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The People's Lawyer

The Life and Times of Frank J. Kelley, the Nation's Longest-Serving Attorney General

Frank J. Kelley with Jack Lessenberry

Award Winner

Autobiography, Detroit, Michigan, Memoir, Legal History

Painted Turtle

Published: September 2015
ISBN: 9780814341322
Pages: 256 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 42
Published: September 2015
ISBN: 9780814341339
Book Images

After several years as a small-town lawyer in Alpena, Frank J. Kelley was unexpectedly appointed Michigan’s attorney general at the end of 1961. He never suspected that he would continue to serve until 1999, a national record. During that time, he worked with everyone from John and Bobby Kennedy to Bill Clinton and jump-started the careers of dozens of politicians and public figures, including U.S. Senator Carl Levin and Governors James Blanchard and Jennifer Granholm. In The People’s Lawyer: The Life and Times of Frank J. Kelley, the Nation’s Longest-Serving Attorney General, Kelley and co-author Jack Lessenberry reflect on the personal and professional journey of the so-called godfather of the Michigan Democratic Party during his incredible life and thirty-seven years in office.

The People’s Lawyer chronicles Kelley’s early life as the son of second-generation Irish immigrants, whose father, Frank E. Kelley, started out as a Detroit saloon keeper and became a respected Democratic Party leader. Kelley tells of becoming the first of his family to go to college and law school, his early days as a lawyer in northern Michigan, and how he transformed the office of attorney general as an active crusader for the people. Among other accomplishments, Kelley describes establishing the first Office of Consumer Protection in the country, taking on Michigan’s public utility companies, helping to end racially restrictive real estate practices, and helping to initiate the multibillion-dollar Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in 1998.

Kelley frames his work against a backdrop of the social and political upheaval of his times, including the 1967 Detroit riots, the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. All those interested in American history and legal history will enjoy this highly readable, entertaining account of Kelley’s life of public service.

Published by: Painted Turtle

Frank J. Kelley served as Michigan's 50th attorney general. His 37 years in office, from 1962 to 1999, made him both the youngest (37 years old) and oldest (74 years old) attorney general in the state's history, and led to his nickname, the "Eternal General." He still holds the record as the longest-serving state attorney general in U.S. history. Kelley was the first state attorney general to establish both a consumer protection and environmental protection division. After his retirement from government, he co-founded Kelley Cawthorne, a prominent governmental affairs and law firm in Lansing, Michigan.
Jack Lessenberry is head of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit, the senior political analyst for Michigan Radio, as well as host of the half-hour public affairs program Deadline Now on WGTE-TV in Toledo, Ohio. He has had a long career in both print and broadcast media and won a 1994 National Emmy award for a documentary on Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

[An] extraordinary book [...]

– George Weeks, TC Record Eagle

An inherently fascinating and exceptionally well written read from beginning to end, The People's Lawyer: The Life and Times of Frank J. Kelley, the Nation's Longest-Serving Attorney General is strongly recommended for both community and academic library [...] collections.

– Jack Mason, The Midwest Book Review

Kelley and Lessenberry’s narrative serves as much more than a personal history. The book also provides an excellent and engaging resource for any student of Michigan political history in the twentieth century.

– Paul F. Novak, Michigan Bar Journal

Frank Kelley is a man of integrity with whom I had an excellent working relationship for my entire time in Lansing, especially my fourteen years as governor. We represented different parties, but we both understood that governing is about more than partisanship. Throughout his career he consistently stood for the best interests of the people of Michigan. This book is a fascinating account of the life and times of a man I am proud to call my friend.

– William G. Milliken, 44th governor of Michigan

The People’s Lawyer is a riveting must-read for all Michigan citizens and students of history. Frank Kelley reveals inside stories of political and personal battles in a manner that is at once fun and inspirational, candid and vivid—just like the man himself. In The People’s Lawyer we are a witness to history through the eyes of one of the greatest public servants of all time.

– Jennifer Granholm, 47th governor and 51st attorney general of Michigan

A superb recounting of the career of Michigan’s longest-serving, most colorful, and, more notably, most able attorney general.

– John J. H. Schwarz, former state senator and member of United States House of Representatives and lecturer in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan

The People’s Lawyer, the story of Frank Kelley’s life, is a fascinating read. Every young lawyer who reads it can learn from the commitment to the law and to justice of our nation’s longest-serving attorney general. The book is engaging, direct, and honest—just like Frank Kelley. His story shows how a determined public servant, dedicated to the law, can help protect our consumers and help make our world a place that is fairer, with an environment that is cleaner. The People’s Lawyer will inspire lawyers of all ages to engage in some form of public service.

– Carl Levin, longest-serving United States senator from Michigan

An inherently fascinating and exceptionally well written read from beginning to end, "The People's Lawyer: The Life and Times of Frank J. Kelley, the Nation's Longest-Serving Attorney General" is strongly recommended for both community and academic library American biography collections.

– Jack Mason, Midwest Book Review

  • 2015 Foreword Reviews INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards - Result: Finalist in the Autobiography & Memoir category
  • 2016 Michigan Notable Book Awards - Result: 1 of 20 selected annually

Video from the book launch event: