DECEMBER 6, 1984
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: The Supreme Court is happy indeed, to have this occasion to pay tribute to one of our own, one of our great leaders, and to receive her portrait for the edification of future generations. It’s a particularly happy occasion for me because it was a real opportunity serving under Chief Justice COLEMAN. It was my feeling that she had a particularly good understanding of the role of the Supreme Court, not only in the legal community, but in the entire society, that it was a strong part of our whole democratic system, and, indeed, that the preservation of the Supreme Court as an institution in the administration of justice was something of significant importance. And the fight that she made to make the constitutional concept of a one court of justice a practical, operating reality, rather than merely something written in the constitution and referred to reverently by many of us, was something that I shall forever appreciate, and all those who follow the administration of justice in the State of Michigan will have to pay real tribute to her for that leadership.
I think it was particularly a stroke of diplomacy, as well as judicial leadership, because it was quite evident that without her leadership neither the executive nor the legislative branches would have moved in this direction. And it was a pleasure to see how well both of those branches responded to her abilities. I won’t say her charm, because that would immediately be called sexist in this day and age, but you know what I mean. So I think this is a really important occasion. We normally begin with a statement on behalf of the State Bar, and the State Bar will be heard, but partially because of Court problems, and partially because of the weather, Dennis Archer is presently delayed. And I think that if it won’t make Judge George Bashara nervous, we will permit him to go next. Anybody of course, who has played golf with George Bashara knows that there is nothing that could make him nervous when he has an objective in mind.
I noticed earlier Jerry Roe. And I wish I’d thought to consult with him, because I think that there may be something very special in the relationship between the probate court and the circuit courts. It seems that the probate judges get elected to the Supreme Court, and the circuit judges get appointed. Now, I’m sorry my friends from the State Bar aren’t here, because they have very strong feelings about appointment of judges, and I’m going to speak about that.
But, in any event, I remember very vividly that George Bashara, and I think all of the probate judges in the State of Michigan so strongly endorsed their leader to be, Justice COLEMAN, that there was no doubt about the outcome of that election.
George, do you think you need any more introduction to calm your nerves? Or, if not, if you want to stand up, we’d be delighted to hear from you.
MR. GEORGE BASHARA: Thank you very much. Mister Chief Justice, and members of the Supreme Court. I am indeed at once pleased, proud, and in a sense awed at the sense of history that brings us here today.
I’m very proud and pleased because it was exactly on January 1, 1973, that I had the privilege to stand here in this same spot, and move for the admission of then Judge Mary Coleman, to ascend to the Supreme Court bench. And she gave me that great honor. And I think that her sense of history on this occasion comports with mine. I can recall that Justice LEVIN was also here, and Judge Feikens moved his admission, and it was my singular honor to move for Justice COLEMAN’S admission to the Supreme Court. It was just a few hours earlier that I became a judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals, having left my good friends from the probate bench, and in one stroke was an appellate judge.
I think the fact that many of the probate judges who were then there, and are here now, is a tribute to their depth of feeling about MARY STALLINGS COLEMAN.
When we think of this great justice, I am sorry Mister Chief Justice, but I cannot help but be chauvinistic. I don’t think she’s changed one iota. She is as beautiful today as she was eleven or twelve years ago when she became a Justice of this Court.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: If I may interrupt you, the word today is “patriotic,” not “chauvinistic.”
MR. GEORGE BASHARA: That discussion is for another time and another forum.
Justice COLEMAN, as you may or may not know, was born in the State of Texas. She graduated from the University of Maryland. Graduated from Georgetown University with a Juris Doctor, and has received of course, numerous honorary degrees.
She married the Honorable Creighton Coleman, as feisty a guy as you’ll ever know. A man whom I have grown to love and to revere as if, as he likes to call himself, he was the sergeant in the trenches. When I went to the Court of Appeals and Justice COLEMAN came to the Supreme Court, he was the work horse of the bench in the circuit court.
Coming from the middle of our great state both Judge and Justice COLEMAN were the proud father and mother of two fine children. And we could expect no less than that both of them would become doctors.
MARY COLEMAN has distinguished herself in every field of endeavor in which she has even closely attempted. She has served with distinction on corporate boards, on college boards, on many, many professional and charitable societies. To try and even mention them all would take up the entire time of the Court. But all of us here know of those great achievements.
I want to speak for just a moment about the MARY COLEMAN that I knew both as a probate judge, and as a friend.
