2019 Excellence in Advocacy Awards Presented

John Zevalking Presented the 2019 Barbara R. Levine Award for

Excellence in Appellate Advocacy

On June 17, 2020, the Michigan Appellate Defender Commission presented the 2019 Barbara R. Levine Award for Excellence in Appellate Advocacy to John Zevalking. The Award is presented annually to an attorney on the Michigan Appellate Assigned Counsel System (MAACS) roster who demonstrates extraordinary commitment on behalf of appellate assigned clients and the criminal justice system. 

John has a unique background as a roster attorney. After graduating with a philosophy degree in 1979, he spent the next 25 years in various management positions, in seminary school, and as a pastor, before attending law school. In 2007, he graduated first in his class from the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, after which he clerked for Justice Michael Cavanaugh on the Michigan Supreme Court and practiced civil appellate law at Collins Einhorn in Southfield. John then returned to Cooley where he taught Constitutional Law and Civil Procedure until 2014.

When I began at MAACS in 2015, we were understaffed and unable to hire a full time Deputy Administrator or other necessary support, but we badly needed help in whatever form we could find it. John came highly recommended as a contract employee who could assist with a comprehensive review of roster attorney work quality while helping elevate the level of practice. He immediately proved to be an invaluable member of our team, and we were incredibly fortunate to have his help for several months as we transitioned to a new MAACS.

About a year later, John joined the MAACS roster as a Level 2 attorney. He has since set the bar for client-centered representation, as well as high-quality briefing and argument in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

There are many examples, but one recent case stands out. John represented a woman convicted of aggravated domestic violence after she severely bit her boyfriend’s tongue when he bear-hugged forcibly French kissed her during a heated argument (he was caught cheating on her). John first won a remand for an evidentiary hearing, then filed an outstanding appellate brief and delivered an oral argument so strong that one of the judges commented to the prosecutor that “I can’t believe she was charged.” Not surprisingly after a comment like that, John won a reversal of the conviction based on trial counsel’s ineffective assistance—in failing to object to prejudicial bodycam evidence, failing to provide timely notice of an expert witness on spousal abuse, and failing to object to an improper jury instruction. People v Desirae Glatfelter, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued August 27, 2019 (Docket No. 343408).

In addition to the great work he does on behalf of his MAACS clients, John remains a tremendous asset to this organization. He is an editor and frequent contributor to the Criminal Defense Newsletter, wrote an Evidence Manual and a Search and Seizure Manual, and devised a lengthy and complex model problem for the annual MAACS-SADO Appellate Writing Workshop. John is a reliable supporter of our work and contributor to the training needs of appellate assigned counsel.

This year, the Appellate Commission has recognized a roster attorney for his ongoing contributions to our mission—and his inspiring efforts on behalf of the indigent clients who are fortunate to have his help.

The award is named for Barbara R. Levine, who worked tirelessly with the Appellate Defender Commission to create MAACS in 1987 and served as the first MAACS Administrator until July 9, 1999. Since then, Ms. Levine has been actively involved in advocacy on behalf of prisoners in Michigan and nationwide.

by Brad Hall, Administrator

Michigan Appellate Assigned Counsel System


Kristin LaVoy Presented the 2019 Norris Thomas Award for 

Excellence in Appellate Advocacy

The Michigan Appellate Defender Commission has selected SADO Assistant Defender Kristin LaVoy as recipient of the 2019 Norris Thomas Award for Excellence in Appellate Advocacy. Named for SADO’s long-serving and much-respected Norris J. Thomas, Jr., the award is given annually to a SADO attorney whose appellate advocacy achieves outstanding results for clients or the criminal justice system. Thomas served as SADO’s Deputy Director over two decades before his untimely passing in 2007. His dedication to clients, and craft in achieving excellent outcomes, were legendary.

A 2008 graduate of Wayne State University Law School, Kristin joined SADO in 2013 after serving five years as a trial public defender with the Legal Aid and Defender Association. Kristin spent her first few years at SADO putting her excellent trial skills to use serving her clients while working to hone her appellate skills. But she soon blossomed in so many ways, establishing herself as an elite appellate attorney, a leader and role model at SADO, and a pillar in the legal community.

There is not enough space to recount Kristin’s many case successes here, but a few stand out as examples of the many ways she has served her clients and improved the law. Examples include People v Anderson, 401 Mich 175 (2018), in which the Michigan Supreme Court gave district court judges authority to refuse bindovers based on credibility determinations, an important tool in controlling docket congestion by weeding out weaker cases at the preliminary examination stage; People v Gloster, 499 Mich 199 (2016), which limited the scope of codefendants’ conduct that may be considered in scoring offense variables; and most recently, People v Jemison, which preserved the accused’s Sixth Amendment right to face-to-face confrontation by prohibiting prosecution witnesses from testifying via video based simply on convenience or expense. 2020 WL 3421925 (June 22, 2020)

Kristin has been a major contributor to the criminal defense community, as she has provided valuable training to hundreds of attorneys, through the CDRC, CDAM, and numerous local bar associations.  She was a popular instructor at Wayne State University Law School’s Criminal Appellate Practice Clinic and inspired many students to pursue careers in criminal defense. And she has served on the Criminal Appellate Practice Section Counsel as well as the SADO Rules Committee, where she successfully advocated for many positive improvements to criminal and appellate procedure.

Kristin established herself as a leader and mentor for many at SADO, having trained many newer attorneys, helped develop and establish best practices and procedures for holistic defense and client-centered representation, and wrote a helpful training manual for supervisors and assistant defenders on staff.

On top of all her other contributions, Kristin is a well-respected colleague who is liked by all. She is always willing to lend a helping hand on cases and projects, and to provide support through generous gifts and kind words of encouragement.  She truly is a friend to all at SADO.

Sadly, we bade a fond farewell to Kristin in May, as she left SADO to become the first Training Director at the Wayne County Neighborhood Defender Services. We have no doubt that Kristin will excel in that role, and that numerous attorneys and their clients will benefit tremendously from her wealth of knowledge and first-rate training skills.  

by Michael Mittlestat,  Deputy Director

State Appellate Defender Office