By Margaret Doyle Fitzpatrick
for the King County Bar Association April 2014 “Bar Bulletin”
Divorce and scandal six men dead. “Get out now Les, this is over your head.”
Les McKee, the protagonist in Consumed, the debut novel by Mike Bugni (pronounced Bue-nee), practices law a little differently than Mike. Both are Northwest family law attorneys, committed to representing their clients to the best of their abilities, but Les’s life is much more on the edge.
“Borrowing” from his client trust account, lusting after and entering into compromising situations with a client, and being shot at are just a few of the tight spots in which Les finds himself. His client’s husband has been involved in the creation of a ground-breaking innovative software device, which he is scheming to keep from his wife in their divorce. Okay, that part of the story is not unusual in Mike’s busy practice.
Consumed, to be published by Archway Publishing, an affiliate of Simon & Schuster, will be released on April 12. This project has been a labor of love for Mike on and off for 20 years. He’s had to regularly update the technological side of this thriller to keep it current.
He says it has been a lot of fun to use the creative side of his brain, while incorporating his 30 years of experience practicing family law in the land of Microsoft and other software firms. Working with an editor and honing the story for a leisure audience, as opposed to the court, have brought a new perspective to the writing he does on a daily basis for his clients.
Mike’s firm is Michael W. Bugni & Associates, PLLC, and is conveniently located in a new building in the Northgate area where the parking is free. The number of lawyers and staff fluctuates, but Mike has had up to 13 lawyers working with him.
The emphasis of the practice is family law, which means divorce, parenting/custody disputes, child support, maintenance (alimony), modification of decrees, post-secondary educational cost issues, domestic violence cases, restraining orders, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, mediations and arbitrations. Because the clients come from everywhere, and do everything, the firm has experience in same-sex marriages and partnerships, parenting, immigration issues, real estate, business valuations, mental health issues, high-profile sports and business cases, criminal and domestic violence cases, legal ethics, professional goodwill, disparate earning capacity situations and estate issues. There is never a dull moment.
When he was a first-year law student at the University of Washington, Mike was hired by Moren Lageschulte and Cornell as an investigator for the personal injury lawyers. After he graduated and passed the bar, he was hired by the firm as an associate. He inherited one of the lawyers’ part-time family law practices and it went from there. Mike says that family law is “like a jealous lover; you have no time for anything else.”
His first case was one of his most memorable. Mike was hired by a man from Sri Lanka, in an agreed divorce where the husband and wife wanted the husband to have custody of their one-year-old. Her parents would have no part of it, so they sued for custody. The case was the maternal grandparents against the parents. Finally, the father prevailed and the grandparents had to pay all of Mike’s fees.
The judge asked Mike how much he charged, which was $50 per hour. The judge commented, “I don’t think there is a lawyer in the county that charges $50 an hour!” The father was 22 and Mike was 26. The case is Chapman v. Perera, 41 Wn. App, 444, 704 P.2d 1224 (1985).
One of his most difficult professional challenges was when his law partners decided to move to Snohomish County in 2001. Mike had been at the firm for 20 years. He and his wife, Linda, made the decision overnight to open Michael W. Bugni & Associates. Mike had two associates: Catherine Del Fierro and Laura Christensen Colberg. Margaret Prokopiof and Karma Zaike were his paralegals. Prokopiof has been Mike’s assistant for the past 28 years, and after Zaike went to law school, she came back to the firm as a lawyer. It was the right decision, but starting up your own business in addition to practicing law can be very challenging.
Since then, Mike has continued to embrace new challenges. For two years, he was the board chairman for Northwest Family Life, a state-certified domestic violence treatment agency. Mike has been a proud supporter of King County Family Law CASA (court appointed special advocates) since it was chartered. At the prompting of Mabry DuBuys, in 2004 Mike became a member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), which is a nationwide fellowship of matrimonial lawyers, and served as the Washington State Chapter president for two years.
Mike has had a long-standing interest in assisting parties in resolving their disputes in mediation. In the 1980s, Mike, along with Frank Holman and others, established an early-mediation group, with participation from lawyers, non-lawyers, counselors, accountants and others, to assist families in resolving their disputes short of litigation.
Mike began mediating cases in 1998, around the same time he began as pro tem court commissioner for the King County Superior Court Family Law Department. He says he has learned much from the best family law mediators in the state.
Mediating is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying aspects of his practice. Each case is unique, the challenges invigorating, and he learns something new each time. When Mike participates in mediation as a lawyer, he feels like he is being paid “to learn from the best.”
