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Henry Baskin represented Marvin Gaye and hosts a cable law program, but his legacy may be in family law

Published in 2006 Michigan Super Lawyers — September 2006

You could say Henry Baskin’s career was sidetracked by an early-morning phone call in 1967. His friend on the other line asked him to head down to Detroit’s main police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien Street, a tough section of a tough city still reeling from recent race riots. It seems a relativeof Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, was in jail for impaired driving.

That call turned into a long-term relationship with the Gordy family and their top talent. One client stayed with Baskin for 18 years and went from unknown singer to household name: Marvin Gaye. “Marvin was just an emerging artist when I first met him,” Baskin says.

Baskin quickly became known as Motown’s lawyer. He also represented bands such as the Rolling Stones and The Who when they came to Detroit. He even moved his business to Santa Monica, Calif., to be closer to the entertainment action.

Despite the glamour, Baskin felt something was missing from his life.

“I realized that the 90210 area code was not the place I wanted to be,” he says. “Writing up contracts in places like restaurants or the ABC headquarters wasn’t what I was trained for. I grew upon Clarence Darrow. I wanted to be like him.”

One area in which he knew he could make a difference — and be back in the courtroom like his hero Darrow — was family law. Baskin had already grappled with tough domestic law issues even as he was writing up contracts for rock stars. In the 1970s, he had worked on Michigan’s child custody laws, changing the criteria for determining custody and adding grandparents as potential custodians. Upon his return to Michigan, he took on more divorce cases. And in the 1990s, he pushed hard for personal protection legislation.

Too often, he says, he found himself bouncing between judges and the police searching for ways to help women. “I would go see the divorce judge who would tell me to go see the police,” he says. “The police would tell me, ‘Go see the judge.’ Sometimes you got lucky and got a restraining order. But by and large judges didn’t pay attention to domestic violence.”

Working with the governor’s office, Baskin helped set up and then led the domestic violence task force that researched the problem. The result was Michigan’s personal protection order law, which went into effect in 1994.

The Michigan law, at Baskin’s insistence, allows for the orders to be issued ex parte. Additionally, the orders are immediately downloaded to the Law Enforcement Information Network, so police can arrest violators quickly. Baskin knows too well the danger of delays. In 1990 he had been unable to move fast enough in the legal and law enforcement channels to keep a husband from shooting and killing his wife. “I had promised this woman’s father I would protect her and I didn’t,” he says.

“Judges have told me that a piece of paper isn’t going to stop a bullet,” he adds. “I agree. But this law serves these men with a notice that ‘The state of Michigan is now in your life, mister, so you better behave. This isn’t just about you and your wife but the state as well.’”

Baskin, the son of Eastern European immigrants, hasn’t given up on the entertainment business altogether. Not only does he retain some Beverly Hills pizzazz with his well-cut suits and silk ties, but for the past 22 years he’s hosted a legal affairs television program, Due Process, which provides the public with the information they need if they get caught up in the legal system. The show airs every Sunday at 8 a.m. on WDIV Channel 4.

In recent years, Baskin has added education to his list of public service commitments. He recently set up a $500,000 scholarship fund at Oakland University for students of single parents. “I realized long ago that in divorces you don’t just represent the women, you also represent the children,” he says.

“The law says that child support stops at 18. But the kids aren’t moving out. Now the burden of college is also on these single mothers. So I set up this fund for students because I believe education is really the light at the end of the tunnel for everyone.”

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