MARY STALLINGS COLEMAN was at once a fine judge and a great friend, there is not one judge who sat with her, whether it be on this bench, or on the probate bench, who did not immediately recognize her warmth, her compassion, and yet, above all of the smiles, and all of the even-temperedness, one sensed a solidity, something really direct. You never dealt any way with MARY COLEMAN but directly over the table, shoulder to shoulder, and with a very simplistic, if you will, but more importantly, a direct way of dealing with the problem. The kind of approach one would expect from an honorable public servant. MARY COLEMAN has won all of the awards that any person, let alone woman, ever could have won. She is in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. And she has gotten honorary degrees from nearly every college and university in the state.
As I conclude my remarks about her, I will say two things. Number one, I would like to just summarize what I think was the essence of her judicial career.
In the case of People v Jackson, which she wrote in–which she wrote too in 1974, in a dissenting opinion, she stated this, “There is a large if sometimes overlooked difference between securing so far as is possible a fair trial leading to the right result (the truth of the matter) and securing to defendants the benefit of anything and everything which may give them a chance for acquittal.” That was MARY COLEMAN’S style: what was fair, what was right, and what was honest. She didn’t mince words. She was always there when you needed her. A person who was never going to be forgotten in the annals of this Court.
My final thought of MARY COLEMAN is as a friend. When she decided to run for this great Court she sought the advice of those of us who were in the probate court. And of course, at once, we agreed to help her. To a person, man or woman, we were right behind her, because that was the kind of loyalty she inspired. And I can only say that after twenty-two years of service as a judge in the State of Michigan, and the ten years that she served on the Supreme Court, I’m proud to be able to be here to commend this great person to this Court. I thank you very much.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you. Our president of the State Bar has arrived, but we’re going to give him a chance to catch his breath. And I think Justice RYAN has very graciously agreed to continue on after George Bashara.
The only thing is that after all the ceremony is over, I’m going to talk to Mary about one thing, any of you who’ve played golf with George you know–I mean Judge BASHARA–you know that he’s a south paw, and I don’t know why she wanted to start out with a left-handed compliment.
JUSTICE RYAN: Mister Chief Justice, and my colleagues on the Court, distinguished guests, and most of all our honoree, Justice COLEMAN. Mine is the privilege this afternoon of sharing with you a glimpse into the MARY COLEMAN years on the Michigan Supreme Court, January 1973 to December 1982, including of course, her tenure as Chief Justice.
And in organizing my thoughts for what would be said here, there inevitably loomed rather large the question what to include and what to omit. Ultimately the time available supplied the answer, as it is: reference to all of MARY COLEMAN’s achievements, all of her contributions to Michigan’s judicial history, simply cannot be addressed today, and of course, selective reference, Mary, invites omissions. It then occurred to me that some of our guests, Mister Chief Justice, may not be aware that these ceremonial proceedings this afternoon are being electronically recorded, and what is said here will be transcribed and set down in a forthcoming volume of the Michigan Reports. What is done here will stand as a permanent record of what is said by those of us who know Mary well and who worked with her during her years on the Court. But in the decades, and, indeed, the generations to come, most of Michigan’s students and scholars and historians and journalists who do research, will come to appreciate the personal and the human dimension of MARY COLEMAN–the humanness of the attractive lady so beautifully captured in oil only by reference to the transcript of these proceedings. So there’s a serious obligation, I suggest, to be accurate today, if necessarily subjective, and understandably affectionate.
Students of the judicial history of this state, I think, should be aware that Mary’s Supreme Court years had really two aspects. First of all of course, was her role in the development of Michigan’s jurisprudence as a scholar, an author, and a collegial decisionmaker. The second aspect of her contribution was her administrative leadership of the Michigan judiciary for two terms. Judges and lawyers and teachers and students of the law will read for themselves what Mary has written in hundreds of her opinions in Volumes 389 to 417 of the Michigan Reports, and they’ll conclude for themselves what those decisions say, and what they mean, and how they have helped shaped Michigan’s jurisprudence.
In the first of her roles in the Supreme Court, the case decider, the opinion writer, Mary was, as I observed across the table, a reflective and a knowledgeable voice for judicial moderation. Her work, whether in conference discussion, or private research and writing, or in the majority or dissenting or concurring opinions, reflected a philosophy that the constitutional grant of power to the judiciary, in the separation of powers doctrine, carries with it the virtually unreviewable power to say what the law means, carefully adhering all the while to the constitutional duty of deference to the Legislature. And they will say Mary thought what the law is.