Holman says Mike is an “exceptionally good mediator, very creative, and takes a very positive approach to it.” He tells his clients, “Mike will push on you very hard to get a settlement and will be pushing equally hard in the other room.” Mike provides the parties with an excellent opportunity to be heard, and to resolve their cases while they still retain some control over their situation.
Mike served as a pro tem court commissioner from 1998 to 2007. During that time, Mike sat at least once a month, and sometimes for two weeks at a time. The fun part of mediating and acting as a pro tem is “watching really good lawyers in action,” Mike says.
In 2005, during a family law calendar and in the middle of a case, Mike had to recess. He was experiencing some physical difficulties. When he was in the elevator leaving the courthouse, he spotted a man he thought was an off-duty officer and asked for help. The officer drove Mike up to Harborview, where he was told he was having a heart attack, and underwent an emergency angioplasty. Mike says it took him eight weeks to finish the hearing that was interrupted, but he did it.
Mike was born in Butte, Montana and is one of four children. After graduation from high school in Hamilton, Mike chose to go to Whitman College, based upon a friend’s recommendation. There, he studied history and religion, and met and married his wife, Linda (Savalli).The Bugni family history is like a good book or movie. Mike’s paternal grandfather, John Bugni, was one of 12 brothers who traveled from Courgne, Italy in 1918 to work in the copper mines in Butte. It was in Butte’s heyday; during World War I, the railroad was built through town and copper was king.
They moved to Seattle so Mike could go to law school at the University of Washington, while Linda worked for 20 years as a microbiologist for Children’s Hospital. Linda and Mike now have been married for 34 years and have three children. Linda says they were a really good “tag team” when their kids were small. Linda went to work at 6 a.m. and Mike handled the morning duties, getting the kids to school on the way to court; she took over after school. Linda says that “being a divorce lawyer makes Mike a really good husband; he knows what mistakes not to make and how to listen.”
Their son Daniel will be starting law school this fall at Lewis and Clark, in Portland. Daughter Heather and her husband Patrick are expecting the Bugni’s first grandchild in July. Their youngest, Corbin, is a student at UW-Bothell, and is a poet and a spoken-word artist.
Mike embraces leisure activities with the same enthusiasm and positive energy he exhibits in his professional career. Every spring, he participates in fantasy baseball. He and Linda have traveled back to Italy to check on their mutual “roots” and have visited their daughter in China and Thailand. They enjoy spending time at their weekend place on the Kitsap Peninsula, kayaking and crabbing. Mike loves Linda’s Italian cooking. Mike is an avid moviegoer, and is always available to give suggestions and reviews on the latest films. When asked if he is going to write another book, he states “the sequel is already in my head.”
The Bugni family history is like a good book or movie. Mike’s paternal grandfather, John Bugni, was one of 12 brothers who traveled from Courgne, Italy in 1918 to work in the copper mines in Butte. It was in Butte’s heyday; during World War I, the railroad was built through town and copper was king.
John embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and built a hotel. On the day of the grand opening, he was hanging pictures, suffered a blood blister and died of tetanus three days later. He left his wife, Albina, who did not speak English, with three children under 30 months old. Mike’s grandmother sold the hotel, moved to Meaderville and ran a boarding house for miners.
Mike always knew there was a “big family secret” and, finally, he convinced his 76-year-old aunt to tell him the story. She told Mike, then 44, “I think you are old enough now.”
In order to make a living, his grandmother made wine and whiskey for the miners, until she was arrested in 1937 for not having a liquor license. She had to spend seven months in the Silver Bow County Jail. Because she was the only woman, she got to stay in the jail keeper’s house, and they allowed her to go home on Saturday to do the laundry and see her children, who were then 15, 14 and 12. Otherwise, the kids were left alone to fend for themselves. Finally, a lawyer in town took pity on the situation and applied for a presidential pardon. Mike’s grandmother, Albina Bugni, received one of 3,687 pardons granted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When discussing his choice of practice area with other lawyers, Mike explains that his practice is very satisfying. He has never failed to get a client divorced – every case gets to be closed, usually with a friend for life. He does get some repeat customers and jokes, “The third divorce is on the house!”
Margaret Doyle Fitzpatrick first got to know Mike Bugni when he was a pro tem commissioner and as an opposing counsel on some of her cases. Fitzpatrick has practiced with Bugni for 10 years and has received many “brilliant emails” in the middle of the night from the man who lives on very little sleep.