In Memoriam Clarence W. Sessions

June 9, 1931

Upon convening of Court on June 9, 1931, Mr. Joseph T. Riley, President of the Muskegon County Bar Association, addressed the Court and introduced Mr. Alexander Sutherland, who spoke as follows:

 Mr. Chief Justice and Gentlemen of the Court:

The Hon. CLARENCE W. SESSIONS was born in the town of North Plains, Ionia county, Michigan, February 8, 1859, and departed this life at Grand Rapids, April 1, 1931.

Judge SESSIONS came from highly respected, Christian parents. His father was prominent in social and civic affairs. Judge SESSIONS grew up on a farm, attended the district school, Ionia high school, and graduated from the literary department of the University of Michigan in 1881 and was admitted to the bar in 1884. In 1882 Judge SESSIONS was married to Mary S. Foote, the wife of his early manhood and active years of his life, who died in 1925. Their son, Clarence N. Sessions, and daughter, Marjorie Bennett, survive him. His son followed in his footsteps and is now one of the prominent younger members of the Muskegon County bar. In 1927 he married Mrs. Mary Higenbotham, who also survives him.

In 1884 Judge SESSIONS came to Muskegon and began the practice of his profession. He soon gave evidence of the possession of those brilliant qualities of mind and character which later made him so preeminent as a judge in the State and Federal courts. For more than 20 years he practiced his profession in Muskegon county, being engaged on one side or the other of most of the celebrated cases tried in Muskegon county during that period. He was active in civic affairs and served the city for several years as its attorney. He had a convincing and logical way in presenting his cases to a court or jury. During his practice in Muskegon, he was associated in the practice of the law with several different attorneys, finally becoming a member of the old and eslablished firm of Smith, Mims, Hoyt & Erwin, of which firm he was a member when, in 1906, he became Circuit Judge for the Judicial Circuit composing of Oceana and Muskegon counties.

He had very high ideals of the judicial office and was fearless and impartial in the administration of the law, treating the rich and powerful and the poor and humble alike. To these high ideals he added a clear and logical legal mind and a tireless industry in searching the adjudicated cases to aid him in rendering a correct judgment in the matters brought before him. His opinions were gems of judicial literature. Many times he surprised the attorneys trying cases before him by calling their attention to pertinent cases bearing on the issues involved in the case which they had failed to find. While he imposed severe sentences on those whom he was convinced were guilty of major crimes, yet he never acted hastily, and only after mature deliberation. He it was who first applied and developed the system of probation in Muskegon county and who first appointed Ben Peterson as probation officer.

In the spring of 1911, he was renominated for Circuit Judge without opposition, and shortly thereafter President TAFT appointed him United States District Judge for the Western District of Michigan. As a Judge of the Courts over which he presided, he occupied an eminent position in the district, State and nation. As District Judge he tried cases in the four States composing the Circuit, and also in other parts of the United States, as well as sitting on the Court of Appeals at Cincinnati. His desire to do justice, his clear and logical opinions, the confidence that his integrity inspired, and the wide field of his labor marked him as one of the leading District Judges of the State and nation. As a result of his tireless and unremitting industry in the discharge of his judicial duties, his health broke down, and for the last few years of his life he was unable to carry on the work of the Court. In his hours of relaxation, he was unassuming and sociable, a very interesting and entertaining conversationalist, and had the happy faculty of putting one at ease in his presence.

Judge SESSIONS lived up to the full measure of a fair and conscientious judge, a sincere and loyal friend, and a devoted husband and father. It is fitting that we, members of his chosen profession, pay this tribute of sincere regard and appreciation of his eminent character and his invaluable servies rendered to the people of thie State and nation. We, therefore, recommend to the Supreme Court the adoption of these resolutions:

Resolved, that, in the death of Judge SESSIONS, this State and nation have lost one of their most distinguished judges whose many years of service on the bench have been a great benefit to the bar. His unsullied character, scholarly attainments, and industry maintained the high standard of the Federal judiciary and inspired the public with confidence in the justice and fairness of our courts at law.