Justice COLEMAN’S work in the case decision process, while it was always marked with distinguished scholarship, and appropriate concession to collegiality, was at the same time a model of adherence to judicial self-restraint. That, I believe, Mary felt was always one of the noblest qualities of an appellate judge. Her opinions suggest no affection for the notion that it’s the business of the judiciary to reorder the social priorities of the times according to the image and likeness of whomever currently may be seated in the Supreme Court.
I read Mary as having seen no duty, indeed no constitutional right, to employ the heavy arm of this state’s highest Court to reweave every tear in the social fabric brought here for repair. And in matters of distributive and social justice, Justice COLEMAN was a voice for deference to legislative policymaking, preferring wherever practical the collective judgment of a hundred plus elected representatives, and a gubernatorial signature to the ipse dixits of a four person majority closeted together behind that wall, and insulated from public hearing or citizen gaze, or press scrutiny. However, when legislative inaction bred, or permitted injustice, Justice COLEMAN did not hesitate to move to advance the common law of social justice with boldness and compassion and a sensible sensitivity to the nearly endless ripple effect of judicial lawmaking. That was especially so in cases involving the difficult, sometimes insoluble dilemma–the Gordian knot–of child custody litigation. And in matters of criminal justice, Mary wrote with courage and a visionary understanding of the devastating effect upon a frightened citizenry of crime increasingly out of control. Mere imperfections in the trial court process which did not amount to unfair treatment of the accused were treated by her with the common sense one would expect of a wise and experienced lawyer and judge who brought to her work the important experience of a decade in juvenile justice. Convictions unfairly gotten, however, were promptly held invalid and were vacated in an obedience to an unforgiving oath to do justice, even when doing it was unpopular.
As I said to you, there were two aspects of the COLEMAN Court years. Mary’s role in shaping the jurisprudence of a decisionmaker was one. However, her administrative leadership of the entire state judiciary and our profession, as Chief Justice, was another.
And in that former role, Mary’s great contribution to Michigan’s jurisprudence is of course recorded in the Michigan Reports. As Chief Justice, however, her work is rarely understood, as any Chief Justice’s work is rarely understood, by the public at large, and even within the profession. The litany of Justice COLEMAN’S accomplishments as Chief Justice, as the manager of this coordinate branch of government is lengthy and I think impressive. Much of it is highly technical, touching almost every aspect of the process of strengthening and extending the efficiency and the economy and fairness of the administration of justice in Michigan. Mary set about her duties as Chief Justice for the first time in 1979, confronting a calendar of administrative challenges which included the need for increased funding and dramatically innovative court-related legislation. Recession-driven cost cutting was imperative. Unfairly disparate judicial salaries were the rule in the state. State Bar Association representative assembly authorities demanded of the Michigan Supreme Court a rewriting of the rules of practice. A constitutional challenge to the very organization and, indeed, the existence of the State Bar Association was pending. There were demands for new concepts in court reorganization.
There was of course in 1979 a litigation explosion unparalleled in the history of the Michigan judiciary. The burdens of the office of Chief Justice are never fully understood by anyone but the incumbent. To attempt to recite even a representative sampling of MARY COLEMAN’S achievements as Chief Justice, is surely to run the risk of omission, a risk, Mary, which, I choose not to run for myself.
Certainly first and brightest in the constellation of Mary’s administrative achievements to be read in these reports and understood by generations of lawyers to follow us, must be her activity in the design and the refining and the enacting and the implementation of the Court Reorganization Act of 1980. Under MARY COLEMAN’S leadership, the most fragmented, expensive, unwieldy, and entrenched local judicial fiefdoms in Michigan were brought together, and in very large measure unified, really, under the single umbrella of state funding. Twelve million dollars a year worth of autonomous local court activity in Wayne County became coordinated under the aegis of the State of Michigan in what was the first phase of what the Legislature has pledged will be state-wide court reorganization.
During Mary’s stewardship as Chief Justice, massive updating and modernizing of the General Court Rules, the Probate Court Rules, and the Juvenile Court Rules were initiated and advanced and in large measure concluded. The equalization and compensation among the trial judges serving in the same courts and the standardization of their salaries was an achievement long overdue. Law-related education for high school kids and college students through a consortium involving the State Bar, the Department of Public Education, the State Police, Michigan State University, and others, was undertaken and adopted. So the younger, non-lawyer members of our society can feel and have an important role in helping preserve a safer and a more peaceful and a fairer Michigan.
