World War II was well underway in Europe when Clifford A. Mitts, Jr. engaged a new business partner. Mr. Mitts had 15 years of practice under his belt, including nine years as a solo practitioner. At the time, he was operating out of the tallest building in Grand Rapids, Michigan—the historic McKay Tower. Mr. Mitts was a reputed trial attorney and had a solid base of business, including serving as general counsel for Fidelity Corporation and The Hartford.
In 1941, Mr. Mitts formed a partnership with A. B. “Bud” Smith, Jr., who had been an associate at Mr. Mitts’ firm since 1938. That enterprise never had a chance to properly flourish since Mr. Smith was called to military service in 1942. When Mr. Smith returned from the war in 1945, the Mitts & Smith partnership was reestablished. Their business was strongly oriented toward litigation.
In 1948, David O. Haughey, a recent law school graduate, joined the firm. By 1950 he was made a partner and the firm name changed to Mitts, Smith & Haughey. As a young lawyer, Mr. Haughey developed a practice in tort litigation and real estate and financing matters. Later, he focused on product liability litigation, having successfully represented clients such as Dow Chemical and General Motors in important trials.
For the next few decades, the firm came to be regarded as a well established and successful small firm in Western Michigan. Its approximately seven attorneys were consulted by a diverse clientele including insurance agents and companies, realtors, and businesses, mostly in the construction and real estate development industry.
Early in 1962, just after Mr. Mitts’ sudden death, the firm decided to hire the best new law school graduate they could find. L. Roland “Bud” Roegge accepted the offer to join the firm, despite what was a turbulent time in the firm’s history. Although the firm traces its origin back to 1941, it was, in effect, reborn in 1962. Mr. Roegge was immediately thrust into responsible work and over the next decade was involved in all types of matters handled by the firm. That foundation served him well, when in 1974 he was selected to lead the defense of Michigan Chemical Company, now Velsicol, against claims involving the largest environmental disaster in Michigan history. The PBB cases included some 1,000 claims and over 250 lawsuits, and involved sophisticated issues of chemistry, manufacturing, farming, and economics. Mr. Roegge devoted 100% of his time to the successful litigation of the PBB cases, which established him as one of the premier trial attorneys in the state.
Additional attorneys and staff were hired, including Robert V. V. Rice who was previously senior trust officer at Old Kent Bank. His name was added to the masthead in 1965.
The increasing scope of the firm’s client base and an enhanced statewide reputation allowed for mergers with other firms and the opening of offices in cities including Ann Arbor, Holland and Muskegon. The firm’s historical reputation as a leading litigation firm is now equally matched by its leading work in areas, such as health care, construction, and corporate law.