Norman Lippitt, October 7th, 2016


Norman Lippitt, October 7th, 2016


In this interview, Lippitt discusses joining the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and working as the defense counsel in the Algiers Motel shooting case.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






Oral History


Algiers Motel


Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Norman Lippitt

Brief Biography

Norman Lippitt joined the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in 1961. He went on to defend the officers in the death of three black youths in what has become known as the Algiers Motel shooting.

Interviewer's Name

William Winkel

Interview Place

Birmingham, MI



Interview Length



Robert Lazich

Transcription Date



William Winkel:  Hello, today is October 7, 2016. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society Detroit 67 Oral History Project and I am in Birmingham, Michigan. I’m sitting down with Norman Lippitt. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.

Norman Lippitt: You’re welcome.

WW: Please start by telling me when and where were you born?

NL: I was born in 1936. My mother gave birth to me in Harper Hospital. I spent my youth in our home at Indiana and Seven Mile Road in Northwest Detroit. I went to public school. Then I went to Country Day School before the war. Country Day was on Seven Mile and Ilene in those days. I left Country Day, went to Mumford High School, left Mumford and went back to Country Day School.

WW: Why did you leave Mumford?

NL: No football team. It was the second year the school was open and they didn’t have a football team. I wanted to play football so I went back to Country Day. I played football and then went to Michigan State University. I was a walk-on football player. I didn’t make the team, so I transferred to the University of Detroit and played a little ball there, ran track and then decided to go to law school before I graduated. In those days, you could go to law school after 90 college hours. I went to the Detroit College of Law, which on those days was on East Elizabeth Street. I graduated in 1960, passed the bar, and immediately joined the prosecutor’s office in 1961. I was an assistant prosecuting attorney for four and half years. I left and opened a private practice in downtown Detroit.

WW: A couple follow-up questions: what made you want to become a lawyer?

NL: I didn’t want to go into the jewelry business with my father. I knew I wasn’t qualified for medicine or dentistry. I was a political science and philosophy major. Law school seemed like a logical step. I had no ambitions of being a trial lawyer or anything like that. It just happened.

WW: Just for clarification, prosecutor’s office is Wayne County?

NL: Yes. Sam Olsen was the prosecutor at the time.

WW: Why did you leave the prosecutor’s office to open your own private practice?

NL: Well, I wanted to make a living. I was only making $10,500 a year as an assistant prosecutor. That was the pay scale in those days. I tried over a hundred major felony trials as assistant prosecutor. There was nowhere else to go and I wanted to go out and make a living. Simple as that.

WW: After you completed law school, did you want to stay in the area or was it just by default that you did?

NL: Well, actually that’s a good question. I was married by that time. Obviously, I had very strong ties to the community. I had thought about perhaps going to Arizona. They were dying for lawyers in Arizona in those days and Hawaii and Alaska but I stayed in Michigan.

WW: Are there any stories you’d like to share from being a prosecutor?

NL: Well, there’s a million stories. When you’re down in Recorder’s Court, that’s where the action was. I wrote a book of my early years; I’ll give you a copy of my book. It doesn’t say a lot about my criminal background, but it talks more about – I was a circuit judge in Oakland County too in ’85-’88. It talks mostly about my civil career so talks about my civil career, but the first few pages talk about my early days in the prosecutor’s office. In those days the Detroit Police Department had a superb detective bureau, one of the best in the country. These detectives and the cases came very quickly. There weren’t all these pretrial motions like they have today. I would try and do one two jury trials a week, felony juror trials. The only time we seemed to file in advance to prepare was for a murder case. All the others – robbery, breaking and entering, drugs, anything – we would see the file at 8:30, 9:00 in the morning and bingo we were off and running, selecting the jury and trying the case. And the detectives, they were the best because they really taught me about business. They knew what was necessary and the defense lawyers were great in those days; they were terrific. There were a lot of important, good lawyers. You learn from them what to do and what not to do. I tried 100, 200 cases, which is an incredible feat today; you couldn’t do it today. That’s why lawyers can’t get the trial experience like they could in those days.

WW: At what point did you start working for the Detroit Police Department’s Officers Association?