Resolved, that we request the Supreme Court for the State of Michigan to cause these resolutions to be spread at large upon its records.

Resolved, that a duly certified copy of this memoriam and these resolutions be sent to the surviving members of Judge SESSIONS’ family.

Dated: May 25, 1931.
Committee Muskegon County Bar Association.

 Mr. Sutherland then introduced Mr. Charles B. Cross of the Ottawa county bar, who spoke as follows: May it please the Court:

I greatly esteem the honor of participating in these memorials to the memory of Judge SESSIONS, and of voicing an appreciation of his career as a practicing lawyer, and as a Judge in the State and Federal Courts.

The tribute of respect and admiration embodied in the resolutions adopted by the Muskegon County Bar Association are justly deserved, and they are so complete that I need add but little thereto.

Judge SESSIONS never sought political honors outside of his profession. He devoted all his energies to the law, and was recognized as one of the leading lawyers of western Michigan. He was eminently qualified to attain success as a practicing lawyer. He was a man of fine presence, had a splendid voice, was talented and learned in the law, logical and eloquent in argument, was of untiring industry, and enjoyed the confidence of all who knew him.

He was a safe counselor, a good pleader, a good brief writer, always thoroughly prepared his cases, was a good trial lawyer, and was seldom equaled in presenting a legal argument to the Court. He had no greed for money. His polar star was duty, and he bestowed the same painstaking care on all his cases, whether his client was rich or poor. He rose to
eminence in his profession, his merits were recognized and appreciated, and, after 20 years of faithful service at the bar, judicial honors came to crown his success.

Judge SESSIONS possessed the judicial temperament in an unusual degree. He brought to the discharge of his duties upon the bench, not only his long experience as a practitioner, but a thorough knowledge of the law, and his sterling qualities of heart and mind, combined with his legal attainments, made him the ideal judge and enabled him to dispense justice with an even hand. On the bench he was always dignified and courteous, fair and just, and he had no favorites among attorneys.

He was so well grounded in the law and so keenly grasped the salient points of every case which was tried before him that the lawyers of his judicial circuit seldom found it necessary to present requests to charge, knowing that Judge SESSIONS, on his own initiative, would correctly instruct the jury as to the law applicable to the case, and would impartially set forth the respective theories of the parties litigant.

His achievements on the bench have become a part of the judicial history of the State and nation, and will long remain an inspiration to the profession. The world has need of more men like Judge SESSIONS.

Mr. Sutherland then presented Hon. John Vanderwerp, Circuit Judge of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, comprising, the county of Muskegon, who spoke as follows:

 If the Court please:

This occasion brings to my mind many memories of some years ago. Following Judge SESSIONS’ coming to Muskegon, to begin the practice of law, I saw a good deal of him in the Courts of our county.

On January 1, 1902, and for four years thereafter, up to the time of his becoming Circuit Judge, we were partners in the law firm Of Smith, Nims, Hoyt & Erwin, and there were many court cases in which we together took part. What little success I have attained in the legal profession and on the bench is largely due to Judge SESSIONS and the other members of that firm. It was my good fortune and pleasure to be associated with him. I saw his work in the office preparing cases for trial, and they were always thoroughly prepared. He was an untiring worker, both before and during the trial of a case. He was thorough in his examination of witnesses, logical and eloquent in his presentation of the
case to the Court and jury. He was a conscientious counselor, endeavoring to avoid litigation for his client if possible.

When he took the bench on January 1, 1906, he was thoroughly equipped to take up the work. He was a man of great ability, and his decisions were impartially rendered, as he earnestly believed right and justice required.

I feel that the memorial presented here is a just tribute to Judge SESSIONS’ ability, character, and long distinguished service at the bar and on the bench, and I join in requesting that it be spread upon the records of this Court.
Chief Justice BUTZEL:

 I can add but little to what has been said by those who have preceded me. The memorials which have been presented and the words which have been spoken will be made records of the Court, and will be published in the Reports, and in token of respect the Court will take a recess until tomorrow morning.