From Carpenter to Super Lawyer: The Story of Flint Attorney Chris Christenson
Hello Mrs Arthur Bush. This is Radio Free Flint. We appreciate you taking the time to listen to our podcast like to ask you For your input on other programming. There's a topic you'd like us to cover at. There's somebody like us. Stay interview or yourself might want to spend a few minutes with us and tell your story looking for people who want to tell her story about flint tell us a little about the history of Flint. And what makes it interesting and about its people. Lastly if you'd like to find this podcast and others who can do so at anchor dot. Fm You can leave a message. There with a voicemail or text message you can also find us at Google are cast apple. Itunes podcast spotify or SANKAR DOT FM. And most of your favorite podcast applications will will have us. All you have to do is subscribed. You'll be there. You'll get to listen in the front seat to all the rest of our efforts here to try to bring flint a little closer to you no matter you live far away so without any further ado. Here's our next episode Good morning this Arthur Bush and you're listening to Radio Free Flint and we have a great a great podcast coming up for a change. This is going to be an exciting A lawyer who who is well known in the flint community and I I am really honored that he put his corona virus lockdown face on for us because he doesn't need his usual dapper attire to To impress US so Chris Chris Christianson. It's all yours man. Good morning our. Thanks for having me on this morning. Good morning to know about is tell us a little bit about where you were raised and you know all the basics of your resume I guess your schooling and so on I like grew up in the city of Flint I graduated from Flint southwestern hung out on the south side to plant in worked my way through undergraduate as a originally as an appraiser but then I was a carpenter and then I went to law school a Cooley. I worked way through school as a construction superintendent and journeyman carpenter both. So wow so you know how to Hammer Nielsen planks. Oh Yeah I used to. Anyway I used to be a journeyman so I was on a union card local one two three four out of Detroit United Brotherhood carpenters and joiners. Do you think that experience gave you a boost when you started practicing law. What you know. What's interesting about that? It changed my perspective about work because we worked hard. We've got to work at six in the morning in summertime and we worked until three or four naef noon and the blazing heat and you just had stuff to get done. You had to get it done so going to school fulltime. I went to school all year round two loss owner to do all that when. I was working between school and work sixty hours a week so when I went out on my own putting in fifty or sixty hours. A week didn't seem that bad. I didn't have travel time. My body wasn't beat up. I wasn't it out in the elements in the freezing cold or in the blistering Sun. So yeah helped a lot of things and scary and then you you went to flint southwestern high school or Academy of all textile transition that right well Has Some know out there in radio land I also southwestern Grad as are many of our compatriots in the legal system including Dunkin Beagle? And Joe. Faira Judges Chris you one of the things. That's very impressive. About your background is the fact that as a young lawyer you got out of the gate Just as enthusiastic as any young person I saw in my career of nearly forty years now. I was so impressed with the fact that you got involved in professional associations and tell us a little bit about your journey with that and and you're still involved in a number of them. I think it's important to Kinda give give back especially to our professional because it is a not just a career to profession and we are what we make it in my opinion. So if if we'd all participate then we'll have a profession. That's sort of Pol so I always thought they should participate What's going on and that we can help you know. I don't do my part going forward so at a very very beginning. Sort OF MY CAREER. I started participating in Jessica Bar Association non-lawyers Events and then I learned about the state bar young lawyers and I started participating in state by your lawyers adults and then that just kind of developed I stayed active Bar Association in wound up becoming the president. I was the second youngest president in one hundred thirteen year. History at the time. Only don't can be built was younger. When he was president. I found out during that year and then I wound up getting elected as the chairperson. Plenum lawyers section stay which is the largest section individual sections of the state bar back then and continued that I stay active with the kind of our association on various committees and Currently on the state bar or the commissioners for the whole state almost went. They tell us what they do. Because I'm sure the most people don't know what the Commissioner of the state bar so the commissioners in stay buyers about forty five thousand lawyers and about thirty two lawyers get elected to the to the State Bar Border Commission so. I'm one of the thirty two that got elected and what we do. Is We meet several times a year and we work on various different projects that have to do with the lawyers in state because we're