Henry Baskin of Birmingham, a prominent family and entertainment lawyer, has also served on many commissions and committees and wrote the Michigan Child Custody Act of 1970. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
Henry Baskin still loves the law … but he's getting tired of dealing with lawyers.
At least, he's a bit weary of them on his television show. Or maybe it's more a case of changing priorities. He remembers decades of clients and courtrooms and precedents, but he also remembers one particular kindness and one particular toy.
That's the precedent he's building on now, as "Due Process" rolls into its 28th season on the air.
Baskin has been around somewhat longer than that. Marvin Gaye, for instance, who died in 1984, had been a long-term client.
Through changing times and tastes, Baskin has been one of the most prominent family and entertainment lawyers in the area. He has also served on assorted commissions and committees and spent 16 years on the Oakland University Board of Trustees, four of them as its chair.
No matter how swamped he was, he made time for the 30-minute television program, first on local cable, then on WDIV-TV (Channel 4) and now Fridays at 5:30 p.m. on WTVS-TV (Channel 56). He jumped to the public broadcasting station six years ago after Channel 4 buried him in the wee hours the infomercials didn't even want.
"I watch you every week," a woman told him during the literally dark days. "I have bladder problems."
What she saw, Baskin says, "was always about lawyers or law enforcement." He did helpful shows (Social Security) and topical shows (foreclosures) and hot-button shows (stem cell research). All fit under the broad umbrella of the title, "Due Process," a legal requirement that boils down to what's fair.
Fair enough. But lately, Baskin found himself thinking he could be doing more.
Getting a helping hand
Baskin's father, who came to Detroit from Hungary, died when Baskin was young. His mother, who came from Czechoslovakia, later married a man who came from Russia.
Baskin remembers going to family court as a child for a meeting in a judge's chambers. Baskin was small and scared; he thought the judge, in his black robe, looked like Zorro. Years later, he would tell jurists, "By the way — when you interview these kids, wear a sweater."
When he was 5, before the remarriage, strangers came to the door at Christmastime. They were from the Goodfellows, and he can still picture the present they brought him.
It was a magnetic fishing set. He'll never know who chose it or why, and whoever chose it will never know what an impact it had. He didn't grow up to be a fisherman, but a simple gift cemented the concept of charity.
Giving a boost to others
As a Birmingham lawyer, he has represented a chorus of familiar voices from radio, television and music, written the Michigan Child Custody Act of 1970 and won a paternity suit against the governor of Rhode Island.
As the grown-up version of that 5-year-old kid, he gave away bicycles with the Variety Club, helped found AIDS and mental illness organizations, and donated $500,000 to Oakland U for scholarships.
"Either you like people or you don't," he says, and either you're helping or you're not. So the "Due Process" franchise has remodeled and reopened as a bully pulpit for what's good in the community.
"The new focus is going to be, 'Let's give these charities a boost,'" Baskin says.
Let's give a platform and a microphone to groups like Leader Dogs for the Blind or the Rainbow Connection or Jack's Place for Autism, where well-meaning souls are getting their hands dirty for the sake of others.
"It's a good turnaround," says Jeff Forster, the station's executive vice president. "They're topics that strike closer to home."
If you have one in mind — a cause, a passion, an idea — drop Forster an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe it'll get a nibble.
As a certain lawyer could raise his hand and solemnly swear, you never know what might happen when you cast a line.
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