A Tribute To Jay Mertz

October 14, 1952

On the occasion of his retirement as Clerk of the Supreme Court of Michigan, October 14, 1952.

CHIEF JUSTICE CLARK J. ADAMS: This Court is convened, and members of the bar and others are assembled today to pay honor to Jay Mertz, Clerk of this Court for many years, who retired on September 30th. It seems appropriate that we should have these proceedings in this first term after Mr. Mertz’ resignation.

We are particularly honored to have with us a former member of this Court, Honorable RAYMOND W. STARR, who is now on the Federal bench in Grand Rapids. Justice BOYLES will speak for the Court.

 JUSTICE EMERSON R. BOYLES: I presume that because of my many associations with Jay I have been given this particular honor.

The retirement of Jay Mertz as Clerk of this Court became effective the first of October. When we learned that the State Bar was about to give a testimonial luncheon for Mr. Mertz, we decided to take advantage of the occasion to hold a testimonial during our October term of Court and express our sentiment toward Jay. The proceedings here will be recorded in one of the bound volumes of our reports.

I think our sentiment toward Jay could not be better summarized than in the words of a veteran State Capitol newspaper reporter recently, in publicizing Jay’s retirement. Here is what he wrote:

“The little man with the gruff voice and the big heart has stepped aside as Clerk of the State Supreme Court.

“He has been known to lawyers for his barking, ‘Hay-low!’ on the telephone, and his growling, yet affectionate, personal greeting to oldtimers in the legal profession. “Thousands of younger attorneys will remember him for his kindly advice, especially on the often complicated phases of Supreme Court appellate practice.”

Jay was appointed Clerk of this Court July 21, 1916. His first connection before that was in 1904 as secretary for Justice WILLIAM L. CARPENTER, and later he also served in the same capacity for Justice FLAVIUS L. BROOKE. In 1909 he was appointed Deputy Clerk of this Court and served as such until 1916, in which year Jay began his long service as Clerk of this Court, and since which time he has been responsible for and in charge of our dockets, orders, judgments and decrees. On October 1st, although we knew it was coming, we were compelled reluctantly to accept his resignation, partly because of his desire, and necessity, for conserving his health, and partly on account of the ultimatum usually announced by the State Employees’ Retirement Board for employees who have reached the age of three score and ten.

I looked up in the books some facts about the tenure and Court records of Jay Mertz, during those 36 years. He has been our Clerk during the incumbency of 31 Justices. During the same time he has served 24 members of this Court while they were Chief Justices, and it might be interesting to note that during that same 36 years only one member of this Court, Justice NORTH, has ever served the Court 4 times as Chief Justice. Two of our Justices, WIEST and BUTZEL, are the only two who ever served three terms as Chief Justice, and seven other members of the Court have served twice in that capacity during the incumbency of Jay Mertz as Clerk. The name of Jay Mertz as Clerk appears in the bound volumes of the opinions of this Court more than any other name, not even excepting Justice WIEST whose opinions appear in more than 100 bound volumes. Jay’s name appears as Clerk in the front of 143 bound volumes of the opinions of this Court.

Jay has been noted not only for his painstaking work in caring for our records, but also for his experience and knowledge, and willingness to impart it not only to the members of the Court but to the lawyers who came here on appeals. We all know that the work in our Clerk’s office has many complications. Our rules on appellate practice and procedure require considerable study, and we are not surprised that occasionally a rule may be overlooked by one who does not give them constant study. The lawyers of Michigan have not been the only beneficiaries of Jay’s experience with the rules of practice and procedure on appeals. We are here today to acknowledge that for years the members of this Court have leaned heavily upon Jay’s knowledge and experience. You might think he was only a bookworm, but that is far from the situation.

There are others besides myself who could vouch for his companionable qualities outside the Court. For many years he has been a welcome companion in camps on deer hunting expeditions. He was a pretty good golfer. He loved both recreations, and I might say that he was a bit more successful as a deer hunter than he was as a golfer. During all of these years there are many of the members of our profession who can attest to the fact that his use of an extensive vocabulary, and his knowledge of the effective use of punctuation when the occasion required, was not always limited to conversations in his office.

He will be missed by the Court, just as he will be missed by the other members of our profession. We wish him contentment and happiness in his semi-retirement. While he is no longer on the payroll, he has promised us that he will be here occasionally.

