Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Change, however unsettling, is often inevitable.

In 1980, I started working for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. Bill Cahalan was the prosecutor at the time, and I started to work there just after the County lifted a hiring freeze. Within a month or so, several other bright young prosecutors were hired---including a gal named Jan Joyce (later Bartee), whose career would track mine almost step-by-step.

Though I never anticipated being a prosecutor---either as a kid, or later in law school---I knew at once I'd found my professional home. The work was fascinating and personally rewarding; I got to write to my heart's content; and the Office was filled with a sense of honor, and of mission. We were trained that our job was seeking Justice---and that when a prosecutor announced that he was representing "The People," that meant all of the people...including the defendant.

Jan and I rose through the ranks together...getting promoted early and quickly, and establishing ourselves as two of the brightest young prosecutors in the office. Ahead of us in the office was Tim Baughman---who'd already established himself as an appellate whiz and something of a legend around the state, and who soon came to head the appellate department. Within a year or two several other promising attorneys joined the staff, including a lady named Olga Agnello, who'd gone to law school in Utah of all places, while her then-husband was pursuing an advanced degree of his own.

By the end of the 1980s, the four of us had not only become friends, but we had formed the nucleus of an appellate staff second to none. Were were all accomplished legal writers and thinkers, and were busy putting our creative minds to the task of reformulating Michigan's criminal law, reforming some of the ill-considered changes brought about in the 1970s, and helping to shape Michigan law for the decades to come. Three of us---Jan, Tim, and myself---went to argue cases before the United States Supreme Court in Washington. And by the end of the 1990s, our legal arguments had helped rewrite state law areas ranging from sentencing to evidence to double jeopardy, and beyond. We were widely thought to be a state resource, writing about and pioneering work in every area of criminal law that exists.

Two weeks ago, the County made a retirement offer to all its executives, an offer too good to resist. It boosted our pensions well beyond anything we ever expected...though the message was hardly a boost to our egos: "You cost too much money," they said, in effect. "We'll even bribe you to long as you go."

After nearly thirty years in the office, we were given two weeks to make up our minds. But the three of us didn't get where we were by being fools; and much as we might feel outraged as taxpayers by our good fortune, we could recognize opportunity when it knocked.

Olga put in her retirement papers last week.

I filed mine today.

Tim and Jan file theirs tomorrow.

It will mark the end of an era. Not the end of the world...or of friendships, or memories, or good wishes.

But even if will usher in a host of new beginnigns, it will be the end of something quite special.

On January 28, 1895, my grandfather Walter Luniewski was born on a farm in what is now eastern Poland. One-hundred and fourteen years later, his first grandson filed to retire from the job he loved...and hoping to find happiness in pursuing other dreams and adventures.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

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