Attorney David H. Fink already has a reputation as a tough labor negotiator. Now he's ready to work his magic in "head to head combat" against larger law firms in the Detroit area.
Fink, 58, who lives in West Bloomfield, recently opened a small law firm, Fink + Associates Law, on West Long Lake Road in Bloomfield Hills with a five-person staff. "I'm excited about our new firm," he said. "It gives us a chance to leverage what I've learned in more than 30 years in private practice and public service. We're building a strong, nimble litigation team, with all the advantages of the best available technology."
Fink + Associates Law will focus on complex commercial and class-action litigation, plus business disputes, antitrust matters, consumer and securities fraud, environmental law, intergovernmental disputes, shareholder derivative litigation and construction contract matters.
Fink earned a "Minister of Magic" tag in 2002 when newly elected Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed him to her cabinet as the "state employer" — the state's chief labor negotiator. In view of today's continuing clashes between labor unions and the governors of Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and, to some extent, Michigan, Fink may have been a man before his time. In tough bargaining, he persuaded seven state unions to reduce employee wage and benefit costs by $350 million.
"Oh, there were some protests against me, as union members carried signs with my name on them around Lansing," Fink recalled, "but we prevailed. My mission was to accomplish this while keeping union members happy with the administration. Gov. Granholm told me that if I pulled it off, it would be pure magic."
Fink said the key to the state's success was not to tamper with the unions' collective bargaining rights, as is being done now in other states. "Without that issue on the table, union members accepted a concession package more comfortably," he said.
As a memento for his efforts, the Granholm administration presented him with a desk clock inscribed "Minister of Magic."
Fink wasn't thinking about magical mementoes while growing up in Detroit and Oak Park and attending Oak Park High School. "In fact, until the age of 14, I thought I had to be a doctor because my father was one." (Dr. Samuel Fink is now retired.) "I got involved with the [Oak Park High] school debate team and that inspired me to want to be a court litigator.
That led to Harvard University, where he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and cum laude from Harvard Law School.
To gain some quick legal experience, Fink worked for a year on the City of Detroit's legal staff, then opened the Cooper & Fink law firm in 1978 with his friend Daniel Cooper. "I got thrown into the fire pretty quickly because the day after I left the city's employment, I was litigating in a jury trial," he said. "Four months later, I was arguing before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. It was great experience."
Fink then showed his entrepreneurial skills by co-founding and serving as managing partner of the Farmington Hills-based Fink, Zausmer & Kaufman firm for more than two decades, ultimately growing the firm to 20 attorneys.
He left in 2002 to run for U.S. Congress as a Democrat in a losing effort against then Republican incumbent Joe Knollenberg. "We each spent about $2.5 million on the campaign; it was a tough battle," he said.
"I had become interested in public office in an unusual way," Fink said. "I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany, and I thought, 'If the Jewish people were really to believe in 'Never Again,' we had to try and do something about it, such as getting involved in the political process." He has no further political ambitions at this time, but he's strongly involved in the Jewish Political Action Committee and American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Fink then spent three years in the state employer job — at about $130,000 a year — but was eager to return to private practice in 2005 as a senior partner with the Miller Law Firm in Rochester. For five years he handled complex commercial and class-action litigation. "After eight years in Lansing and Rochester, I was glad to come home to our neighborhood," he said.
While in Rochester, Gov. Granhom called on him again to mediate a complex dispute, this time between the Detroit Medical Center and the Wayne State University Medical School.
"It involved the financing and control of their joint physicians' residency program, and a wrong outcome could have been financially devastating to the City of Detroit," Fink intoned. "But we settled the whole thing in two-and-a-half weeks."
His efforts drew praise from Granholm and Mike Duggan, CEO of the Detroit Medical Center. "David's intelligence, persistence and determination allowed the parties to reach a resolution many thought was impossible," said Duggan. "He is as creative as he is tenacious, both in the courtroom and at the bargaining table."
When Granholm left office in January, she received a spate of negative "performance reviews" on her two terms from news media outlets and columnists. In her defense, Fink points out that she governed in "very difficult times, but she balanced the budget each year for eight years, and helped diversify Michigan's economy by bringing in some employment from overseas firms and new business from organizations like the U.S. film industry."
He added, "History will be kinder to her than some of her constituents."
Granholm even left Fink with a legacy, appointing him to the Michigan State Officers Compensation Commission for a term expiring in 2014. The commission sets the salaries for all state officers, including state Supreme Court justices.
At his new firm, Fink is assisted by Jewish attorney Darryl Bressack of Huntington Woods, a University of Michigan Law School graduate with five years of experience; Fink's, wife, Amy, who serves as his office manager; and some contract employees.
The firm is already involved in some complex class-action cases, and he beams when he talks about them, leading a visitor to believe that the more complex the case, the better. He's the lead attorney in a class-action suit on behalf of thousands of owners of General Motors vehicles with On Star driver assistance systems. They contend the change from analog to digital numbers, without instructions to drivers, rendered the system useless. "And GM wants $15 per vehicle to do the fix," says Fink.
He's also the lead attorney in an anti-trust case against the Whirlpool Corp., which claims the company conspired to fix the price of compressors on refrigerators and freezers.
"David just understands the practicalities of every case he's involved in," said Eugene Driker of Detroit, who has known Fink for 20 years. "He's energetic, creative, well prepared and always displays good common sense."
As a member of the Wayne State Board of Governors, Driker was closely involved with Fink in the DMC-Wayne State discussions. "We've both participated in cases where the other has been a mediator, and we've been on the opposite sides in the courtroom. He's a real professional."
Facing off now against larger law firms doesn't seem to faze Fink. "With the many technological resources we have today, there's no reason why small law firms can't take on larger firms," he said. "I'm confident we have the ability to litigate in the courtroom against anyone. And we can respond more quickly to clients' needs because we don't have the bureaucracy of larger firms. We don't even have cabinets with file drawers here; everything is electronic.
"I now have more technology in my pocket than large firms used to have in their entire office."
Fink mainly uses a laptop; a Smart Phone, with which he can check court filings, do law research, and take photos of sites involved in lawsuits; and an Ipad, with which he can pull up all of his files and, while in court, access the transcripts of depositions by witnesses.
"These innovations allow us to focus directly on the needs of the client," he said.
Bill Carroll is a freelance writer and former public relations specialist for Ford Motor Co.The Jewish NewsNew Michigan Media