However, we need not worry that the Court or the lawyers will suffer unduly by his retirement from the active service in giving advice about the practice and procedure governing appeals. Hugh Carpenter has been Deputy Clerk of this Court for over 30 years, and is now our Clerk— as thoroughly familiar with the practice and procedure on appeals as was Jay. We have also succeeded in obtaining for him as Deputy Clerk Mr. Don Winters, whom we got away from the State Law Library recently who is very much interested in the work. I think the bar and the Court need not fear that there will be any letdown in the efficiency of the work in our Clerk’s office.

CHIEF JUSTICE ADAMS: Jay Mertz as Clerk probably knew more lawyers in Michigan than any other man in the State. During his long years of service he was of help to individuals and to the bar as a whole. The State Bar of Michigan has requested the privilege of being heard in these proceedings today. Roscoe Bonisteel, of Ann Arbor, will speak for the lawyers.

 ROSCOE O. BONISTEEL: Mr. Chief Justice, Associate Justices, Circuit Judges, officers and members of the State Bar of Michigan, Ladies and Gentlemen— all friends of Jay Mertz.

This morning in driving up from Ann Arbor I observed nature in all her beauty. I observed the vivid colorings of the trees and the pastel shades, and I had this thought— that all nature was joining in paying tribute on this day to our distinguished guest.

I still retain a vivid recollection of the admonition Jay Mertz gave me when I first appeared before this Court years ago to argue my side of a case. He said, “Don’t talk more than 5 minutes— state your proposition, cite your authority and sit down— you can say all you’ve got to say in that time.” Then he looked at me with his quizzical look and immediately proceeded to illustrate his statement by citing a few examples of those who did not follow his advice— and with dire results. Knowing lawyers, he figured that if he suggested 5 minutes as the length of the argument maybe, with good luck, the lawyer would end his argument in 10 minutes. His counsel to the lawyers of Michigan to shorten their arguments undoubtedly has saved this Court many hundreds of hours of irrelevant argument and at the same time not harmed the client’s cause. Today I shall not violate too greatly his kindly admonition.

I feel honored to be permitted to represent the State Bar of Michigan in expressing its appreciation for the services Jay Mertz has rendered to this Court and to the people of the State of Michigan since 1909. It is interesting to observe that during this long period of time he has worked with nearly forty Justices who have composed this Court at different times since he first became Deputy Clerk of the Court. With the exception of the present members of the Court, former Justice HARRY S. TOY, now practicing law in Detroit, and Justices MCALLISTER and STARR who are now serving in the Federal Judicial system, I believe he has survived them all. His mind must be a tremendous panorama as it sets out in bas-relief the individuals who have sat and presided over this tribunal. If he had kept a diary it would be interesting to read. It could be properly entitiled, “Jay’s Word Pictures of the Court.”

So far as he is concerned there is nothing that I can add to the present recollections and memories of those who sit here today. I will endeavor to make a few observations and etch with a few broad strokes an outline of Jay Mertz as we know him.

Someone told Jay that there was to be a short tribute to him at the October term and typically he replied, “It is all nonsense, I won’t be there and listen to it, and who started it anyway, I guess someone wants to make a speech.” Of course I have abbreviated those remarks and tidied them up a bit. A great Jay, God bless him! We won’t let him have his way today; we will make the record.

Jay Mertz as Clerk of our Supreme Court was unique, an unforgettable personality, something like the definition of a rare book: “A rare book is a book that is important, desirable and hard to get.” So it is hard to find another character like Jay Mertz. He is inimitable, beloved by the lawyers of Michigan for what he is, and for what he stands. A rugged rock of honesty and loyalty devoted to the work of his office. No matter how heavy the docket or the load of work in the Clerk’s office, Jay and Hughie took it in stride and never asked for help or complained because of a lack of it. That is something to remember in these days.

One of Michigan’s outstanding citizens related this story to me. At a meeting called to discuss the question of what to do with the records of the One Man Grand Juries, after deciding that they should be preserved, the question was as to where they should be kept. There was considerable argument until someone suggested that they should be kept by Jay Mertz, Clerk of the Supreme Court.

All opposition faded away at that suggestion and by unanimous vote they were ordered placed in his custody. The committee knew they would be safe—evidence of unhesitating confidence in the man and the esteem in which he is held by the bar of Michigan.

One could continue, on and on, with similar illustrations of the way in which he is Revered by all of us. Sometimes he seemed to have a better understanding of the purpose of the law and what it should accomplish than many lawyers who practice it. Absorption through association with things legal and judicial made him fully capable of understanding questions of practice constantly presented to his office by members of the bar. He was ready and willing to help a young lawyer and to advise him on the rules of appellate procedure, the methods and forms of appeal. He was an enthusiastic helper of those who first tried to help themselves. Such help was always given with complete objectivity.