self-regulating body. There's all kinds of things that come up that we have to be responsible for or have input on but we also get input from the Supreme Court. Whenever there's going to be a legislative change or court will change. They send it over to us to review and farm out to our subcommittees like the real property law section of the Criminal Law section. We help coordinate. All goes any any response to Something major like pandemic. We've we've had several soon calls like this for the last two weeks where we've had to work on various issues that are facing lawyers like the new one that just came out this week notaries allowing beer out shortly to notarize something remotely which has never been never been allowed before so. I think there'd be changes from this Corona virus pandemic affected lot of professions including the legal profession. And that might very well be one of them because we can do it during a crisis. Why can't we do it all the time? Tell me about that. I guess I was curious to know. I'm not actively practicing law anymore. Tell me what impact this pan-demic has had on the legal profession in genesee county. Oh it it varies from Specialty to specialty. I'm sure but in our practice we are. We have a small firm. There's three of us now. We or lawyer. There's three of us currently. And we do a lot of real estate and Business Litigation we also do Craig's lot of Probate Estate Planning and probate litigation. And then Rick and I both do criminal fence. So were you able. Specialties has different impact. Who who are your parts narrowed? Yes Greg Feeder line And Rick Hetherington and Rick or Flint. Police officer who's been attorney with us for seven years now. Okay all right so each of the areas of law. I'm sorry I kind of interrupted you. 'cause we were using names. Nobody knows those people that are at least nobody. We need identified them as Long Chris. In terms of your practice. How is it impacted your particular practice area? Well it's been it's been twofold. The the real estate transactions actual real estate agents are have been told that they are not considered central. So they're not showing houses for sale or buying or selling house right now but title companies work considered essential title. Companies are open. So it's created this there there is so we're not reviewing a lot of purchase documents. At present time I just had a big commercial transaction fall completely apart two weeks ago because of this and the uncertainty in the market But on the criminal side interestingly were doing a lap I remote. I just did a video. Assume like we're doing now zoom sentencing on Tuesday so it was very very interesting. Setup they put the defendant in jail in one of the booths and they had the court in the actual courtroom slid record. It still create a record and then I was at my office doing it from my office. So if you can imagine. There's a difficulty there. Because we had to tell the defendant if the defendant one is speak to me directly in private which they have a right to do the judge and the prosecutor would have had to get off the call. The deputy would had to have a muted what they could here so that I can talk to my client directly them. It would have to notify the court to give back on call. That was the only way to do it if we had to do. But Luckily we didn't have to do that in our case but a lot of issues to work through. Yeah Dad and of course the courts are closed. I understand for the most part district court is almost completely shut down. I think other than they're doing some PC's because people have right so you got arrested over the weekend for something You have the right to have your bail set. You've got the right to have your boat. Pcc within the first twenty one or within seven days a thing on the PC in twenty one days for example. There's good cause did not have the exam right now. So yeah so right now. It's a big slowdown which isn't so bad for a lawyer to catch up right where we've been doing a lot of paperwork from home so good for you. Know what about new clients and you meet new clients through through traditional methods or we're not meeting any new clients We're talking to on the phone. We are doing phone interviews with people We we have been retained by some new clients. But it's been we've never met. We have not physically met them Where discouraging any. We're not actually open for any face to face contact. So it's all video or phone so let's go back in time based on a few other things One of the things that I best remember you from is a U N Case Year escapes me. Now two thousand three. I believe it was and There was a group of lawyers sooner. Genesee County Bar Association who decided to make that their party and they went down to Washington and got sworn in before this the Supreme Court of the United States and watched an and watched the argue. This case which is quite surprised by Tell us about that and then came about well. Interestingly enough I didn't back then I just started out and I didn't know any of those people so I didn't get sworn in then I didn't go with any group I went on my own time my wife and I at the time we went. We set up our own plans. We went and watched the we'd run into people from the buyer and got to know a few people from that. If I remember there was a meeting at the hotel a dunk for the argument but my wife and I