The nicest people come from southeastern Michigan. No, I’m not suggesting that everyone born or living in the Detroit area is de facto a nice person, but of all the really nice people I’ve met in my lifetime, a disproportionate percentage of them hailed from Motown. Admittedly, I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time in the area, having visited the region at least once a year since 1966 for family Passover seders. I worked downtown at the Detroit News for nearly five years in the mid-eighties.

E. Powell Miller, a lawyer living in the Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills, is an example of Pure Michigan Niceness.

Miller in January was taken aback by this story in the New York Post about Brooklyn resident Barry Myrick, a pest control professional who lived with and cared for a pit bull named Roxy specially trained by his company to sniff out bed bugs.  Myrick opted to be laid off from M&M Environmental in March 2020 rather than pivot as a COVID cleaner. He surrendered all his work belongings except Roxy, with whom he and his wife Joana had formed a strong bond.

Joana, Barry, and Roxy

M&M played legal hardball, arguing that Roxy was “company property” because it spent $15,000 to train the dog. The company reported the dog stolen and the Queens District Attorney’s Office charged Myrick with grand larceny. Myrick chose to spend 15 hours in jail rather than surrender the dog.

“I spent 15 hours in jail. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” Myrick told the Post about his experience sharing a cell with about 20 other inmates. “The stories I heard were unreal — someone beat their stepdad with a baseball bat. I couldn’t tell anyone I was there for a puppy.”

Miller was moved that Myrick was so devoted to Rocky he was willing to go to jail. He was also touched by photos of Myrick and Rocky together, which he said made it abundantly clear that Myrick and Roxy had a strong bond.

“I thought it was ridiculous that criminal and civil justice resources were being used to settle the matter,” Miller said. “Myrick should never have been in prison.”

Rather than focus on the legal arguments as to who was Roxy’s rightful owner, Miller devised a Solomonesque solution. He tracked down the Post reporter who wrote the story, who put him in touch with Myrick, who referred Miller to his lawyer, William J. Kurtz.

Miller’s proposed solution: He’d put up the $15,000 M&M spent on Roxy’s training if M&M agreed to surrender its rights to Roky.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Miller recalled Kurtz asking.

“Yes, I do,” Miller replied.

Powell Miller and Sammy

The legal matter was settled, which the Post duly reported in a follow up story.  What left me hanging was who the heck was E. Powell Miller and why would a Michigan lawyer want to fork out $15,000 so that someone in Brooklyn he never met could keep a dog.

Miller, his wife, and three children are animal lovers. The family has two dogs: Sammy, a Yorkie, and Houdini, a Shih Tzu. Miller’s wife, Karol, is the founder of the 06 Legacy,  an advocacy group for grey wolves and their ancestral lands. His daughter Liah is studying to be a vet tech. Miller understands the strong emotional bonds that families form with their dogs.

Miller comes across as being soft and gooey, but there’s another side to him. Turns out, he’s not just a lawyer. He’s one of the top lawyers in the country and his bio makes clear he isn’t one you want to mess with.

Miller was named one of the Top 10 Lawyers in Michigan for 10 consecutive years, and one of the Best Lawyers in America every year since 2005. He has been retained by several Fortune 500 companies to represent them in litigation throughout the U.S., including New York, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Texas. Miller has obtained more than $3 billion in settlements and get this — he has never lost a trial.

Miller’s legal prowess is hardly a surprise. He’s recognized as a top debater in the U.S., having won first place at the Harvard University National Debate Tournament as a freshman at Georgetown University. He also represented Georgetown in a special international debating exhibition against the Oxford Debating Union of Great Britain.

Miller actively supports various nonprofits and charities, including the Detroit Urban Debate League, which fosters the creation of debate programs in under-served high schools, the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, the Joe Niekro Foundation, which focuses on research and treatment of aneurysm patients and families, and Charlotte’s Wings, which supports children and their families in hospital and hospice care.

A diehard Detroit Tigers fan, Miller has an extensive baseball card and sports memorabilia collection that was previously exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts and profiled in the Detroit News. Miller years ago pledged to donate $300 to one of his charities every time the Tigers hit a triple, a commitment that has yielded several thousands of dollars, although much less in recent years because of the Tigers’ poor performance.

Given the considerable affluence of many New York City residents, it’s telling that it was a Michigan resident who intervened and enabled Myrick and his dog to stay together. Michigan niceness is a real phenomenon and Powell Miller is one of many with the trait I’ve encountered. I can’t explain it, except perhaps those cold Michigan winters warm the soul.

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