November/December 2022 Issue
Also in this issue: Remembering our Colleague - Mike May | Making a Difference | Ikigai | Mike's Gal | A Municipal Law Tour de Force
Remembering Mike May
Richard Heinemann | 01.05.23
When I arrived at Boardman as a new Associate in June of 1998, I had no idea I’d be working with Mike May on behalf of municipal utilities. Yes, I’d clerked the previous summer and even did a research project on something called “Order 888” (for Mike Stuart, the other Mike at the time). Luckily, I managed to dodge Mike’s trick assignment for Boardman summer clerks where he had you search for a nonexistent case in an obscure area of law until you were brave enough to admit you couldn’t find it (or smart enough to realize that no such case existed (not sure which quality Mike was looking for). But nothing else I did that summer prepared me for the assignment Mike gave me on that first day — which was to “ride herd” on a bunch of discovery requests in a “FERC 206” case against a big IOU represented by a big DC law firm. I wasn’t quite sure what a “municipal utility” was, or an “IOU,” so Mike gave me a book to read about the history of “public power” (I was a recovering academic and Mike loved books, so it worked). I also didn’t know how to figure out when discovery requests were due, let alone what a “FERC 206” case was, so Mike gave me a copy of the Code of Federal Regulations and told me to read the Rules. And that was my introduction to what became the rest of my career.
I loved working for municipal utilities (still do), and I loved working with Mike. He was good at explaining stuff (“capacity is like the garden hose, and energy is like the water running through it”). And he was a lawyer’s lawyer, thinking through all the angles of a legal problem, convening impromptu office conferences to talk through an issue, routing a photocopy of a new decision or article with a handwritten scrawl marking it for the MEUW Legal Memo file. But he was also hard-nosed and practical. He knew when to hold tough in a settlement negotiation, and when to compromise. He was authoritative, without being overbearing. And he relished the company of his clients, always quick with a bon mot, a wry anecdote or a joke (the condemned engineer to the executioner: “I think I know what your problem is”). Mike made it easy to love what I did and the clients I did it for. He made it feel like we were all involved in something unique and worth committing to.
Mike left Boardman to become Madison’s City Attorney in 2004, but he was never really gone. Of course, I ran in to Mike from time to time at State Bar functions, around town or at City Council meetings where he presided in strict conformity with Robert’s Rules. And there were his comprehensive outlines on public bidding, utility bankruptcy and utility governance, still consulted on a regular basis (not to mention the countless files of MEUW legal memos). But for me at least it was also the idea of Mike that never really left, the idea that you could love being a lawyer while being true to yourself. Thus, it seemed somehow inevitable that when Mike retired from being City Attorney in 2020, he returned to Boardman where he could continue, as he told me, to advise clients (mostly municipalities now, as opposed to municipal utilities), as well as to mentor younger lawyers and provide “good counsel”. As much as I will always admire Mike’s skills as a lawyer and his prodigious intellect, it’s that Mike I will miss the most — Mike the teacher and mentor.
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