just went to watch because he was our prosecutor argued in front of the United States Supreme Court whose huge and so something that was interesting and we went to go. Check it out since then. I've been back at foreign and later with the Bar Association and I got to go back again and make the motion to have people sworn in front screen court. So I've been back three times. It's been it's been very good experience. A little scary experience for me. I'm sure it was fun watching It was Was doing that some one day. I'll do a podcast adventure. Because ask as you're you're you know you you don't appear in front of the screen. The Supreme Court very often or is ever most lawyers. Don't but I remember Phil Elliott walking down the fall of the Great Hall of Statue where the Supreme Court after I got through security. And he's coming in the opposite direction with his wife and I couldn't believe he is walking down the hall Spring Court. I was shocked. What are you doing here? I COME TO WATCH S. A young lawyer a new lawyer. I love that guy. Elliott Judge Circuit judge because in his in his office inside his office. He had the SOFA and above his soap. He had this huge Part of my favorite baseball player alkaline lined up to absolutely adore recipes. Yes he passed away this past week. and so anybody that's got a pitcher. Ralph Feline Lake. That ends office. He can't be so bad but he was a little on the grumpy side and but he's harbor at Harvard educated man but he would scare the Bejesus out of me and I was at A. I was on the temperament the time where if you told me I can. You're in something I'm going to figure out. I can so so. He loved that he loved the challenge of an in such a brilliant legal mind. He would set up legal arguments. And then tell you don't like it go appeal it. Which is exactly what he wanted. He wanted that all along. He wanted he knew what the law was. I remember one time interesting. When we're in the corona viral. Sarah I had a case people versus Samri Collins. You can look it up. And Sandy wanted me to travel to Camp. Bearing Wall which is the furthest point away and the key monop- peninsula way up there by Houghton Hancock to see him based on race in prison and a case where he was stealing cars right you know. They parked him off the assembly line stealing about as fast as they could make him and he got convicted. Sorry I was doing the appeal and he insisted that I drive all the way to camp and so I thought you know before I drive that far. Five hundred miles. I'M GONNA go see this judge. Make sure I'm going to get paid and make sure it's okay. And he said you can't go well. The you know the rules of professional conduct in Michigan which established By the Supreme Court that required a face to face interview and Sisal or my supposed to do breach the ethics get bow practiced. He says appeal me so having Phil Elliott sitting behind. You were scarier than the guy sitting in front of me because I knew that he was like law school professors. Where the or a coach coaches in my life as played sports that I just aimed at the moment that I didn't realize until you know it was over that he could teach you to win championships and enlarge Barton with the help of a lot of other people. He helped me win that case Not Saying a word just sitting back there and telling me to mind my English and quit talking so much exactly so in any event was interesting. That was an interesting case for another moment. Maybe I'll invite you back for a chat about that but Chris you In your personal life of ammunition personal A Goal Party. Your personal goals should have for some fear disclosure here. Chris actually until he reminded me this morning. Got His start in the genesee county. Prosecutor's office says an intern. Tell us a little bit about that experience. That was awesome. I is part of law school. I got to do an internship program. I decided to go ask if I could do it at the prosecutor's office and I got interviewed by Stamos who was a trial attorney for the prosecutor's office back then and He interviewed me. Asked me about why I want to do my internship there and if I wanted to be a prosecutor and and I told him no. I wasn't that I really wanted to ask you to but I want to see how it works inside and I was really interested about learning about luck and he said son. That's the wrong answer. Extend Somebody asked you why you want to hear you tell them that you ought to be a prosecutor and he started laughing. He said I'm just kidding. He's a look ahead and we'll take you you can be. You can do your entrance with us and so I realized that you know Sometimes that's forthrightness needs to be tempered a little bit but it was pretty funny. He'd been Assign the over to the Drug Unit and back then in the drug unit. John Green was our our head. And then we have Janet McLaren and twenty chefs. Geena bunch of others. Kenny Phillips that are still around all the time that I I still work with and it was a great experience. Learn from those guys I got to do under that court rule. I can't remember escapes me right now. But under court will interns are allowed to do preliminary exam so they can do. Small things are supervised so I got to actually do exams on drug cases Before I even graduated and was tremendous learning experience. That's great. I've had some young people who took on that to gun that job and they didn't WanNa