The list goes on, including, of course, the increasing evidence of the truth that the justices of the Michigan Supreme Court pay political allegiance to no persons, or party, as evidenced by the Court’s unanimous decision in 1982, under Mary’s leadership, in the first legislative reapportionment case. A pattern of unanimity which was repeated last year in the most political of all jurisprudential questions, the apportionment of the seats of the State Legislature.
The list Of MARY COLEMAN’S achievements as Chief Justice, and the achievements of the Court under her leadership go on, but I shall not. The years of MARY COLEMAN’S service in the Michigan Supreme Court were rich. They were enormously productive, jurisprudentially active, and I think in every respect memorable. It was a decade, Mary, of dramatic transition in the law, and in court administration. Many of the changes brought about during your tenure might have been wrenching, painful, and disruptive, even politically polarizing. They were, however, brought about quietly, efficiently and, in nearly every case, acceptably to all concerned. Some of the most difficult jurisprudential issues ever presented in this Court were accepted for discussion and decision.
MARY COLEMAN’S steady, conscientious, and scholarly preparation and presentation–her artistry and shaping of an atmosphere for dialogue instead of diatribe–for listening, instead of just hearing–for acceptance, instead of acrimony, all enhanced the collegiality of the decisionmaking process here, and minimized the rhetoric of disagreement. The result was, I’m sure, a heightened clarity in the decisions finally reached. Others, those who were not a part of it, Mary, will judge the quality of the Michigan Supreme Court’s work during the COLEMAN years. But we who were there know how effectively your firm, but gentle hand so often and so wisely steered a better course to assure justice in a way that would not have been possible without you. We’re proud to be part of the COLEMAN years.
Mary, Michigan thanks you. So do we who were privileged to serve with you.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you very much Justice RYAN. All of us on the Court are very grateful to serve with you.
I’m going to call on Dennis Archer, President of the State Bar. But before I do, I think we have Linda Bruin here who’s President of the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan. And if I may assume the prerogative of Chief Justice, I would like to include her on the program after Dennis Archer speaks. Dennis, thank you very much for making the effort of being here. We’re honored by your presence.
MR. DENNIS ARCHER: Mister Chief Justice, members of the Michigan Supreme Court. I would not have missed this opportunity for anything in the world. I feel a little bit today, I must confess, like my brethren and sisters in the law who are sole practitioners who are called upon to do many different kinds of things at the same time. I’ve found that there’s no way to look dignified running down the street about a half a mile, huffing and puffing, with your coat blowing in the air. But it has all been worth it, because I’m in your presence.
We in the State Bar are extremely proud of our former Chief Justice MARY COLEMAN. There are a number within the State Bar of Michigan who look upon you as a role model, and certainly a trail blazer. I speak of a personal nature as it relates to a trail blazer because, you see, when you are the first, there are a lot of eyes on you. There’s a lot of curiosity, a lot of questioning. And as a role model, there are a number of women lawyers in this state who are lawyers now because of you, because of what you’ve done, the contributions that you’ve made on behalf of the citizens of the State of Michigan, and the strategic role as outlined by Justice RYAN that you played in the Michigan Supreme Court when women were looking for other options in their lives in terms of what to do, and how to do it. They looked to you and saw a vision. So we are blessed that there are many fine, outstanding women in our profession and in our state because of the contributions that you have made.
And then there are others of us who now believe yes, we can, because as a role model, and as a trail blazer, the magnificent way that you carried yourself, and the hard work that you’ve done for all of us within the State of Michigan, has truly been a blessing for all of us. Each step in your distinguished career and in your professional advancement was because of the old fashioned way, it was not because you just happened to be extremely lovely, and married to a distinguished, handsome jurist. But it’s because you earned it. You’ve worked for it. Your intellect, your contributions, and the respect of your peers, as well as the citizens of this state, saw to it that you returned, as you should be, as you were to the Michigan Supreme Court. Your contribution to the State of Michigan by your service, and on the Michigan Supreme Court will long be remembered. And I can say on a personal note that I have enjoyed each opportunity that you’ve allowed me to work with you when you were on the Supreme Court, and as Chief Justice, with the goal in mind to improve our judicial system. I can pledge to you that our State Bar of Michigan is now, and will be for the balance of this year, working toward a Court of one justice with equal salaries, with equal pensions, for judges like our distinguished members who we are before today, and others who are district judges, and probate judges, who work so hard, and make such personal financial sacrifices to serve our state. We’re committed to make sure that we have one court of justice, and to continue the work that you started earlier. And hopefully, we’ll be able to be successful before certain tax measures are perhaps repealed or whatever, we want to be able to demonstrate how we might be able to justifiably use those dollars to make sure that our system of justice runs smoothly and on a course that was set by a friend, and colleague, and a super Chief Justice.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you very much Dennis Archer for that warm and eloquent tribute to our former Chief. I must confess, however, that you had me worried for a while when you mentioned Mary’s role as a role model, because before you turned your attention to all of the aspiring women to office and everything, I thought you were going to say that she should be a role model for the Chief Justice. But of course, there were certain aspects of her qualifications that none of us could ever hope to fulfill.