NL: 1967. That was my best recollection. I left to go into private practice in ’65 and it was I would say early ’67, late ’67, late ’66, early '67 when Bob Columbo Sr., who at that time was running for circuit judge – excuse me, Recorder’s Court judge – asked me to take over a trial board. Detroit Police Department internal investigation disclosed to them, at least, that two police officers had been associating with gamblers in Greektown. Bob asked me to take it on because the Detroit News – I think it was the Detroit News – said they would not endorse him for Recorder’s Court judge if he represented these two cops. So I took it on and won the case and that’s how I came to work for the DPOA. Just a month or two after that, the Piggins Grand Jury indicted seven police officers for associating with gamblers in Greektown and I won all those cases at the preliminary exam; they were dismissed. Come July 1967, the riots. I was in the midst of the riots.


WW: Did you represent them through your private practice?

NL: Yeah, the DPOA paid me. The DPOA hired me, beginning at about the time of the Piggins Grand Jury. They were paying me an hourly rate for my services. The DPOA always paid for the defense of officers in those days.

WW: I just didn’t know if you were paid by the police department or by them.

NL: No, the police department wasn’t going to pay me. The DPOA union paid me.

WW: So going into ’67 itself, how did you first hear about what was going on?

NL: I was called down to the Detroit Police Department because Ronald August was being interrogated by the Homicide Bureau. The incident had already taken place. I don’t recall if it was that night or the night after.

WW: August was interrogated the next day.

NL: Okay, so that’s when I got called. I had forgotten this because I’d reread part of the book, that August denied any involvement in the death of Pollard – at first. I don’t know if I was there for that interview or not. You said no? I did come down for the second interview, I believe. That’s when August said he had a shotgun, I believe, and he shot him in self-defense. Am I recalling it correctly? Okay. I recall stopping an interrogation.

WW: Senak.

NL: Was it Senak that I stopped? That created a procedure that went on for 14 years. As an aside, there was a case that was known as Garrity vs. the State of New Jersey. A U.S. Supreme Court case -- they had come down and said that a police officer is entitled to the same constitutional rights of any other citizen. Based on that case, I said “He’s not talking.” For 14 years thereafter every time a police officer shot somebody – at it would happen weekly – myself or someone from my office would go to Homicide and talk to the police officers and assist them in creating their preliminary complaint report before any homicide officer could talk to them. I would go down 2:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m.; we did it for years. I don’t know what they do today. So anyway—

WW: How were you alerted to August, Paille and Senak being questioned?

NL: The DPOA would call me. They would call their union rep and they would call me. The union president at the time was Carl Parcell. I believe Carl was the president and Charlie Withers was the vice president – one of those fellas would call me. I lived in Detroit at the time at 8 Mile and Lahser. Charlie would pick me up usually because he lived on the Northwest side and we would drive down to the Homicide Bureau, 1300 Beaubien.

WW: So what was the next step? You stopped the interrogation of Senak, August and Paille.

NL: Well, I don’t remember what the next step was. I remember what they were charged with. August and Paille were charged with murder. August, Paille and Senak were charged with conspiracy to do an unlawful act in an unlawful fashion. Subsequently, and I can’t tell you how many months went by, the feds – the federal government – charged all three of them plus a private guard Melvin Dismukes, who was black by the way, with the violation of their civil rights, Title 18, 1893 – Like Mississippi Burning, same thing. So the preliminary exam – and don’t ask me which judge handled what because I don’t remember, DeMascio was involved, Schemanske was involved, but I can’t remember.

WW: DaMascio threw out Paille’s charges.

NL: Did he bind over August for trial?

WW: Yes.

NL: Was their preliminary examination a joint preliminary examination?

WW: No. He appealed to Schemanske, Cahalan did, and then he tried to charge them with conspiracy.

NL: I know August was bound over for trial for murder. Who was the magistrate, do you remember?

WW: I do believe it was DeMascio.

NL: Paille was also charged with murder, but I was successful in getting his case dismissed at the preliminary. Was that DeMascio too?

NL: Then Cahalan appealed Paille’s decision to Schemanske. That case went up to the Michigan Supreme Court. Was Paille number two or number one? Those are published decisions. Who was the examining magistrate for the conspiracy case?

WW: Schemanske.

