James Brady said the best job he ever had was serving as U.S. Attorney for the Western Judicial District of Michigan. Photo by Johnny Quirin
If you ask Jim Brady about his community involvement, be ready for a long list. He’s been volunteering his time with professional and community organizations since he entered the legal profession in 1969.
Some of the organizations he’s been involved with include Grand Rapids Jaycees, Catholic Charities West Michigan, Emmanuel Hospice and St. Ann’s Skilled Nursing Home — to name only a handful.
“I always thought it was important to get involved in the community,” he said.
He’s been recognized for his community and professional involvement several times. This year he was honored with the Marion Hilligan Award from Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School and with the WMU 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award.
“Jim Brady deserves to be recognized at the highest level,” said Hardy Figueroa, WMU development and alumni relations. “His professional achievements have not only brought distinction to himself, but to his alma mater. We at WMU are grateful for his dedication to the university.”
Brady’s involvement with WMU, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1966, began when the school’s president approached him about joining the board of trustees. Then-governor Jim Blanchard appointed Brady to the board in 1987. He served an eight-year term during what turned out to be one of the school’s greatest periods of growth.
He followed up his trustee role with a seat on the WMU Foundation’s board of directors, where he served as chair, as well as chair for its Committee on Directors.
“We grew the foundation during the time I was chair from $60 million to $200 million,” Brady noted.
Brady’s other alma mater, Notre Dame, where he earned his law degree, also has benefitted from his commitment to giving back. He volunteered with the school’s local chapter and has participated with the school’s fundraising efforts.
“I loved Western and I loved Notre Dame,” he said, noting he was happy to be able to give back to both universities.
Brady has served several Catholic organizations in Grand Rapids throughout the years. He said that commitment comes from growing up Catholic and attending Catholic schools in Grand Rapids.
He credits his success to the men and women at those institutions who helped him.
“I was educated by the nuns and priests at St. Andrews, St. Francis and Catholic Central,” he said. “It was a beautiful, wonderful experience from the women and men who gave up so much.”
Brady points to one of the nuns who had a particularly big impact on his life.
“I had a very bad stutter — I could not say two words back to back,” he said.
In addition to not allowing the other students to interrupt him in class as he worked out the words, Brady said the nun worked with him outside of the classroom to help him overcome his stutter.
“She never got paid a dime and yet she worked with me hour after hour,” he said. “She gave me hints that I use today in how to control it.”
He said his experience in serving Catholic organizations included a lot of diversity, particularly for the times.
“Meeting people from the east and west side, from various economic and cultural backgrounds, with religion at the base,” he said.
In addition to his work with Catholic Charities West Michigan and on the St. Ann’s Skilled Nursing Home board, Brady took part in the formation of Emmanuel Hospice, a combined effort by St. Ann’s, Clark Retirement Home, Porter Hills and Sunset Retirement Home. He also served as Emmanuel Hospice’s first president.
“The purpose is to provide faith-based hospice to those patients,” he said.
Professionally, Brady has taken on numerous roles with the Grand Rapids Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan. His first role was with the Young Lawyers Section of the local bar association, which was primarily responsible for high school mentoring and the Law Day program.
He has served on various Grand Rapids Bar Association committees and was elected vice president, president-elect and president.
He noted one of his greatest professional accomplishments was being part of a group of lawyers who wrote the initial rules that allowed recordings, photography and TV cameras in the courtroom.
Most recently, he was appointed to a statewide committee to modify the Michigan Supreme Court rules to improve access. “It was a very worthwhile committee,” he said.
Brady’s professional career began at law firm Roach, Smolenski, Twohey & Benson, and he credits Edward Twohey and Robert Benson as two of the men who had a profound impact on his life.
“Ed and Bob hired me, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me, other than marrying my wife,” he said. “Ed and Bob were great lawyers, good husbands, good fathers and good people. They taught me about getting involved in the community. … I learned so much from them.”
In 1977, Brady was tapped by President Jimmy Carter to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Western Judicial District of Michigan, a role he held through 1981.
Brady said he’d always been interested in political office, but didn’t have much hope of winning a seat as a Democrat in West Michigan.
During his time as a U.S. attorney, he was responsible for prosecuting white-collar criminal matters including fraud, embezzlement, grand jury investigations, money laundering and counterfeiting.
Brady said one of his accomplishments was increasing communication between the local, state and federal government through monthly coffees he hosted.
“I was very fortunate. I loved that job. It was the best job I ever had,” he said.
After his appointment ended, Brady joined the Miller Johnson law firm, where he spent 27 years and rose to chair the firm’s Criminal Law Group. He left to join Dykema, where he currently serves as managing partner of the Grand Rapids office.
His awards for his legal work are numerous and include being named to The Best Lawyers in America list for First Amendment law, business litigation, commercial litigation, criminal defense, non-white-collar criminal defense and white-collar criminal defense. He is also listed in “Who’s Who in America” and has been recognized as a Michigan Super Lawyer for criminal defense.
Of his success, Brady said. “The longer you live, the more good things happen.”
Brady is one of those rare people who point to those around him as the reason he’s achieved so much — particularly to his wife, Cathy, whom he called “the brains of the family.”
He also recognizes the many colleagues and friends he’s worked with along the way.
“I owe a lot of my success to the lawyers and judges in this area,” he said. “They don’t get enough credit.
“Today it’s hard. Civility, professionalism — we are trying hard to keep that. That is so important. We in the firms are so demanding on the young lawyers; we sometimes forget about what made us great or good.”
A major influence in his life was President John F. Kennedy. He has pictures of the former president on his office wall, including a photo of his visit to Grand Rapids when Brady was still a student.
“I was a child of the ’60s,” he said as an explanation for the direction his early life took.