Michael Miller '63: The Back Story of a Very Public Life
Michael Miller '63 came to law school because he wanted to be an FBI agent. He had never met an FBI agent and thought, incorrectly he found out later, that you needed to be a lawyer or an accountant to become an agent. Predictably, Mike's favorite courses were criminal and constitutional law taught by Professors Larry Herman and William W. Van Alstyne respectively.
Michael and two fellow graduates joined the FBI during tumultuous times. They were in basic training in Quantico, Virginia when then President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Within six months of becoming an agent, Mike was one of 20 agents sent to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Meridian, Mississippi. The case, ultimately chronicled in the movie "Mississippi Burning," was a turning point in the civil rights movement.
Mike's next assignment was no less historic. He was dispatched to cover the Selma to Montgomery freedom marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to draw attention to Alabama's voting registration policies and help hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Eyewitness to history, Mike came to respect Dr. King, "Whether you agreed with him or not, the guy had an immense amount of courage. In the midst of this dangerous undertaking, he was surrounded by evil people. Every day, his life was in jeopardy."
Mike was the duty agent the night that white Detroit civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo was shot to death from a passing car as she drove a fellow freedom marcher, an African American male, to the airport. Mike says, "The murderers were picked up almost immediately. One of the riders in the Klansman's car was an undercover FBI agent."
From there, Mike was assigned to join the ongoing investigation of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that left four African American girls dead and 23 injured. Michael was one of many investigators whose shoe leather and sweat would lead to convictions. Looking back, Mike says, "The South was divided. There were more people who were ashamed of the violence than the small group of Klansman responsible for it."
In 1965, Mike's world and assignment would change dramatically. He was assigned to the FBI office at 69th and Third Avenue in Manhattan. Young and single, he enjoyed all the City had to offer.
|Miller family (clockwise from back left): Beth, Ellen, Andy, Melinda and Mike|
His first assignments involved investigation of presidential appointees and others. His "15 minutes of fame" were cut short when his interview with Tolstoy's daughter was cancelled. Later, he would investigate individuals suspected of espionage for the Chinese and the Soviets. Sometimes, Mike would follow suspects surreptitiously, and other times not. "Sometimes just letting them know we suspected them of covert activities was enough to deter them," says Mike.
Within three years, Mike was married, wanting children, and a transfer to a city consistent with those goals. He called fellow high school alumnus and Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brother Mike Moritz '61, looking for advice about how to get back to Columbus. Mike Moritz set up an interview with the Ohio Attorney General and Michael Miller's Columbus practice was underway.
Mike's public service career would include stints as both a prosecutor and judge. He is best known for his 17-year career as Franklin County prosecuting attorney in which he tried more than 100 jury cases including 42 first-degree or aggravated murder trials. Mike says proudly, "I didn't run a political office. I ran a great office that was fair. Our prosecutors were proud of what they did and we looked at every case individually." Evidence of this professionalism is underscored by his long-term friendship with his counterpart, then Franklin County public defender, Jimmy Kura.
Today Michael has an of counsel relationship with Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter where he specializes in death penalty cases. His advice to current Moritz students is twofold, "Remember that counselor really means 'counselor.' Explain likelihoods and ask your clients to choose wisely from among them. Secondly, remember that professionalism and civility within the framework of ethics means putting a case behind you when it's over. It makes you a better lawyer and gives you a better life."
Michael lives the "better life" of which he speaks. He and his wife of 38 years are the proud parents of two daughters, an O.S.U. Ph.D candidate and a Capital Law graduate, and a son who works for Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro. Classmates and friends can reach Michael at MMiller@keglerbrown.com.