Elbert Hatchett, lawyer and civil rights activist from Pontiac, dies

Elbert Hatchett, a fierce lawyer, civil rights activist and Pontiac mainstay, died Wednesday, a family member confirmed.

Hatchett was 84, according to a report from the Detroit News. His cousin, William Hatchett, said the family isn’t disclosing the cause of death. The family plans to have a private funeral and public memorial to commemorate Elbert Hatchett’s life next week.

Elbert Hatchett was known for a rich caseload that spanned from product liability to high-profile criminal cases.

Local broadcaster and media agency owner Charlene Mitchell-Rodgers was a friend and client of Hatchett since 1999. She said when the lawyer walked into the courtroom, it was like a scene from a movie.

“If he represented you on something, you knew you were getting the best,” Mitchell-Rodgers said. “When he walked into a courtroom, the other lawyers were in awe. He treated judges with the respect that they want because judges don’t always get that.”

Elbert Hatchett, talks about the Pontiac school district lawsuit in his Pontiac law office in 2004. Hatchett won the suit that forced the district to integrate. The case led to death threats against him, shots fired through his office window and forced him to hire full-time bodyguards for himself and his family.

Mitchell-Rodgers said Hatchett was a philanthropist and his personality shined through his signature style.

“He commanded respect when he walked into a room. When you saw Elbert Hatchett, first of all, he always looked like he walked out of the Neiman Marcus window display,” Mitchell-Rodgers said. “He was always impeccably dressed. He had all of his clothes made. You never saw anybody who looked like him or who was dressed like him.” 

Attorney Elbert Hatchett models a coat from the men's fur salon at Bricker-Tunis Furriers, located West Bloomfield in 1988.

Since opening his Pontiac-based law firm in 1968, Hatchett had been an influential figure on Michigan’s legal scene. A Pontiac native, he made it a point to keep his “home base” office in the city, Mitchell-Rodgers said.

“They put the flags at half-staff in the city of Pontiac (Friday), and I thought that was really appropriate. How many times does someone who’s not an elected official get that?” Mitchell-Rodgers said. “Pontiac was his baby. He really did a lot for Pontiac. He never moved his offices out of Pontiac — that was his base, right there on Orchard Lake Road.”

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