Advance Notice: Briefs

Biden taps top Whitmer lawyer, assistant U.S. attorney for Michigan posts

By: - November 15, 2021 8:30 am

Gerald R. Ford Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse | Nick Manes

President Joe Biden on Friday announced his picks to serve as Michigan’s two U.S. attorneys: Mark Totten and Dawn Ison. Nominations are subject to U.S. Senate approval.

Totten, who has served as chief legal counsel for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer since 2019, is Biden’s nominee for U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan. He also was the 2014 Democratic nominee for Michigan attorney general, losing to former Attorney General Bill Schuette.

From 2008 to 2018, Totten was a professor at Michigan State University College of Law. Totten served as a special assistant prosecuting attorney in the Office of the Genesee County Prosecuting Attorney from 2016 to 2017. During the Obama administration, he served as a special assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan from 2011 to 2013. From 2006 to 2007, Totten was an attorney on the appellate staff in the Civil Division of the United States Department of Justice. Mr. Totten served as a law clerk for Judge Thomas Griffith of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia from 2007 to 2008.

Totten received his J.D. from Yale Law School and a Ph.D. in Ethics from Yale University in 2006 and his B.A. from Cedarville College in 1996.

Biden also nominated Ison as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She is an assistant United States attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, where she has served since 2002. If confirmed, Ison will be the first Black woman to serve in the role, the White House said.

From 2010 to 2014, Ison served as the chief of the Drug Enforcement Task Force Unit of the office. From 1990 to 2002, she was an attorney in private practice where she focused on criminal matters as well as a range of civil matters. Ison served as a prehearing attorney for the Michigan Court of Appeals from 1989 to 1990.

Ison received her J.D. from Wayne State University Law School in 1989 and her B.A. from Spelman College in 1986.

“I applaud today’s nominations by the White House. Dawn Ison is a highly-qualified Assistant U.S. Attorney serving in the Eastern District of Michigan. I know she will continue her excellent work as U.S. Attorney. Mark Totten is a highly respected attorney, both in his work serving our state and teaching our next generation of law professionals as a professor at Michigan State University. I am confident in these two nominees, and look forward to moving their nominations through the Senate confirmation process,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) in a statement Friday.

Former President Donald Trump’s picks for U.S. attorneys were not without controversy. According to a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee report released in October, U.S. Attorneys Matthew Schneider and Andrew Birge of Michigan were emailed a brief of talking points in December 2020 from the Office of Attorney General (OAG) about so-called election fraud in Antrim County and a “forensic report” that alleges widespread election fraud in the county during the 2020 presidential election that Trump lost.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 22-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ+ people, the state budget, the economy and more. She previously served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 90 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 5,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 80 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two kids along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.