Ishpeming city attorney is retiring

ISHPEMING – After 41 years as the city of Ishpeming’s attorney, David Savu recently announced he’ll retire at the end of the year.

Savu’s relationship with the city and an ever-changing cadre of city staff and council members over more than four decades has been unique, among other reasons, simply for the fact that through all of the city’s changes, he’s kept his job.

“I suspect, though I don’t have any hard data … that I’m probably the longest-serving city attorney in the state of Michigan, in the history of the state of Michigan,” he said. “It’s virtually unheard of, because the attorney serves at the pleasure of the council; that’s what the (city) charter says. Which means that it only takes three votes and you’re history.”

Savu decided to become a lawyer when, after graduating college, he wasn’t quite ready to enter the workforce; he decided against other types of advanced degrees because he thought they were too tailored for academia to suit him.

“I wanted something that would have some practical application in the real world,” he said.

Savu spent his first three years practicing law at a medium-sized firm in downtown Detroit, learning everything he could about the profession. As he was taking the review course before the bar exam, he witnessed the 1967 city riots – and “commuting to Southfield on the expressways … (seeing) the city was going up in smoke,” he wanted to leave the area.

“After learning a great deal, I decided I just didn’t want to remain in the metropolitan Detroit area,” he said. “I wanted to get myself and my family as far away as I could and still stay in the state of Michigan. So I came up to Negaunee.”

Savu got a job at the small Negaunee law firm Bridges & Collins (now Bridges & Bridges) and worked there for about a year and a half before leaving to open his own general law practice in late 1972. After Ishpeming’s previous city attorney was disbarred the same year, Savu applied to represent the city as he would any other client, and was hired.

“From ’73 to ’96, I had a full-time private practice law firm, and in addition I was the city attorney,” he said.

During his tenure, Savu witnessed Ishpeming and Marquette County undergo myriad transformations.

“I was here through a lot of changes in the city. I mean, when I came to the Upper Peninsula, Marquette County was a sleepy, small rural area, very quiet, and Ishpeming, Negaunee and the west end were really, really quiet,” he said. “And so there’s been a tremendous change in the development of the area, the population, commercial development…”

Regarding his decision to retire, Savu said that after a long career in a demanding profession – often working intellectually and physically exacting 10- or 12-hour days, it’s time for him to unwind.

“I just finally decided that – I mean, I’ll be 72 years old in August – and it’s just time to retire,” he said. “When you’re at it for as long as I’ve been – the practice of law is not like what people see on television. Because on television, nobody prepares for anything. All you do is you see some lawyer in the courtroom being brilliant and all that. But the fact of the matter is it takes an awful lot of preparation time to be in the courtroom, or to do any kind of legal work – research, drafting, talking to clients or witnesses and all that kind of effort.”

Beyond wanting to travel with his wife, Savu said he hasn’t yet made post-retirement plans, but said his position as city attorney has been a rewarding one, giving him many opportunities to handle unique issues and address challenges that most other lawyers never encounter.

“It has been and continues to be a real eye-opener and a really interesting field of practice,” he said. “I had the best of both worlds: I had a full, private practice, where I was able to work with private clients; and then I had the benefit of being the city attorney, where I had a completely different perspective on the practice of law.”

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.