Is Linda Bruin ready to honor us? Thank you very much President Bruin.
MS. LINDA BRUIN: Thank you Mister Chief Justice, and members of the Court, and Justice COLEMAN. I bring you greetings on behalf of the Women Lawyers Association. And I want to say that we are proud to have had you as a member of our organization. You’ve been an active supporter of women in the legal profession for a long time. And all of us are very appreciative of that. We also appreciate very much your willingness to assist us, and to promote law in society. Let me just give a quick example of what happened today for those of you who are not familiar with Justice COLEMAN’S schedule. I happen to be aware of that. The Michigan law-related education project is having an all day seminar today, and we had asked Justice COLEMAN if she would do us a special favor of presenting an award to one of the people in the state who has been very active in that cause. And even though she had a busy schedule today, she did take the time to come to Lansing. She did make that presentation for us this morning. And that is a perfect example of your willingness to share your time and yourself on behalf of the legal profession.
Women lawyers are proud of you. We’re proud of what you have done for the profession. And we appreciate your leadership as Chief Justice. Thank you.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you very much. Creighton, before we come to you, I’d like to indicate to those who didn’t have as good a perspective as us sitting up here, the names of some of those who have played some part in Chief Justice COLEMAN’S life beforehand. So I would like to announce to be recognized some of your former colleagues.
Will Chief Justice JOHN FITZGERALD stand? And behind him is LARRY LINDEMER. Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals ROBERT DANHOF. And MIKE KELLY. And the Dean of the Circuit Judges, Stuart Hoffius. Judge Mike Harrison. Judge Richard Loughrin. Judge Boucher. Judge Sanborn. Then from her own bench, Judge Drake. Judge Baugh. Our former Clerk and Court Administrator Harold Hoag. And Deputy State Court Administrator Bruce White. Former Crier Phil Sprague. And that lady who should have a very special title, the one who very graciously did everything that had to be done, Ella Smith. And one of the finest things that Chief Justice COLEMAN did for the Court was to bring Marilyn Hall. Marilyn, will you rise to the Court? And I understand that the legislative branch is represented at least vicariously by Bob Waldron.
Now I’ve tried to call upon all the eyes up here to see what we should see. And I’ve had to rely on them and my poor handwriting. So if I’ve missed any, I would be very happy to recognize them. Oh, I did what I should least have done and failed to recognize some of Chief Justice COLEMAN’S colleagues. Probate Judges Seitz, Ballard, Steketee, I shouldn’t have missed any of those. And Executive Director of the State Bar, Mike Franck, who’s here.
Now to introduce Judge Creighton R. Coleman. He’s already been distinguished by being the most handsome judge in the business. I don’t know whether I can climb any higher than that. But I have some personal references. We were in law school at the same time, and my wife told me often to my embarrassment, that she’d rather play tennis with Justice Coleman–I mean Judge Coleman, than anybody else. So we’ve had a long and very happy association together. And I am as fully acquainted, as most of you, with Judge COLEMAN’S great distinction, not only as a judge who fought very strongly for the rights of judges, and as a judge who has recognized the very delicate problem of local judges trying to get local funding units to properly perform their duties without bringing the local judges into disrepute, but also as a public citizen of his community who has helped the very basic development of that area. I could go on and on, but I am sure that once he speaks you will recognize that all that I have said is inadequate to describe him. Creighton, will you stand up and introduce the portraitress, and make such remarks as you wish.
JUDGE CREIGHTON R. COLEMAN: Thank you very much Justice WILLIAMS, and members of the Supreme Court. It is a proud moment in my life to be here today to participate in this event. And certainly I wish to thank you Justice WILLIAMS, and the rest of the Court for arranging this ceremony today.
