A Conversation with David and The Honorable Wendy Potts – Meshing Politics, Public Service and the Judiciary

    Dave Potts is a well-respected attorney with the law firm of Butzel Long and a second-term member of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners. His wife, the Honorable Wendy Potts is Chief Judge of the Oakland County Circuit Court. Corp! wanted to know how it’s possible to combine so many careers and still be as active in additional professional and public service endeavors.

    “In part,” says Dave Potts, “it’s because I have an excellent legal assistant and legal secretary and they’re very good at scheduling. At
    this point in my career, I’m practicing a little less law, but I’m certainly no less busy because I’m working with the organizations I serve as well as the County Commission.”

    Dave and Wendy met in law school at Wayne State University. Dave completed school with his JD while Wendy went on hiatus to have two daughters. When she wanted to return to finish her degree it took action by a Dean of the school to waive a rule that required graduation within a limited number of years of initial admittance. Dave was in private practice until he joined the Detroit Lions as vice president and general counsel. Wendy initially served as a clerk on the Court of Appeals for two years before going into private practice. The judicial experience remained with her and she left private practice to become a 48th Court Magistrate where she served for 11 years.

    What was it like being the Lions’ General Counsel? “Well, for one thing, we never went 0-16,” Dave Potts chuckles. “We had Barry Sanders and whatever we were, we were exciting and a threat to win. He made a great difference to the fans -“ and anybody trying to catch him.”

    Wendy Potts always wanted to be a judge. “It’s very hard to become a judge,” says her husband. “It’s not like you go to judge’s school. You either have to be elected -“ which means you have to become political in this state where we elect our judges, or you have to be appointed, which is what she did. She was appointed on merit, not politically because she’s not very political.

    Now, as Chief Judge of the Circuit Court, Wendy Potts has what is called a general jurisdiction docket. She hears complex civil cases
    and criminal cases from simple felonies all the way through to first degree murder. Corp! asks, tongue in cheek, if they ever watch crime shows on television. “Never!” says Dave. “Well, we did watch L.A. Law when it first came out. That was pretty funny. But when a judge I was in front of said ‘I saw last night on L.A. Law-¦’ that was when we stopped.”

    Wendy Potts is a trustee of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. “They’re a lot of very fine lawyers who revere the court,
    the system,” explains her husband. “It’s an honor to become a member of the Society because you have to be invited to join. They have a scholarship program, they are very active in education and teaching kids as well as adults about the history and importance of Michigan’s court system. They’ve done a history of Michigan’s first 100 Supreme Court Justices. It’s a very valuable group.”

    In their spare time they both fly fish. “A lot of lawyers fly fish,” Dave says. “It’s very therapeutic. It’s very skillful. I don’t think most of us do it to actually keep the fish because most of us throw them back. It’s mainly the idea of being out there in a beautiful environment. As somebody once said, ‘God put trout in really nice places.’ It’s very cerebral and challenging in a way -“ picking out the right fly, knowing when and where to put it. It’s not like putting a worm on a hook. There are a lot of technical aspects. When I’m fly fishing I don’t think of anything else. You can spend a lot of money traveling to trout streams around the country, but there’s wonderful fishing in Michigan waters. You can fish in Rochester if you want -“ both Paint Creek and the Clinton River have trout,” he explains.

    What does Dave think about the year ahead for Michigan and Oakland County? “I think if Michigan is to have a shot at it, we have to reinvent the wheel. We’re going to have to do things that are not politically popular. We have to take an especially hard look at the educational system, particularly in Detroit where the kids need a chance that the current system isn’t giving them. If we get even a hint that things are improving that will be a good thing.”

    On the year ahead for the County: “We’re going to have to revisit the 2009 budget because the revenues we projected just aren’t there. We do two budgets -“ one for the next year and one for the year after that, so we have a much better handle on revenues versus expenditures than most places. But this downturn has hit us fast and hard. The housing situation is making holes in our revenue projections. And with Prop A’s way of figuring things on a three-year rolling average my property taxes are going up while my home’s value is going down? Something’s a little short of reality.”

    On County politics: “I love to talk about public policy and good governance,” explains Dave Potts. The politics, too, because that’s what the system is about and what makes the policy actually happen. But, more about the policy. The Commission is almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. There are maybe five or six of us from both sides of the aisle who are much more moderate, less polarizing or polarized, and we actually debate issues on their impact on policy, rather than on politics. I like that part of it -“ forging coalitions and having good discussions and trying to make good sense out of that stuff. The Commissioners work hard, they pay attention -“ frankly, I think the citizens of the County get their money’s worth.”