NL: That’s right. I think you’re right. So now we have all three of them charged with conspiracy, right? That’s when Conrad Kohl called me. Conrad Kohl now Conrad Kohl then Conrad Seacrest -- I forget the name of the firm at the time. They were a very prominent insurance defense firm downtown. Conrad Kohl was very prominent insurance defense attorney and friend of mine. He called me on the phone and he volunteered to help me with the case pro bono. That’s when Hersey came in to town. If you look at the book, if you read the book, you’ll see that there are excerpts of cross examination by Conrad Kohl. So a conspiracy case – there were the two of us trying it together – I don’t know if Conrad entered an appearance for Senak; I think he did. I represented August and Paille. That case was dismissed. So now we’re left with a murder case, August. Had the feds indicted him yet? I don’t remember exactly the timing. So Conrad Kohl helped me on the state conspiracy case and then he co-counseled with me on the federal case. Nick Smith, an attorney by the name of Nick Smith, represented Melvin Dismukes. The federal case was assigned to Judge Steven Roth. Steven Roth moved the case to Flint. Now Flint is not a change of venue. Flint is the southern district of Michigan’s federal – when I say federal District Court, Southern Division of Michigan, that’s two places to sit, Detroit and Flint. So he just moved it to Flint to get it out of the limelight. I don’t know if it accomplished that purpose. I don’t know if it was on our motion; I think we probably made a motion for change of venue.

WW: You didn’t.

NL: I made a motion for change of venue in the August case. I don’t remember what the basis was. Was it Robert Kennedy getting assassinated?

WW: There were two delays. One for Robert Kennedy getting assassinated and then you argued that when Hersey’s book came out that made Detroit an unreasonable venue.

NL: I want you to know for your information, for the Detroit Historical Society, that I obtained the last change of venue that any lawyer ever got in the state of Michigan. Neil Fink, who recently passed away, very, very prominent criminal defense lawyer, worked for a more prominent defense lawyer at the time by the name of Joe Louiselle. There was a serial murderer in Ann Arbor by the name of John Norman Collins. This was a year after the Algiers case. He was charged with murder. His mother came to see me. I turned the case down. She didn’t want me anyway because she didn’t like what I had to say. She went to Joe Louiselle and Joe Louiselle handed the case over to Neil Fink. John Norman Collins is still in prison to this day, by the way. Neil Fink asked for a change of venue out of Washtenaw County. It was denied, he appealed, and the case went to the Michigan Supreme Court – I think it was the Michigan Court of Appeals. I don’t even know if we had a Court of Appeals yet. I’m trying to remember the timing.  In any event, the precedent that was set was this: you first have to try to obtain a fair and impartial jury before the court can order a change of venue. Now, you think about that as a practical matter. If you’ve got a hundred people sitting in the courtroom, put 12 people in the box, and you say to them, “Could you be fair and impartial?” Every single one of them – well, some of them will say, “No, I can’t be,” and leave but out of a hundred people, fifty are going to want to be on that jury. You’re never going to get everybody in the room to say they can't be fair and impartial. So, nobody has ever gotten a change of venue since that time. So I got a change of venue; I don’t know who granted it, which judge.

WW: Beer.

NL: No, Beer was assigned to it.

WW: Well, Pointdexter asked Beer.

NL: Are you sure about that? Are you sure it wasn’t the state court in Venice that assigned Beer?

WW: Pointdexter asked him.

NL: Then the Supreme Court had to agree to it. They had to agree to it because he’s an Oakland Circuit judge at the time.

WW: From my understanding, Thomas Pointdexter got on the bench and then asked Beer to make the decision.

NL: Oh, to make a decision on the change of venue?

WW: Yes.

NL: Oh. I don’t know how one circuit judge – I don’t know how that could happen. Somewhere the Supreme Court or the State Court administrator had to be involved -- somewhere. So we get this strange guy by the name of William John Beer. You know his story?

WW: I do not.

NL: You don’t know William John Beer’s story? William John Beer was an Oakland County Circuit judge. He looked like Hollywood’s ideal judge. If you were to cast someone as a judge, William John Beer would look like the judge. Spoke with a Shakespearean accent. His parents were Shakespearean actors. He was very, very honorable looking. William John Beer had two families, one in Detroit, one in Pontiac— with kids, and he carried on with two wives and two sets of children for thirty years. If you look at the newspaper articles about William John Beer – this was years later this was discovered – you’ll see that. He was infamous. So anyway, William John Beer gets assigned to the case. William John Beer wants to try the case in a historical courtroom. He had two choices: Marquette, Michigan, where Volkers’ book was written, George C. Scott was in it, Jimmy Stewart, what’s the name of that movie, famous movie?  Marquette was too far. So he chose Mason, Michigan to try the case. That’s where we tried the case. Avery Weiswasser was the prosecutor. I hired a Lansing law firm to help me, although I did most of the work, an attorney by the name of Jimmy Burns, Leo Farhad was his senior partner. He was also a very important Lansing lawyer. So we tried the murder case for a couple weeks in Mason, Michigan. Now the important part of that case …am I talking too much?