Justice WILLIAMS and Justice RYAN and Judge BASHARA gave me some aspects of Mary’s life, covered many of the high spots, and have done it beautifully, and I’m certainly very proud to sit here and listen to those remarks.
I think I’d like to express a slightly different aspect of her life than those that have been stressed so far. Again, you have to pick and choose, you can’t give it all.
Mary is the hardest working person I’ve ever known. And I say that in the presence of a lot of very hard workers. During her service to the courts of Michigan she worked nearly every night, nearly every weekend, nearly every holiday, on vacations and far into the night when necessary. She is a careful, and fine writer and speaker. She has a very high regard for scholarship. She has a very high regard for law and order. She has extremely high ethical standards. She’s absolutely honest. She is a courageous person. She stands up for what she believes in. Despite all of her talent and dedication, she essentially is a very modest person. She’s not in the least aggressive. She does not covet high office or power. When she was deciding whether she should run for probate judgeship, one of her greatest concerns was for me. She wondered how I would handle it. She was determined that I would not be demeaned. When she began to consider running for the Supreme Court, again she was most concerned about the effect it might have on me. I had to persuade her that the effect it might have on me. I had to persuade her that the effect would be only positive and, of course, my life has been enriched and fulfilled by her success.
She has run for these offices only because of the persuasion of others. She does not want any grandiosity for herself. She’s as equally thoughtful of others as she is of me. As has been noted, Mary is almost magical in her ability to persuade and work with other people. Mary loves people. A good illustration is the way she worked with the Governor’s office, and with the Legislature to commence state funding of the courts of this state. I believe what was accomplished was a tremendous step forward. Except for Mary, I think this step would not have taken place.
I could go on and on to tell you about Mary. I’ve only skimmed the surface. She’s a fantastic person, but all of you know that.
Now to go to the portrait, which is the prime reason perhaps for being here today. This portrait represents a bit of history of Michigan. Not only does it depict one of the justices of the Supreme Court of Michigan, it represents the first woman justice to have served on that Court, and the first woman to have served as chief justice on the Michigan Supreme Court. I believe also, she was the first woman ever nominated for that office in this state. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to present this lovely portrait to the Supreme Court of Michigan. I hope it will be prominently displayed in the Supreme Court. And it will give pleasure and purpose to those viewing it for many years to come. We are fortunate indeed, to have the artist who painted this portrait, and his wife, present here today. And if I may Mister Chief Justice, I’d like to introduce Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Maniscalco, from Detroit, Michigan. Thank you very much.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you Judge Coleman for those fine and helpful remarks. Before we proceed any further, I would like to recognize the Calhoun Circuit Judges, Judge Stanley Everett and Judge James Kingsley. Will they stand? Thank you very much.
And now Wayne, if you would favor us by unveiling the portrait. Oh, that’s fine.
[At which time the portrait of the Honorable MARY S. COLEMAN was unveiled.]
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Chief Justice COLEMAN, would you care to respond?
HONORABLE MARY S. COLEMAN: Mister Chief Justice, members of the Michigan Supreme Court, friends all. I don’t know how to thank the previous speakers, including the Chief Justice, who have participated in this landmark of my life. Actually, the words “gratitude” and “pride” come to mind. If they can be welded into one emotion, that will represent the sentiment from which these remarks will emerge in my appreciation expressed.
Because the institution of Michigan’s highest Court has my deepest respect, and because the constitutional concept of one court of justice is more than the stuff of dreams, I am grateful to have been part of its history. I’m also proud of the giant steps towards realization of it potential. But the sands of time shift, and the membership of the Court has changed an extraordinary number of times during my tenure. During this time death claimed two justices, two resigned, and one was defeated. So in the course of my ten years there were five changes of membership. Although the chemistry of the Court inevitably changes with each change of membership, the requirements of the Supreme Court do not. It remains true that this Court has never been a comfortable place for men and women with faint hearts, feeble courage, week commitment, selfish motives, or intolerance. True, the twelve justices with whom I’ve worked have been of varying philosophies, opinions of law, and work habits, and it’s true that the decision-making process at times entailed vigorous argument as to the resolution of issues, but it’s also true that regardless of the differences of opinion, the discussions never became personal. We remain friends. And for that important facet of professionalism, among others, I am deeply grateful. This collegial atmosphere is important not only for the image of the Court, but as a basis for its substance. It’s ability to cope with incredible case loads involving ever new and complex laws, and theories of law. And also, the crises, traumas, and opportunities arising from the superintending control of all the courts of Michigan. The fact that each justice comes from a different background, and is likely to view an issue or problem from a different perspective is to be applauded. Nothing is automatic.