leave at one young guy. He actually tried a criminal sexual assault first degree case in front of a jury in probate court and I was. I was so upset. My heard about it because it's such a serious charge lifeless fence and the kid want it. He actually wanted. You didn't want to go back in more wins than anybody else. Unfair stay at practice Let's switch gears for a second You're have had a a long time dream of serving on the bench. How did that? We're we're to being a judge where where did that start once that all of you know. I think it was probably. I'm sure law. School is just something. I've thought about but as I've been in practice and I've been in practice for twenty years so as I've been in practice it's picked up steam. I I've had the opportunity with the kind of work that I do to practice all around the state. I even had a jury trial in middle February in the UP. And so. I've had the opportunity. Ski Really Really Great Judges and also seeing judges that. I thought maybe do a little better job and and so as you sit back and you learn from them you know things you can do better and things that you hadn't thought of that they did great and you think well you know what I think. I have absurd A very balanced personality. I don't get too high. Don't get too low and I think fairness is out as a guiding principle all the time I think that's what we kinda need more on the benches you know fewer Adamo but under the best way to say it but you want somebody who can be fair and impartial. That's the entire goal of the job. And so I just think that would be good at that. So yeah and now you. You ran for judge On a few years ago I don't remember what year that was thousand eighteen. What did you learn from that race? Well that was an interesting race because there were two open seats and have had not been to open seats in our county in years and years and years so that was a lot of work. We worked very very hard and on our side. We made a conscious effort to be extremely clean. We didn't we didn't engage in any of the negativity. That's just not my my personality. I guess so. We didn't do any of that and I thought it went fairly well. We we missed the seat by three percent. I came in third place. There was two seats and I was right behind the two winners by three percent. So who were the winners that year? Elizabeth Kelly and brand account and they're both doing great. They're both doing really well so that worked well for them. But it's difficult to come that close so that's trying to genders. There's one open seat right now Judge delays retiring at. The end of this year will let me Let me give you a little tip of tip off a history of Jesse County One of my favorite judges who have served on the bench one of which is Dunkin Beetle. Who's a third generation attorney His grandfather was prosecutor Genesee County. He Ran Way Back in Way Back in the nineties eighties late eighties and might Makara. was his opponent and he narrowly lost Mike and then And then ask consequence he A people love. Don't be with all of this. At a charitable activity in our community but he also Well he got appointed eventually by Governor Angler and then I started my practice with a zeal who had tried To become a judge threw an election and lost Judas Fullerton judge corruption very narrowly Way Back in like nineteen eighty one eighty eighty or eighty one and then was appointed judge by Governor Blanchard. So it's good experience running for judge isn't it? It's a lot of work though. Yeah you get I. I've I've thought might Career like you. I've traveled. I've had the opportunity after I retired from rescuers office to travel all over the state and I found my way across the bridge and I would just say this that as as we traveled around we begin to see We begin to see the different systems. And then I've always loved flint because it was a a small bar. People worked with one another to solve people's problems And and so I. I believe that the best judges I've seen those that have actually had to go out. Meet the people campaign hard. Get to know them and then serve them in in a capacity. Where you've been chosen. You have the most credibility have the best understanding of any of any judge on not not to distract from those sitter picked by governor. But if you have to go out and earn it you have a special appreciation for that seat in and who could get you there. And that's the public your servant of the people so now you're thinking about running for judge again. That was my little aditorial advice to you. I am running. Exxon made an announcement at the end of February unsolicited. That none of which senior you running for the city rented All right we'll tell us a little bit about how that's going for you will we We announced in February. We got very organized. We saw a lot of organization from last last race We went out and got all of our petition. Signed the to have a minimum of thousand petitions in a maximum two thousand so we turned all two thousand signatures back on March fifth and we started focusing on the next phase which would been Door to door meeting with the public and fundraisers but this corona thing has shut both of those things down There's no way that we could go door to door. Obviously it's not even allowed but we just wouldn't wouldn't be healthy right now to go door to door and then at the same time we can't hold any