WW: No, please give all the detail you want.

NL: The two most significant things about that case were these: first, Avery Weiswasser really messed up. He was trying to prove that no police officer or National Guardsman could have possibly heard a gunshot go off in the Algiers motel. And that’s what caused them, as they say, to invade the motel. But they did find a starter pistol. Avery Weiswasser asked the judge for permission to fire the starter pistol in the courtroom in front of the jury. I objected, judge granted it. The courtroom, if you’ve ever been up there, is historical. The ceilings are high. It’s like an opera house, the acoustics are wonderful. So he fired the gun off and it sounded like a howitzer. The jury went, “My God, you could hear that from five blocks away!” So he totally defeated his purpose. Actually, there were three significant things. The second significant thing – and I’m not going to get credit for this in any Hollywood movie I don’t believe – but I cut the hell out of the witnesses. They were terrible. I impeached them all over the place. I don’t know if Hollywood got a hold of the transcript or what. That case was not appealed, so the court reporters notes were probably never transcribed. I don’t know if anybody has ever found the court reporter or the notes, but I did a hell of a job on the witnesses and everybody said so. The third thing that happened that was significant was when you try someone for murder, there are what is known as included offenses, second degree and manslaughter, so the jury has four choices: Murder 1, Murder 2, manslaughter, not guilty – and that’s pretty standard operating procedure. Beer decided there were going to be no included offenses and gave the jury two choices: murder, not guilty. I objected for the record, scared to death, because I thought maybe they would convict him of manslaughter, but in the end obviously it helped me, because if they didn’t find premeditation and malice, then they had to find him not guilty, which they did. The interesting part about it from my personal perspective is there were three people in the court room that I did not know at the time and I only learned it later: Coleman Young, Jimmy Del Rio and Jim Blanchard – all watching my trial. Jimmy Blanchard became the governor of the state of Michigan and appointed me as a circuit judge in [1983 - correction]. I made headlines with Jimmy Del Rio representing the cops many years later when he called me a smart-ass Jew lawyer and pulled a gun. That’s in the News. Coleman Young and I fought for years while I represented the DPOA. He was a state senator at the time. Jimmy Del Rio was a rep and Blanchard went to Michigan State but I don’t know what he was doing up there. So, that’s that case.

WW: Before we move to the federal trial and process in Flint, how did the mock trial put on at Albert Cleage’s church play into —

NL: I know nothing about the mock trial. What mock trial?

WW: The mock trial that Reverend Dan Aldridge and Lonnie Peek put on?

NL: I know nothing about it. I might have read about it at the time.

WW: Okay, no worries. So moving on to the federal charges that Judge Steven Roth presided over in Flint, could you talk about that process?

NL: Well, in the federal system there is no preliminary exam. The grand jury indicts you, you go to trial or you get the case dismissed on motion.  We all drove up to Flint, tried the case; I don’t know how long it lasted, a couple weeks. I don’t remember the detail but they paraded the same witnesses in, the government did, same ones that testified in the murder case. Conrad Kohl and I cut the hell out of them. They were not consistent; there was a lot of impeachment. Nick Smith, who represented Melvin Desmukes, who has since passed away, said he was conducting a “stretch and yawn” defense. The jury was out several hours on that one, as I recall. The officers were found not guilty, Melvin Desmukes was found not guilty, and that was it. I don’t have any recollection of who called who or witnesses. I don’t even who the U.S. attorney was, to be frank with you.

WW: I wanted to ask you about a quote. During the selection for the grand jury--

NL: Not the grand jury. What grand jury? We don’t select grand jurors. They’re called-

WW: Just the jury then at the federal trial.

NL: We call it the voir dire.

WW: You’re quoted as saying of the 96 people that were on the jury, only six of them were black. You removed four of them.

NL: You mean 96 people called to the courtroom to be potential jurors, six of them were black.

WW: You were quoted as saying that you removed four of them because you doubted that blacks could have judged the case fairly. Why? First of all, is that quote accurate?

NL: I don’t remember it, but certainly I would have removed black jurors, if I could. Absolutely! I’ve got white police officers accused of killing black youths. I’ve got evidence of brutality. I’ve got evidence of white girls being in the motel with them. I’d have to be a fool to keep them on the jury. I have to do my job. It has nothing to do with my personal view. I’m not there to be fair, I’m there to win. I think any criminal defense lawyer would tell you the same thing. I’m not ashamed of that at all.

