Under the name of McGinnis Chiappelli Spresser, P.C., the Troy law firm recently moved to a new office at 2265 Livernois, just south of Big Beaver Road. Pictured, l-r, are partners David Chiappelli, Lise Spresser, and Donald McGinnis Jr.
Photo by John Meiu
By Tom Kirvan
He is a collector, particularly of fancy cars, some of the vintage variety. It is a hobby of his that corresponds to a collection of a different sort.
He has 44 of those, one for each year that he has practiced law. The books are tucked away in desks and drawers in his Troy office, serving as a handy reminder of the years of work that he has devoted to building a successful law practice.
Periodically, Donald McGinnis Jr. will dig into his archives of appointment books to see where he has been – and perhaps where he is going.
“The books serve as a bit of legal history, reminding me of how I got to this point in my career,” McGinnis said. “I’m amazed at some of the stuff I uncover. I’m now seeing clients from second and third generations. It’s heartening to see the loyalty and the longevity.”
There are good reasons for that, of course. McGinnis, who grew up in Royal Oak, built his reputation as a “handshake lawyer,” a man whose word is as good as the handshake promise that seals it.
“When I shook your hand on something, it was as good as a signed contract,” McGinnis said of the way of his legal world in years past. “Now, unfortunately, times have changed to the point where you wouldn’t dare rely solely on a handshake agreement to get things done. It’s a reflection of the times we live in, where there is so much uncertainty at virtually every turn. It would be nice to turn back the clock.”
Instead, McGinnis is ushering his law firm into a new era, teaming with partners David Chiappelli and Lise Spresser on the next chapter in his career, recently moving offices in Troy to 2265 Livernois, Suite 350, just south of Big Beaver Road. The building where his former office was located was sold, necessitating the move to new quarters.
“We’re excited about our new office and believe that it will serve us very well in the years ahead,” said McGinnis.
Chiappelli began his legal experience as Judicial Law Clerk for both the Hon. Edward Sosnick, chief judge pro tem of the Oakland County Circuit bench, and the Hon. William E. Bolle, chief judge of the 52nd District Court (encompassing the four divisions of Novi, Clarkston, Rochester and Troy) seated in Troy. During this period, Chiappelli earned his juris doctorate from the former Detroit College of Law and has been with McGinnis’s law firm since 1999, and boasts a strong background in the sports and music entertainment industries.
While attending Michigan State University, Chiappelli was a member of the 1986 national championship hockey team for the Spartans and later played professional hockey in Germany. Upon returning to the U.S., Chiappelli joined Hamstein Publishing, Inc., a management firm founded by music titan Bill Ham, whose clients included the rock band ZZ Top and country singer and songwriter Clint Black.
Chiappelli, whose wife, Lissa, is a former Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor and now a local District Court Magistrate, is the father of three children, and focuses his practice in the area of criminal defense and specializes in driver’s license restoration, according to McGinnis.
Spresser, who is an alumna of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, received her juris doctorate from Detroit Mercy Law and now focuses her practice solely on family law matters. She has been recognized as one of the Top 10 Family Law Attorneys Under 40 in Michigan by the National Academy of Family Law Attorneys and was recently honored with the “Rising Star” award by Super Lawyers.
Married and the mother of one son, Spresser periodically handles pro bono cases for low-income clients through the Family Law Assistance Program in Oakland County, and also volunteers her time for the Junior League of Birmingham, a nonprofit organization dedicated to community good works.
“I am indeed fortunate to be working with two very talented and dedicated attorneys,” McGinnis said of his partners.
For McGinnis, his belief in the hallmarks of the legal profession took root in Royal Oak where he “rubbed elbows” with some of Oakland County’s finest attorneys, including the late Circuit Court Judge Arthur E. Moore.
“Judge Moore was our neighbor when I was growing up,” McGinnis recalled. “I shoveled his walk and took out his trash, and got to know him as a man to truly be admired for all that he did in the law and in the community. He was one of the men who helped spark my interest in becoming a lawyer.”
A graduate of Birmingham Brother Rice High School, McGinnis was a member of the fledgling ski team there, a sporting interest that figured in his decision to attend the University of Colorado in Boulder. As a high school student, McGinnis was one of the state’s finest skiers, but at Colorado he was just one of many with an interest in grabbing a coveted slot on the college ski team. The Colorado squad was dotted with future Olympians such as Billy Kidd and Spider Sabich, the Alpine star who later would meet an unkind fate at the hands of French singer Claudine Longet.
