Two luminaries of the Michigan legal community — one at the prime of her profession, and the other retired after an illustrious 70-year career — will be honored in a free online event presented by the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan (JBAM).
Dana Nessel, Michigan’s attorney general since 2019, will receive JBAM’s inaugural Ruth Bader Ginsburg Champion of Justice Award. At the same event, United States District Judge Avern Cohn, who retired in December 2019 after four decades on the bench, will receive JBAM’s first Lifetime Achievement Award.
JBAM’s 2021 Awards Event will be held on Zoom at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 25. The festivities are free and open to the community. RSVP at jewishbar.org.
Attorney General Nessel has championed justice both before and after becoming attorney general. A graduate of Wayne State University Law School, she served in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. Afterward, in private practice, she represented a lesbian couple in a groundbreaking adoption case that eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage throughout the country.
As attorney general, Nessel formed a Hate Crimes Unit and an Elder Abuse Task Force. She has worked to protect consumers and sued manufacturers of PFAS pollutants. A Democrat, she is the first openly LGBTQ person elected to statewide office in Michigan.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg embodied the essence of a trailblazer,” Nessel said. “Her lifetime commitment to advancing gender equality and equal protection for all persons set a standard I strive to meet and serves as a reminder of the work that must continue.
“It is not lost on me that I will humbly accept this honor in its inaugural year as the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Champion of Justice Award. I deeply appreciate this recognition and remain committed to reinforcing the late justice’s advocacy for current and future generations.”
Judge Cohn served on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan from 1979-2019. When he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, he was the only Jewish judge on that court.
“I grew up at a time when a Jewish federal judge was an important symbol to the total Jewish community,” Cohn said in a 2004 interview with journalist Charlotte Dubin for the Leonard N. Simons Jewish Community Archives.
Cohn was a 1949 graduate of University of Michigan Law School. His 30-year law career leading up to the judgeship included working in the firm of his father, famed attorney Irwin Cohn, which later merged into Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn in Detroit. He also served as chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and on the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, where he advocated for affirmative action to increase the number of Black and female police officers.
His many volunteer roles in the Jewish community included serving as president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, 1981-1983. He has also been a supporter of Jewish education, including Orthodox day schools. Like his father, Avern Cohn was awarded Federation’s Fred M. Butzel Award for distinguished community service, the honor of which he is most proud.
At the event, JBAM will also award Charles J. Cohen Esq. Law Student Scholarships to Jessica Davidova of Wayne State University Law School and Chase O. Yarber of University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.