events so it's we've been getting we've been focusing on getting more organized for when things finally do open up but died in a holding pattern right now. So are you switching Your strategy a little bit to be more engaged with social media and on communicating with the public. That way if we we are looking at all of that right now. Exac best Tweaking right now. Well in terms of your activity within the Bar Association Dan I WANNA Tell you that I've not seen a young person come along in my career. Had the the zeal Mama and the charisma to to be able to maintain a busy practice like you have and then engage the lawyers. You're well liked by the lawyers. Obviously you've held a high positions within the Bar Association of the one that I think was was really special. Purview is when you got involved in the lawyers of Michigan Organization. Which was a tell us what that is in how relates to the Bar Association. The young lawyers section stay buyers the largest sexual state bar so I started participating man and I was there for about a year and a half or so to and then I got elected as the chairperson and part of why I got elected that every year. We do a program. We were all encouraged to do it program in our area whatever our worst and the program I did was called the Jerry and I got the idea from Texas but modified it and so what what we did was and I told him. Vance volunteer had to think of who else helped me back. Then but so what we did. Was We invited from various schools? Come down to Masonic Temple. They could tour the Masonic Temple tour the District Court in tour the circuit court. We broke minute groups. And then we had them watch video where habitable or prosecutors and half of the jury and half were the other third third third or the defense and They make up their own verdicts. And we're not allowed to talk about at each lacks the video because we broke into groups and then we had lunch at Masonic in the head to talk about. They'd give us their verdicts and we had talked about it. And it was amazing the verdicts were not the saint in so we want to national awards for that actually and then. The next year was elected as the chair. We did that for about four or five years but when I aged out nobody picked it up to continue the program. That won't be a young lawyer. Yeah you'd have to be under thirty six or less than five years in practice so Chris. We got about five minutes left the goal here. I'd like to ask you some questions. This shows about About a flint area had not in our community. And that's a writ large that he will not just the city but What is it about flint? You're born and bred educated in the public school. I forgot to ask her where he went to college. Given what is it about our city? that That you think has helped you in your career and in your professional endeavors what what is it about. This displace that In light of all the problems is is has created such a amok of success. You know what I think. Honestly it's this city if you if you're from here and you've come up through the city you can't help but have the sense of resilience that the city itself has this city has seen so many trials and tribulations. Forever for years isn't growing up in the seventies eighties and nineties. Now there's just two to water questions so this always finds a way to survive and that resilience. I think translates to anybody and everybody. Who's come through? You just feel it so in regular work and what I do. There's a resilience that you know. You work hard. You're going to get through whatever it is that we're faced this tribe us like right now at loved. The mural project about the downtown are be resurgent last eight or nine years but but last year that mural project just caught fire and that thing is amazing or drive-by check them out but is very very virtual project. So who's lung. You'll have to put me in touch with the people that are doing it. I'd love to interview them. You know boy he tells Blakey I don't I don't know what his role is but he definitely has something to do with it but he has got a lot of good information. But if you google it you'll find details but my last liberty my wife and I my my daughter. We drove around for three hours a time. I think it was only sixty. I think they're close to a hundred meals now but we took three hours and drove all around the city check out the neurons in the artwork is faint at it's beyond designated. There's some really impressive things. We'll send some pictures to me. I'll use them law and our and our habits. I Will Chris. It's great to have you with me. I really appreciate you taking the time of on this Saturday And I wish you the best in your endeavors. Sir as she run for judge and as you continue to serve on the state in Michigan and your activities with the state are It's been Really for me. You know I moved along retired from from law pretty much. But it's great to see the the tradition of that you represent in Flint and you represent the best of my view. So congratulations and I wish you again. The Best of luck I appreciate it. Thanks they have me okay. Good by this author Bush and Chris Chris Chris Christianson attorney from Flint Michigan and this is Radio Free Flint. And we have a message for everybody listens to this and that is state into how all for a while try be safe. Thank you bye-bye. Oh Boo flaws shows around a ring America.