With eight merit cases under his belt, attorney John Bursch said it made sense for him to start a practice group focusing on the U.S. Supreme Court upon his return to Warner Norcross at the end of last year.
“It is pretty unique,” Bursch said. “There are very few practices in Michigan — at private law firms, anyway — where they have any direct Supreme Court merits experience at all.”
Bursch said, just like someone who is undergoing heart surgery would want an experienced doctor over one who was just starting a practice, a client whose case is going to the Supreme Court should hire an attorney who has experience arguing cases in front of that body.
“It’s often the case that an attorney who handled a case extremely well in the Federal District Court, in the Court of Appeals, has never been up to the Supreme Court before,” he said.
“It makes a lot of sense to bring in an expert. What is so helpful about that kind of experience is you know the justices well — what they are looking for in the briefs, what they like at oral argument.”
In addition to Bursch, Matt Nelson and Gaetan Gerville-Reache comprise the practice group. Nelson also has experience arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court, having argued one merit case previously.
Bursch said most Supreme Court practice groups are located in Washington, D.C., giving Warner’s practice group an advantage in some cases.
“It’s really unusual to have a U.S. Supreme Court practice outside of Washington, D.C.,” he said. “If you are a state, individual, local government or business and you are looking for someone who might have a lower cost structure than Washington, D.C., then we are a great place to look.”
Bursch said the practice seeks out Circuit Court cases that create a conflict in the law across the United States or raise important issues.
“These are the Federal Court of Appeals decisions,” he said. “We will often approach those clients or their attorneys directly and offer to assist in the U.S. Supreme Court proceedings.”
In the past year, Bursch has filed a handful of cases with the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We filed a petition for the Kalamazoo County Road Commission this summer,” he said. “That is an employment discrimination case. We’ve been working with the state of Nebraska on a certiorari petition and the state of Colorado on acertiorari petition, and a merits brief on two different cases.”
The group also filed a copyright infringement case with the Supreme Court on behalf of the Sherlock Holmes Estate this year.
In addition to asking the Supreme Court to review merits cases, the group has filed a number of amicus briefs, also known as Friend of the Court briefs.
The practice also focuses on Michigan Supreme Court cases.
“Over the past five or so years, our attorneys have argued something like 18 cases in the Michigan Supreme Court, which is again far more than almost any other firm in Michigan,” he said.