Effective judges share perspectives

May 7, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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A collection of essays by West Michigan judges just published by faculty members of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School may help the general public — and lawyers, too — better understand just where some of the region’s judges are coming from, according to one of its editors.

Nelson P. Miller, associate dean and professor at the Cooley campus in Grand Rapids and one of four editors of “Judging in West Michigan; Celebrating the Community Impact of Effective Judges and Courts,” said the idea for the book was simple: “To help the public and the profession recognize the contributions of these fine judges that we have.”

Miller, plus Cooley faculty members Kara Zech Thelen, Christopher G. Hastings and Devin Schindler, edited the essays they collected from 18 judges, ranging from the federal and state appeals courts down to West Michigan district courts.

Miller said the essays reveal just how diverse the bench in the West Michigan region really is.

“Those of us who have been in front of these judges frequently know they each have their own inspiration, they each have their own commitments,” said Miller.

But, he added, the most interesting revelation of the essays to him was the variety in those viewpoints, commitments and involvements.

The book also contains illustrations of former courthouses in the region, which exemplify the honor imposed on judges by their communities, according to the foreward.

Cooley and the Grand Rapids Bar Association celebrated Law Day at the end of April. The keynote speaker was Judge Patrick Bowler, who talked about the collection of essays. Bowler also received the Thomas M. Cooley Law School's Marion Hilligan Public Service Award.

Bowler, who is now retired from the 61st District Court, is one of the essayists who contributed to the book, with his piece entitled, “The Clues to Successful Judging: The 17th Circuit.”

Some of the essayists provided their own title for their contribution to the book; others did not, so Miller provided those titles. One of the most eye-catching of the titles provided by Miller is the essay by Magistrate Ellen S. Carmody of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan: “Annie Sullivan Meets Perry Mason.”

Annie Sullivan Macy was the acclaimed “miracle worker” whose work with Helen Keller became world famous. Perry Mason, a fictional ace defense attorney, lives on forever in cable TV reruns.

“Judge Carmody showed how the personal inspirations that we draw from wide sources can really be meaningful in a judicial or professional role. And who would have thought that Annie Sullivan would inspire a really fine judge — but she did,” said Miller.

Judge Scott W. Dales of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Michigan wrote an essay that Miller entitled, “A Precious Midwestern Sensibility.”

“His piece is really touching,” said Miller, in that Dales wrote that “we have a peculiar sensibility about us” in West Michigan, because Grand Rapids is often said by many to be like a big city and a small town at the same time. Dales wrote about dealing with the tragedy of bankruptcy in a small town sense, in that the judge is likely to encounter those same individuals later at the grocery store.

“I think if there was any one (of the essays) that I would encourage a lay reader — a non-lawyer — to read, it would be that one,” said Miller.

The other essays, listed in alphabetical order of the judges’ names, are:

*Robert Holmes Bell of the U.S. District Court: “The Compassion of Supervised Release.”

*Robert A Benson, retired, Kent County Circuit Court: “Consistency as the Hallmark of Sound Judging.”

*Calvin L. Bosman, retired, Ottawa County Circuit Court: “Solving the World’s Problems One Case at a Time.”

*Hugh W. Brennerman: retired, U.S. District Court, “Discreet Persons Learned in the Law.”

*Pablo Cortes, 62A District Court: “Standing on the Shoulders of Others.”

*Albert J. Engel, retired, U.S. District Court: “A Long-Retired Judge’s Timeless Oath.”

*William G. Kelly, 62B District Court: “Providing the Glue for the Community.”

*Dennis C. Kolenda, retired, Kent County Circuit Court: “A Satisfying Remembrance.”

*Jeffrey Martlew, retired, Clinton County Circuit Court: “The Sound Workings of a Reformer’s Heart.”

*David W. McKeague, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit: “The Medical Mile — A Health Care Revolution in Grand Rapids.”

*William B. Murphy, Michigan Court of Appeals: “Unweaving One More Tangled Web.”

*William Schma, retired, Kalamazoo County Circuit Court: “The Capacity of Law and Judging.”

*Sara Smolenski, 63rd District Court: “Judging in Faith, Family and Humor.”

*Paul J. Sullivan, Kent County Circuit Court: “Choosing Judges in West Michigan — For Better, For Worse, For Real.”

*Christopher Yates, Kent County Circuit Court: “Letting It Sit for a Night for Forebears to Measure.”

Miller said that when Cooley and the bar association were planning this year’s Law Day, he came up with the idea of a book of essays by local judges. Miller, who owns the copyright, said Vandeplas Publishing in Florida published the book.

“(Cooley) graciously purchased 100 copies to distribute at the Law Day celebration,” added Miller. The book is available for $24.95 on the Vandeplas website as well as Amazon.com.

Miller said that if there are any royalties realized — “unlikely for this small of a run for a book” — then he and the other co-editors will contribute them to Cooley's Memorial Scholarship Fund.

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