“Needless to say, I didn’t make the college ski team,” McGinnis said with a shrug. “The cream of the crop was on that team and it was a bit tough for a kid from Michigan to compete with that kind of talent.”
With his ski dreams shelved, McGinnis concentrated on his pre-law studies instead while still finding time to fully enjoy the “college experience” that Boulder had to offer.
“I was on the typical 2 to 2 schedule,” McGinnis said of his college days. “Up at 2 p.m. and in bed by 2 a.m. It worked well for me.”
McGinnis also knew that by the time he graduated from Colorado, he would need to head back to Michigan to pursue a career in the law.
“There were far too many distractions out there if I wanted to become serious about going to law school and getting a job in the legal profession,” McGinnis said with a smile. “That plus all my connections were back in Michigan. I stood a much better chance of making it if I returned to my roots.”
The decision to attend Detroit College of Law, located then on the site of where Comerica Park stands today, made the most sense to McGinnis.
“They did a nice job of making you a ‘nuts and bolts lawyer,” McGinnis said. “It was a very good place to get my legal education.”
Fittingly, he clerked for Circuit Court Judge Moore during law school, a legal assignment that “accelerated my learning by a good two to three years,” according to McGinnis. In 1973, he teamed with attorney Howard Arnkoff in opening his own practice, specializing in trial litigation involving criminal cases and family law matters. Early on, as a court appointed attorney, McGinnis received his legal baptism under fire.
“My first assignment was a major kidnapping case involving a young Pleasant Ridge girl,” McGinnis related. “The defendant was an older man, the victim was a young girl and the community where the girl was kidnapped was on lockdown. It seemed like virtually every TV station in the world had a truck out front of the courthouse that day. There I was, a brand-new lawyer, with what seemed to be a hundred microphones stuck in front of my face for a comment on the case. The case actually went to trial, which nobody would have predicted given the weight of the evidence against the defendant. It was quite a way to start my career.”
As years passed, McGinnis shifted the focus of his practice to family law work. The growth of the firm coincided with his involvement in bar association and community service activities. He served as an adult education teacher in his hometown of Troy for more than a decade, and was elected to the Troy school board, a five-year stint that included two years as president.
“It was a fabulous experience to be involved in helping shape the educational policies of a growing school district,” McGinnis said. “It was a way to give back to a community that has been so good to me and my family.”
Over the years, McGinnis has served as chairman of the Act 78 Commission for the Troy Police and Fire Departments and on the board of the Oakland County Community Trust, a scholarship program for students in local schools. In addition, he is a past president of the Oakland County Bar Association and a former commissioner of the State Bar of Michigan. He currently serves as a member of the Judicial Qualifications Committee of the State Bar.
In 2009, McGinnis and his daughter, Maureen, now a district court judge in Troy, became the first father-daughter combination to serve on the State Bar Board of Commissioners. Maureen is a former Troy City Council member and was elected to the 52-4 District Court bench in 2014, becoming its presiding judge in 2016.
McGinnis has two other daughters, Lainie, a nurse, and Christine, an event planner for a major hotel chain. Like Maureen, they both headed west to college, studying hard while enjoying the opportunities to ski the mountains of Colorado.
A love of the winter sport has been a family passion now being enjoyed by a third generation. McGinnis’s parents, Marijane and Donald Sr., had a lifelong love of skiing, making regular weekend trips with their family and friends to the Otsego resort near Gaylord. His father, a native of New York, owned a machine tool company. His mother, who grew up in Royal Oak, graduated from Vassar College and was a star swimmer in her day.
They may well have watched with curious interest their son’s early fascination with cars, spawned in large part while he worked at a gas station on Woodward during high school.
“I was a real ‘gear-head’ kid from Royal Oak,” McGinnis said. “I dreamed of someday owning some of those cars that I was working on.”
Over time, it would become a dream fulfilled. At one point, a decade ago, McGinnis owned more than 20 high-profile cars, including some vintage Corvettes, a 1932 Ford Roadster, and a deluxe Shelby Cobra, one of the premier muscle cars in automobile history. His current collection is stored in a building he owns off Coolidge in Troy, a place where he can “get away from it all” in pursuit of his restoration passion.
“I will always be happy when I’m under the hood of a car,” he said, cracking a wide smile.