WW: Not to worry! I care about the accuracy.

NL: Selecting a jury is a science, by the way. I tried a very famous case many years later, Mad Dog Peterson, Ray Peterson from STRESS. I don’t know if you know about that case. That was my case too. I was one of the first lawyers in the country to have a jury consultant, a psychologist, long before O.J. Simpson had one. We selected a jury for Ray Peterson. Ray Peterson was accused of killing a white person not a black person, although he’d been accused of killing six black people before that while he was a STRESS officer. We had a jury of 12 people – one black man or woman, I’m not sure which. I think it was a black man. My jury consultant wanted to keep him on the jury; I wanted to throw him off. He was the only one who hung up the jury for 10 hours. Ray was found not guilty. But he hung it up, he wanted to find him guilty. It’s an interesting story, I think.

WW: Did you get a new jury consultant?

NL: I never had to use one again until many years later when I represented Ford Motor Company. No, excuse me, I used one again in a different case out in Oakland County. I don’t want to bore you with that.

WW: As the federal case concluded with not guilty verdicts, was that the end of the saga? Or was there more?

NL: That was the end of the saga. I don’t think any of them ever went back to work for the police department.

WW: They did.

NL: They did? Who did?

WW: All.

NL: All three of them?

WW: Senek remained until 1979; Paille left July 23, 1976; and August left early Seventies.

NL: You know, I don’t believe I had any contact with any of them after the case was over. I don’t think they ever called me. We never had a drink together. I never saw them as far as I recall. I didn’t even remember what you just told me.

WW: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share from your experience dealing with the litigation?

NL: With this litigation?

WW: Yes.

BL: Well, there really isn’t. I remember there was a reporter who used to cover – who is the guy who used to cover Lansing. What’s his name? Stubent? You know who I’m talking about. His predecessor was a guy by the name of Tom Green. He used to cover all of Lansing. Tom Green during the trial took me out to lunch because he wanted to get an exclusive. My client, when the jury verdict came in, I never forgot it Ron August, said I don’t want to be interviewed. I said to Tom “I’m sorry but I can’t get that interview for you. My client doesn’t want it.” I went across the street with my group and we stayed around and had dinner in Mason, East Lansing – I don’t remember where. My client was escorted to the Ingham Country border by the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department. Channel 7 caught up with him as they went over the county line, stopped him and got an interview. Tom Green never forgave me. He said it was my fault, that I engineered that. I felt worse about that and it really took away the pleasure of winning. Can you imagine I was worried about some newspaper reporter? It just bothered me that he thought I lied. I didn’t. In any event, I really didn’t let it go to my head. There were mixed emotions about my role. Some people thought I was a good guy, some guys thought I was a bad guy, and I always tried to emphasize that DPOA was a good client and they paid me $50 an hour at the time for all my work and General Motors hadn’t hired me. So I was doing my job as a lawyer. I never got emotionally involved with the cops – ever. I never went out in a squad car when they offered. I never went to a crime scene. I never got involved with them in that way. I just didn’t give a damn about it. I just did my job. I never wanted to exclusively be a criminal lawyer. The reason that I accepted a judgeship in [1983 - corrected] was to get rid of that. I hadn’t tried a criminal case in 25 years. Interestingly enough, a decade later Kenny Cochrel came out, Justin Rabbits came out of Wayne. Those two guys were activists. I tried the 10th Precinct Narcotics trial for seven, eight months solid before [Justin Ravitz  -correction]. They interviewed me here recently for Kenny Cochrel’s memorial. Elliot Hall was an activist. All those African-American lawyers respected me. We were all friends. There was no hostility. They knew that I was just being a lawyer. They were being lawyers. That’s all we did. We had a lawyer society; we didn’t give a damn about all this other stuff, so I never felt guilty about it. I represented doctors, lawyers. I represented black police officers charged with murdering a white person in a bar. I represented three black officers that were charged in the Rochester Street Incident where they shot at Wayne County sheriffs and almost killed them. In fact, my most infamous client in the Tenth Precinct Parks case was Richard Harold, who was black. I just got tired of doing that kind of work. That’s about it.

WW: I did remember one question that I forgot to ask you.

NL: Ask me. Take your time.

WW: What was the impact of John Hersey’s book? I know you used it as reasoning to move the trial, but did it have a greater role, inflaming tensions or anything like that?

