Wayne Law alumnus serves as arbitrator, mediator, hearing officer
Lee Hornberger uses his decades of experience to serve as a neutral arbitrator, hearing officer and mediator so he can help people resolve disputes with dignity.
A 1982 master of laws alumnus of Wayne State University Law School, Hornberger lives in Traverse City, where he is self-employed as an arbitrator and mediator. He also serves as a hearing officer for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and is on the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians hearing officer list.
“A large portion of my practice is mediating domestic relations cases,” he said. “I facilitate discussions where the parties resolve their property, parenting time and custody issues in a voluntary, courteous and confidential fashion. Helping people come to agreement in such emotional situations is very fulfilling.
“Another large portion of my practice is mediating employment cases. These are especially interesting and fulfilling to mediate. In addition, I have arbitrated labor cases in many industries.”
Hornberger, who was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in Carleton in Michigan’s Monroe County, wanted to be a lawyer from a young age. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan and his law degree from the U of M Law School in 1968.
In 1969, he joined the U.S. Army and completed military police officer training in Georgia, then went on to serve as an assistant correctional officer at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation in Pennsylvania and as a defense counsel there. In addition, he was admitted to practice before the U.S. Court of Military Appeals.
He served in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971 as an executive officer, Second Security Company, and commander, Vietnamese Guard Force in DaNang. In Vietnam, Hornberger, who held the rank of captain, was awarded a Bronze Star Medal and Army Commendation Medals. His unit was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm.
“I am proud of my service in Vietnam and my activities in Vietnam,” he said. “This military background helped make me a better attorney.”
He gained intensive criminal trial experience, as well as law enforcement experience, during his Army years and learned how to interact with people of different backgrounds, he said.
“In addition, a military – especially military police – background provides one with empathy and listening, storytelling and developing-trust skills,” Hornberger said.
After the Army, he worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor for three years and then for five years as a general practice attorney with a private firm. For the next three years, he worked as a labor and employment law attorney with The Kroger Co. in Cincinnati.
In 1982, he earned his LL.M. in labor law from Wayne Law.
“The Wayne Law program was very flexible and allowed me to take courses in several fields of law,” Hornberger said. “The LL.M. program was a wonderful experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.”
In 1982, he opened his own labor and employment law practice in Cincinnati, and, for many years thereafter, he also served as an adjunct professor at Northern Kentucky University Salmon P. Chase College of Law and at the University of Cincinnati.
In 1995, Cincinnati Magazine recognized him as a top attorney in the city, citing two national cases Hornberger had won – a sex discrimination case against the U.S. Air Force on behalf of a fellow labor lawyer and a discrimination suit against the postmaster general on behalf of a disabled African-American former post office employee.
Hornberger moved to Traverse City in 2002 and began to transform from being an advocate to becoming a neutral arbitrator and mediator.
“In 2007, I became a complete neutral and stopped doing any advocacy practice,” he said. “I increasingly wanted to help people resolve their disagreements in a courteous, dignified and professional manner. Sometimes what is needed is a simple, inexpensive solution.”
He joined the Traverse City Human Rights Commission in 2009 and served as its chair in 2015.
“My career in the employment field gave me an understanding and respect for all individuals and their situations,” he said. “Sometimes, the most vulnerable in society are the most in need of protection.”
Serving as a hearing officer for Native American tribes – sovereign nations with their own legal codes – is another interesting aspect of his law career, he said.
“The hearing officer positions involve hearing, on a rotation basis, employment appeals from employees who have been discharged by these employers (the tribes),” he said. “These are very exciting cases with a lot at stake for both parties.”
Hornberger is a member of many arbitration and mediation organizations and is editor of The ADR Quarterly published by the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the State Bar of Michigan. He’s a member of the section’s council, as well.
In 2014, the section awarded Hornberger the George Bashara Award for exemplary service.
“Being on the ADR Section Council is a wonderful experience,” Hornberger said. “It enables me to work with the lead people in the field of alternative dispute resolution. I am proud of the Bashara Award because it reflects recognition from peers I respect in the ADR profession.”