As Assistant Secretary of the State Board of Law Examiners he received, recorded and checked applications of those taking the bar examinations, and frequently consulted with those who failed to pass. His judgment of individuals, even including the bar examiners themselves, was almost unerring. He gave words of encouragement to those he thought would make lawyers and reasoned with those who did not possess a legal mind to abandon the law for something they were better qualified to do. All of this was done with a sympathetic mind and heart, and without prejudice. His friendly quips made to individual bar examiners when reviewing the blue books will always be remembered by those of us privileged to serve the profession in that capacity. Again and again his pointed remarks about an examiner’s question and the answer to it, as well as the examiner’s grades, would send the examiner scurrying to re-read a blue book. Yes, he was a real friend to the young lawyer and interested in his success.

Forthrightness characterized him. He spoke as he believed, and if there seemed to be a sting in the remark there was also a creeping twinkle in his eyes. He had a fine sense of humor, and appropriately his humor helped many a lawyer and bar applicant to remain his composure and restore his confidence. He understood men and their motives.
The State Bar of Michigan salutes a great public servant who has worked for more than 43 years quietly, effectively, efficiently, honestly and with fidelity in an office of great trust. A shining example of integrity in the performance of his duties for this Court and for the people of Michigan, he is a supreme exemplification of what a public official should be. Because of his great unselfish service to the lawyers, to the members of this Court and to the people of Michigan, we wish him a well-earned rest from the duties of his office and extend to him our love and affection in the years ahead. He is now, and will continue to become, a great legendary character in Michigan— a Paul Bunyan of legal lore. Tales yet to be told about him will point up valuable lessons, and at the same time bring happiness and real cheer into the lives of those who advocate and counsel, and of those who judge.

May it please the Court, if Jay will step forward I have a presentation that I would like to make for and on behalf of the State Bar, the members of this Court, and the officials of the State of Michigan.

I shall read it:

“Jay Mertz has completed his service as the second Clerk of the Supreme Court of Michigan: Now a member of the Bar for fifty years, he began as Deputy Clerk in 1909. As Clerk since 1916, his years of service far exceed those of any Justice in the history of the Michigan Supreme Court.

“Honest, diligent and efficient, he fully merited the trust and confidence reposed in him by the Court throughout nearly four decades.

“Learned in appellate practice and procedure, he was a mine of helpful information to lawyers, both young and old.

“To a great public servant, this certificate is intended to express the affection and the gratitude of the lawyers of Michigan, the judges of all our courts, and also the collective body of our citizenry which he knew for so long as The People of the State of Michigan.
President, State Bar

Governor of the State of Michigan

Members of the Supreme Court
Dated at Lansing, Michigan
October 14, 1952

JAY MERTZ: Thank you. This is mine?

MR. BONISTEEL: That is yours.

JAY MERTZ: You don’t want it back (with a grin).

MR. BONISTEEL: No, that is yours. You keep it.

CHIEF JUSTICE ADAMS: Thank you Mr. Bonisteel. Assembled in this Court today are: A former member of this Court, Circuit Judges, former Circuit Judges, public officials, officers of the State Bar, members of the State Bar and friends. And it may well be that one or more of you would like to speak to or about Jay at this time. We would like to hear from you if there are those present who would like to speak.

 STANLEY E. BEATTIE: Mr. Chief Justice, my name is Stanley Beattie. This year I am the President of the State Board of Law Examiners. I have served since 1948 under the designation of this Court.

My work for the Law Examiners was not my first contact with Mr. Mertz. That came when I arrived at Lansing to write the examination. The personality that Roscoe Bonisteel described was very accurately described by him. Jay Mertz was ready to help all, particularly those who needed it most. He did indeed counsel us very well in our work as law examiners. He was absolutely unerring in his accuracy in the keeping of records. His appraisement of men was of great help to us, and the friendship and affection which he has a way of manifesting in his gruff manner will be long appreciated by all who served on that board. I thank you Mr. Chief Justice for the opportunity of speaking.

CHIEF JUSTICE ADAMS: Is there anyone else who cares to speak at this time? If not, I think these proceedings could well be concluded by saying that the members of the Supreme Court are thankful and grateful to Mr. Mertz for the many years of service he has rendered, and we wish him the very best in his retirement.