Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Department of Attorney General Chief Operating Officer Veneshia Cezil participated in a town hall discussion at WMU-Cooley Law School on March 20.
The AG Social Justice Townhall allowed an opportunity for those in attendance to network and learn about career opportunities, internships, externships and job shadowing with the AG’s office. During the event, Nessel and Cezil spoke about premier cases the department has handled and new initiatives that are being planned.
Pictured, from left: WMU-Cooley President and Dean James McGrath, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, and WMU-Cooley Professor and Assistant Dean Erika Breitfeld.
Nessel made a strong case for working in government and being a part of the change.
She talked about the many options a law degree opened in a career, like going into private practice or working in non-profit. She asserted that you can also work to fight the injustices in the world by running for office or working in an office like hers.
“My staff regularly has the opportunity to bring matters to my attention and others,” stated Nessel. “Then we decide how the department can best use its resources to help the most people in the state.”
As an example, Nessel spoke about working with WMU-Cooley’s Innocence Project and her office’s efforts to start an expungement unit.
“The most well-intentioned investigators and prosecutors get it wrong, and when that happens we shouldn’t just be resigned to say ‘well, I guess someone was convicted and sentenced to spend their entire life in prison,’” said Nessel. She explained how new evidence is important to changing the lives of those who have been wrongly convicted.
Nessel also shared the importance of the Expungement Unit. She said it is important to understand the significant impact that having a conviction on one’s record can have on their life.
“You have served your time. You have gone a lengthy period of time without any new convictions. It’s important to understand how that conviction plays like an anchor, and weighs down people for the rest of their life. It makes it hard to get a job, makes it hard to find a place to live, makes it difficult to get student loans, and people are literally held back in every way, shape and form to progress in life,” said Nessel. “We put together a division that does nothing other than expedite and process expungements for people with these convictions all over the state. We went from two years ago processing about 2,000 expungements, to about 14,000 the next year.”
While talking about her position with the AG’s office, Cezil, a WMU-Cooley graduate said, “I sat right here at the law school and I am here today to tell you ‘Don’t put yourself in a box.’ I was a litigator, that was my concentration. I still love it. When a staff member says that they can’t work on a case, I raise my hand as COO and say ‘I’ll cover it for you.’”
Cezil told law students to keep an open mind while attending law school and look for opportunities beyond what they believe they are looking for.
“I went to law school because I didn’t like numbers. As chief of operations I am now responsible for maintaining an over $100 million budget,” said Cezil. “When we talk about giving a voice to the voiceless, you are in such an excellent position because this is what your law degree and law license are going to do; you are going to be speaking on behalf of others.”