William Carpenter

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Served from 1902 through 1908
Chief Justice: 1906


William L. Carpenter was born in Lake Orion, Michigan, on November 9, 1854. He remained on the family’s farm until 1872 when he entered Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University). Shortly after his graduation from that institution, he entered the University of Michigan Law School.

Following his admittance to the Bar in 1878, Carpenter began working in the law office of Judge Crofoot in Detroit. In 1879, he opened the law offices of Carpenter and McLaughlin, also in Detroit. Due to the death of Mr. McLaughlin, Carpenter worked alone until he formed a partnership with Ovid M. Case and renamed the firm Case and Carpenter. This partnership was also dissolved upon the start of Carpenter’s career in public service.

In 1894, he became one of the judges from the Third Judicial Circuit. While serving in this capacity, Carpenter was involved in a rather high profile case dealing with a dispute over a will. “Several of the leading attorneys of Detroit and Chicago were engaged in the trial, and the arguments extended over six weeks. At the close of the arguments Judge Carpenter announced that he would decide the case on the following morning, at which time he rendered an able and exhaustive opinion, going into details of many features of the case, and showing a complete mastery of its most intricate parts and of the law applicable thereto.” It has been reported that Carpenter had a photographic memory and could remember even the smallest of details.

Following his work with the Third Circuit, Carpenter was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1902 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Charles D. Long. When Carpenter finished his work on the Court, he continued to practice law in the city of Detroit. His wife, Elizabeth, as well as one of his sons, passed away before him. Presumably, Carpenter died of a broken heart on January 21, 1936. (Reed, George I., The Bench and Bar of Michigan: A History and Biography. Chicago: The Century Publishing and Engraving Co., 1897.)

Portrait presented on: (Click link to read transcript)
June 12, 1929

Portrait Artist:
Melchers, Gari

Oil on canvas

43 3/8″ X 30 1/4″

Owned by:
State of Michigan

Current location:
Michigan Supreme Court Detroit

Portrait photo by:
Douglas Elbinger – June 1996