NL: No. It’s probably the most difficult book I’ve ever read. To understand, he went around with a tape recorder and started interviewing all these people and back and forth and back and forth. It didn’t make any sense to me. Here’s a Pulitzer prize-winning author. I guess it was published by [Knopf - correction] and I guess it was number two on the best-seller list in the New York Times. I just think it’s a crappy book. Have you read it? How many times have you read it?

WW: I got through it once.

NL: Did you have a hard time with it? Yeah. Everybody I have known has had a hard time with it. I never read a page in that book, to tell you the truth, because every time I tried to read it I put it down. It just doesn’t flow. He made a mistake, in my opinion; he should have waited. He was so busy trying to be anti-police and pro-African-American, he was so busy trying to be a “civil rightser,” that he rushed to publication. So, it was half a story. So, now we’ve got Hollywood – very strange.  I told you the sequence of events, I believe, about the journalist calling me and Kathryn Bigelow coming into town. They spent three hours with me, one hour here, two hours at the Townsend Hotel. Asked me if I would drive to Mason, Michigan with them, which I said I would be willing to do. I wouldn’t mind seeing the old courthouse. They had to leave town early. Next thing I hear – I never asked them what they were going to do; they wouldn’t have told me anyway. I’ve been speculating all this time about what ever happened to Kathryn Bigelow. Said she was going to call me back, never called me. So my speculation is that it is Hollywood. All around the country we’re hearing about police brutality, they’re going to do a “bad cop” movie – bad cops brutalizing black kids. The trial is going to be a postscript. By the way, these guys all got acquitted by all white juries outside of the city of Detroit and not do the trial at all. Talk about the case. Without the transcript, I don’t know how they even could do the trial. But the fact that they visited Mason, Michigan last week, what are they doing in Mason, Michigan, shooting in Mason, Michigan? They are going to have to do some part of the trial, obviously. So, I have no clue what they are doing. It’s just very interesting.

WW: I’m looking to find out too.

NL: I talked to the Free Press reporter the other day. I called her. I said, “You know, could you guys try and get some information. Do you have any clue what these people are doing?”

WW: One final wrap up question. What was it like having this massive headline-garnering case at 30?

NL: Was I 30 or 31? I don’t remember.

WW: You were 30 or 31.

NL: I wasn’t walking around with my chest out, I can tell you that. That I know for sure. I know that I spent many, many, many days getting ready. I know that I was under a lot of pressure. I know that the DPOA and the families of the police officers were getting calls from all over the country from all over the country. “Idiot, why don’t you get a more experienced lawyer?” I know that, for example – you kids are too young – one of the most famous lawyers in the country at the time was Percy Foreman, out of Texas, criminal defense lawyer. He was as famous as F. Lee Bailey and all those people. He called me on the phone one day and said, “Hey boy, let me come up there and help you try that case.” Of course, I had to report that to the DPOA. DPOA never interfered with my defense. That’s the other thing that I want to point out. The union paid for it, but never interfered in the defense strategy, never told me what to do, suggested what I should do or not do. They never took a political view on these things. As far as how I felt about getting all this publicity, it went on for years. I had a commercial practice. I did some real estate work, wasn’t all trial work. I did some divorce work. I never wanted to be beholden to one client, even though the DPOA was my biggest client. So my biggest concern with all this publicity was all these years was Norman Lippitt, criminal lawyer. Sam Bernstein, automobile accidents. You wouldn’t think of going to Sam Bernstein to draft a will. I never wanted to be typecast. I was typecast. That’s why I took the judgeship when Blanchard offered it to me, because I wanted to change my image. I didn’t want to be a criminal lawyer. It was the only job I could get when I graduated law school. Actually, the job I really wanted was the Corporation Counsel, which is now the Law Department. [Phone rings] The city of Detroit’s Corporation Counsel was run by a fellow by the name of Nate Goldstick. He ran a very good law department. It was very well known, very respected. That’s where I wanted to work. But he didn’t have room for me and suggested I go over to the prosecutor’s office and talk to Sam Olsen. Olsen was his chief assistant, actually. So they hire me on the night staff. I stayed on the night staff for six months and then they put me into felony trials. So I ended up doing that kind of work and that’s how I became a criminal lawyer, I guess, not because I had any childhood ambitions. But I was pretty good in the courtroom. That’s where I learned my business.

WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.

NL: My pleasure.


Original Format



42min 13sec


William Winkel


Norman Lippitt


Birmingham, MI




“Norman Lippitt, October 7th, 2016,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed January 17, 2022,

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