I imagine that every justice has felt, or will feel, that his or her time on the bench is probably the most exciting in history, and I am no different. Of course, even the few months preceding my initial election to the Supreme Court were action filled, and I think need mentioning. And I am grateful for that experience. A woman had never even been nominated, as has been noted, as a candidate for this Court until 1972, when a brave Republican State Convention nominated me to run in the following nonpartisan election. Now this strange and unique system of judicial selection for the Michigan Supreme Court, in my opinion, should become part of history also. But that remains a challenge for the future.
In any event, I ran against eight men for one of two seats in that first election. Many good things happened en route to the Supreme Court, and I will mention but a few. Because if I had lost the election I would have won treasures of indescribable value to me. In sequence, one hundred percent of my colleagues on the probate and juvenile court benches throughout the state had urged me to run. And they promised active assistance regardless of personal partisan preference. And they kept that promise. As an aside, there was the phenomena of judges who were Democrats as to personal politics appearing in Republican county conventions to propose resolutions of support for my nomination at the state convention. That was a heady experience.
Then, because there were nine of us competing for the two seats, the State Bar of Michigan conducted a preference poll of its then heavily male membership. Although I had chaired a State Bar committee, and had participated in annual conventions, and of course was an active out-state judge, I could not guess what the results would be. I only prayed that I would not find my name at the bottom. When it emerged as first preference in the poll, I knew that even were I to lose the election the effort would be all that I could give to the campaign. My long-held respect for the State Bar also made this personal commitment imperative. That respect remains. The fact that about eighty-five percent of Michigan judges, as nearly as we could estimate, participated actively on my behalf is another treasured memory. And some of those are here today. Not just the probate, but the circuit and on.
My headquarters staff, and our many volunteers and supporters around the state combined to bring about the time when the first woman could be elected to our Supreme Court. Naturally, our next question was how the historically all male Court would adjust to a woman. It adjusted with graciousness. Problems were trivial. For instance, the designers of these so-called temporary quarters, obviously had never thought of a woman on the Court. So we declared the one toilet facility in the Court robing conference area, in back of the bench, to be unisex. The justices offered to clean up some story telling. I don’t know whether they did or not, but they offered to. I had heard everything anyway on the juvenile bench. And to have lunch in the integrated part of the old City Club, rather than in the all male sanctuary as it was then. But that was the limit of our great problems.
The great change for me of course, was the shift from a one-person decision to a seven-person decision. An issue from a husband probably was being the only male spouse on the Supreme Court. And in the National Conference of Chief Justices, he comported himself very well. Well, I think he loved it.
I do not wish to recall a laundry list of what I have termed as “crises, traumas, and opportunities.” However, I do wish to cite, and perhaps to again mention a few examples in which a few of the present members of the Court participated, and participated well.
Toward the beginning of my tenure on the Court, there was a short period during which only four justices were sitting. And a longer time when five conducted the business of the Court. Can any of you behind me imagine obtaining a majority opinion under those conditions? It was difficult. So we had to change precedent a little bit in order to accommodate that time. I hope we’ll never have another period like that.
Aside from the administrative crisis resulting from backlogs, lack of funds, judicial and professional misconduct around the state, conflicts among brances of government, and so on, a few developments should be mentioned primarily because more remains to be accomplished. Obviously, a state courthouse is on the agenda of unfinished business. I don’t know how long we will be in this–or you will be in these temporary and rather cramped quarters. But they’re picking up, I noticed in my tour today, perhaps that’s pretty much in the future.
In my time as Chief Justice the economic chaos in Michigan gave us many anxious hours. We had to reduce staff. Cut back on many ongoing projects and tailor our progress to depend more upon creativity than funding. Wayne County in particular, threatened by dried up cash flow, and a short strike by employees, gave all a hair raising sample of what might occur in the system of justice if it came to a halt in the State of Michigan.
From my first day as Chief Justice, a position for which I am most grateful to my colleagues, and even before that, I was committed to try and bring aout the state funding for state courts. And the realization of the one court of justice, a dream not new with me, the Governor agreed to cooperate, as well as some key members of the Legislature, and the Judiciary. Because the first important step was the reorganization of Wayne County courts, the state funding of those courts, and the legislative framework for the remainder of the courts is now history.
