MEET Dana Nessel
Dana Nessel is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Wayne State University Law School. She is the President of the Fair Michigan Foundation, where Dana runs a first-of-its-kind anti-hate crime task force. Dana has served as an assistant prosecutor, a civil rights attorney, and a defender of indigent defendents.
Dana began her legal career as an Assistant Prosecutor in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. For over a decade, Dana was assigned to a number of elite units within the office and handled some of Wayne County’s most difficult cases.
In the Child and Family Abuse Bureau, Dana received forensic training in child interview techniques and procedures, where she vertically prosecuted child sexual and physical abuse cases, including internet crimes, child homicides, and major offenses involving child witnesses. Dana specialized in “shaken baby” cases involving severe traumatic brain injuries. Dana also prosecuted homicides, felony assaults, criminal sexual conduct cases, gang-related crimes, and incidents of aggravated stalking and arsons.
Dana was specially assigned to the Police Conduct Review Team, where she was tasked with investigating and prosecuting fatal and non-fatal shootings of civilians by police officers, as well as all in-custody deaths that occurred in local lock-up units and the Wayne County Jail. Dana conducted on-scene investigations and prosecuted officers found to have committed criminal violations. She also performed training sessions for all Wayne County police departments on the use of force and proper prisoner detention procedures.
Dana received assignments to the Auto Theft Unit, where she vertically prosecuted major auto theft cases, including chop shops, retagging, vehicle cloning, VIN alterations, identity theft, and prosecutions under the RICO criminal enterprise statute. Dana also was picked for a joint task force with auto insurance companies and the Michigan Secretary of State for law and ordinance construction and the investigation of “scrapping” cases.
In 2005, Dana left the Prosecutor’s Office to start a business by opening her own legal firm. She has become renowned as a staunch defender of constitutional rights. In her criminal practice, Dana vigorously defends the rights of indigent defendants on hundreds of criminal cases, from petty theft to first degree murder.
She also handles civil rights actions for plaintiffs against police departments and government agencies who have committed transgressions against community residents. Dana has petitioned courts across Michigan on behalf of dozens of victims of domestic violence who sought Personal Protection Orders (PPOs) against their abusers.
Civil Rights Advocate
Dana is also recognized as one of the premier litigators of LGBTQ issues in Michigan. In 2010, she brought the matter of Harmon v. Davis, in which a Michigan court, for the first time, held that a non-biological parent in a same-sex couple could establish custodial rights to the couple’s children. Dana also successfully petitioned for the first second-parent adoptions for same-sex couples in Oakland and Wayne Counties. She has defended and acquired exonerations for scores of defendants wrongly targeted for prosecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and has represented various clients terminated from employment based upon those classifications.
In 2012, she spearheaded the precedent-setting case, DeBoer v. Snyder, which challenged the bans on adoption and marriage for same-sex couples in Michigan. DeBoer was later consolidated with its affiliated U.S. Sixth Circuit cases into Obergefell v. Hodges in the United States Supreme Court. This landmark case legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
Dana is the President and founder of the Fair Michigan Foundation. In 2016, Dana and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy created the Fair Michigan Justice Project, a first of its kind task force which investigates and prosecutes hate crimes committed against the LGBTQ community. In the first year of its existence, the Justice Project had charged over a dozen capital offenses including homicides, sexual assaults, armed robberies, child abuse, attempted murder, and carjackings. The Fair Michigan Justice Project has a 100% conviction rate.
Dana has received numerous awards for her civil rights initiatives, including the “Champion of Justice” award from the Michigan State Bar Association, “Woman of the Year” from Michigan Lawyers Weekly and the “Treasure of Detroit” award from Wayne State University Law school. Dana lives in southeast Michigan with her wife, Alanna Maguire, their twin sons, Alex and Zach, along with various cats.