips to the Court of Appeals, as well as one to the Michigan Supreme Court.
As Westveld put it, “This wasn’t the sort of case that you saw everyday in my job. In fact, this was one of those once-in-a-career cases in which you sometimes find yourself involved.”
Following a short stint in private practice after leaving the prosecutor’s office, Westveld currently works for the Attorney Grievance Commission.
On campus in the Fall of 2006 for Lunch with a Lawyer, Westveld counseled the students that attorneys must be very familiar with the rules of evidence and the rules of professional conduct.
According to Westveld, “Paying close attention in those two classes will help you a great deal if you want to go into prosecution.”