I will only comment as to what a learning experience that proved to me. As a lawyer and judge, of course, I have listened much of the time, but I have never listened to so many people and groups whose lives were, or could be touched by the judicial system. I speak not only of judges and judicial employees, but police, union officials, social workers, business people, county and city commissioners, mayors, taxpayers, and simply John and Jane Q. Public. I urge the Supreme Court to continue leadership toward realization of this goal of a true one court of justice. And to lend assistance to the Legislature and to the Governor toward that end.
I would like to mention many of the legislators who helped. They, I understand, are trying to conclude their session and are not here, but I do appreciate their assistance.
I also appreciate the sometimes daily trips to the Legislature by the present Chief Justice Williams, he went with me. And the times when Justice Ryan acted as a day to day spokesperson for the Court, and as an arbiter for all the many problems of the court reorganization in Wayne County. A diplomat. A person who sometimes answered unanswerable questions. It all turned out fine. We are very proud of that tremendous effort, for over a year.
Another important step taken by our Court in a most commendable nonpartisan manner has been mentioned. And that was to give meaning to the reapportionment requirement for the Michigan Legislature. The decennial exercise of deadlock reapportionment commissions with computers, but no guidelines, accepting self-service partisan body counts, again was thrust upon this Court for some resolution. In my opinion, the guidelines established by the collective opinion of the Court, and by its order, was as fair and as practical as can be devised. The remaining challenge to statesmanship from without the Court is to move toward an amendment of the constitution to embody those or similar guidelines prior to the next census, and the subsequent reapportionment of the state Legislature.
In short, there always wil remain much to be done. And I hope that the public can learn more of the broad scope of the Court’s responsibilities, beyond the writing of opinions affecting one, a few, a large segment, or all of Michigan’s citizens. And the continuing and continuous rewriting, bringing to date the rules of procedure for our Court. I hope that the people of this state realize the fallacy of the ivory tower concept. Of course, study, contemplation and scholarship are required. But it’s also a necessary mission to be in touch with our people. To oversee the delivery of justice in all parts of the state. To work with the executive and legislative branches to achieve improvement. And of course, to listen to and be sensitive to the needs of judges and the staff of all benches. All of this, surface as it is, I say in support of my great respect to the Michigan Supreme Court, and the constitutional mandates so difficult to carry forward, but so fundamental to justice for all.
Finally, I acknowledge the fact again, and I’ve done this often, that nothing of importance can be accomplished alone. We are all dependent upon others. And I in particular owe much to so many people that I cannot begin in the remainder of my life to thank them adequately. And I’d like to mention one person who’s here who has not been mentioned, and that is my court reporter, and secretary, my organizer for twenty-two years, Edith Hardesty. I’m grateful for her help, and grateful for the help of all the others. Grateful for the people who came out in the snow to be with us today. Proud of the privilege of their contributions to my goal, and to my life. I thank all of you for your attention and your many courtesies today.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: As Chief Justice Coleman broke many molds, I am sure I won’t have to apologize too profusely if we break one more by not letting the lady have the last word.
I would like to ask Ms. Hardesty if she’s here, I can’t see her, and usually you can’t unless she stands on the bench. Would you stand up and be recognized? Thank you very much.
And I don’t know whether I can speak for our mutual colleague, Justice Ryan, because he speaks so eloquently himself, but I know that he’s appreciative of what you’ve pointed out. And it’s justly deserved for the magnificent work he did down in Wayne County. I must say that some of us who sat on the Court didn’t recognize he was a diplomat down there because we thought he was the czar.
And I just want all of you to know, you already know it, but I think that coming from me that you will understand that when I say Mary Coleman is a woman of many parts, I can give you an extraordinarily good example, and since she’s opened the door, I think I am privileged to mention it. It is true that it was my pleasure to accompany the Chief Justice many days to go to the Legislature, to that very difficult, many-parted negotiation not only the Court and the legislators, but the Governor’s office and many others. And you know Justice Coleman gave me a great lesson on how to deal with democratic legislators and Michigan labor leaders. So I want to pay my tribute to her quite sincerely. And I think that is further proof that she is a distinguished lady of many parts. And I think nothing further remains than to bring this meeting to a close. Mister Crier, will you do so.
[At which time the special session of the Michigan Supreme Court was adjourned.]