In Memoriam Kelly Stephen Searl

June 5, 1942

Upon the coming in of Court in the afternoon of Friday, June 5, 1942, Chief Justice BERT D. CHANDLER spoke as follows: We are convened here this afternoon to convey our respects to the memory of the late jurist, Honorable Kelly S. Searl. I understand that the Clinton-Gratiot County Bar Association has adopted resolutions and is desirous of having them presented at this time; and that Mr. Goggin of the Gratiot County Bar will speak for the Bar.

 Mr. Charles H. Goggin:

May it please the Court:

I have been requested by the members of the Clinton-Gratiot Bar to speak at these memorial exercises on the death of the late Circuit Judge, Kelly S. Searl.

Kelly S. Searl, Judge of the twenty-ninth judicial circuit, died in St. Lawrence Hospital, Lansing, on Tuesday morning, April 28, 1942, of pneumonia, following an operation performed a week previously. He first served as judge of the circuit from 1906 to 1918 and was again appointed in 1927 to complete the unexpired term of Edward J. Moinet, appointed Federal Judge. From this time until his death, he served continuously as Circuit Judge.

Born in Fairfield township, Shiawassee county, on February 4, 1862, Judge Searl Attended Shiawassee county schools, graduating later from Indiana state Normal at Valparaiso, Indiana. Graduating from the University of Michigan Law School in 1886, he took up the practice of law in the village of Ashley, Gratiot county, where he continued until 1890 when he moved to Ithaca, practicing there until 1905. On September 30, 1885, Judge SEARL was married to Miss Margaret A. Smith, who survives him. Also surviving are two daughters, Mrs. Hazel Allaby of St. Johns, Mrs. Ethel Crane of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a son, William C. Searl of Lansing.

My acquaintance with Judge Searl began in 1907, 35 years ago. He was then approaching middle life, of abundant physical and nervous energy, with mind keenly alert to all that went on about him. He was, at the time, entering upon the last half of his first term as judge, of the twenty-ninth judicial circuit, comprising Clinton and Gratiot counties, with his residence in the village of Ithaca.

When Judge Searl was admitted to the practice of law in I886, the volumes containing the decisions of the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan numbered only 60. When he laid down his labors, 56 years later, those volumes had grown in number to 300. I am well within the facts, I believe, when I suggest that every decision of importance in the 240 volumes added during his practice at the Bar and his service on the bench was read by him; and, so thoroughly read, that he carried with him more than a passing impression of the facts involved and the principles applied. Those principles were to him living things, fashioned for use by those who had gone before, and they were made to render
useful service at his hands over more than a half-century of active devotion to practice

From that day in 1887 when he opened his humble office for the practice of law in the village of Ashley, in Gratiot county, to the day when the last chapter was written, it was the consistent habit and practice of Judge Searl to keep himself completely informed and abreast of all legislation affecting the State of Michigan and all decisions of its court of last resort. His was the homely sort of genius, defined as the capacity for infinite pains. Recreation to him meant time and opportunity for reading those texts which had to do with the calling in which he was engaged.

Completely lacking in austerity of manner and a stranger to superficial dignity, Judge Searl at all times kept open house so far as concerned him and the office in which he labored when not occupying the bench. The members of the Bar were at all times welcome visitors. They could discuss most freely their problems with a sympathetic and understanding listener. His wealth of knowledge was theirs to command. He was democratic in the most democratic sense of the word.

Judge Searl felt a warm, personal interest in every young lawyer who came before him. He was interested in the young lawyer as typifying that knight errantry which in his mind was associated with the profession of law. To him, the practice of the law was a kind of knight errantry, a wandering in search of adventure. If he felt an interest in the young lawyer, his interest, in great part, arose from his jealous regard for the exactions of the profession and his knowledge of the jealousy with which his mistress, the Law, kept watch and ward over her subjects.

Judge Searl was intensely human. His frailties were the frailties of the common run of mankind. Without those frailties, he would not have been the man we came to know so well. It is by reason of our defects that our better qualities stand out in relief, otherwise to pass unnoticed and unnoted. We would not have it otherwise and it has not been otherwise ordained.

We shall miss Judge Searl as neighbor, citizen and judge of his circuit. He has set a high and difficult standard for his successor.

I am persuaded that the manner of his going was in keeping with his mode of life. Within a few days of his summons, he was actively engaged in the duties of his office. Now he rests from his labors and his works do follow him.

And so, making all allowance for human frailties, we may say of our good friend now gone: “His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a man.’”

Acting on behalf of the Clinton-Gratiot bar association, it is my privilege to move that this memorial be inscribed upon the record books of this honorable court and that it be printed in the reports of its decisions.

Chief Justice BERT D. CHANDLER: I understand Judge Collins will speak for the Circuit Judges Association. Judge Joseph H. Collins of Corunna.

 Hon. Joseph H. Collins: Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the Supreme Court, Members of the Clinton-Gratiot County Bar, and Circuit Judges of the State who are here:

I consider it an honor to be asked to participate in the memorial services held for my old friend and neighbor, Judge Kelly Searl.

My acquaintance with Judge Searl, to identify and know who he was, began 49 years ago this year, when he came to Shiawassee county to defend in a criminal prosecution some individual who was before that court at that time to be tried. I was a young fellow then, starting into the study of law in one of the law offices. The impression he made upon me as I watched that trial has always remained with me. He was alert, vigorous, quick, handled the case with ability. Well, in fact, all of his life he was very quick, very vigorous.

And so from that time our acquaintance continued, during all the intervening years. Finally, he was elected to the bench; and, afterward, I was elected to the bench. And during the times that we both occupied the bench we exchanged circuits upon a great many occasions. He held court in Livingston and Shiawassee counties for me, and I held court in his circuit upon request from him.

Judge Searl was one of the outstanding circuit judges of the State of Michigan. He held court in a great many of the circuits of this State during the time that he was upon the bench. And he held the esteem of all of the lawyers in those circuits, that became acquainted with him through his holding court there. He was a good judge, a just judge, and one that acted impartially in the trial of cases, as a just and upright judge should.

He had, as has been said here, the common touch. He spoke the language of the common people. He understood and knew their problems. He was not only a good judge, conducted his circuit as judges should conduct their circuits, but he was also an author. He lightened the labor of the bench and of the bar through the publications of his Pleading and Practice, that is extensively used and is an exhaustive work upon that subject. He also annotated the Court Rules of Michigan, and several editions of that work were published under his direction. It is also a work that has been greatly appreciated by the bar and the courts of this State. The last work that he did along that line was in completing the 1941 annotations to his Pleading and Practice.

A few days before he entered the hospital he called me up and wanted to know if I would hold court for him on a certain date as he was going to the hospital. I told him I would. An, so, on the morning of that day I came to St. Johns and stepped out of the car. And, as I looked at the grounds there, I noticed that the flag was at half-mast; and I was informed that Judge Searl had died a half hour before I came to hold court. There was no court held in St. Johns that day.

Judge Searl was also very active in the Michigan Judges Association. He attended every annual meeting that we held of the Association, that was always held in this room. He was President of that Association for some time. He also acted on a great many committees that were appointed. He was intensely interested in the success of the Association, and being able to inform the judges of various things that they ought to be informed of at all times. As recently as the meetings of the last legislature, during the time that the salary bill was in question before the legislature, the committee consulted him upon various ways in which the matter could be advanced.

Now the people of his community and of his district will remember him, not only as an upright and a just judge, but also as a kindly gentleman, who was loved and respected by all of his friends in his circuit. As has been said, he was a source of advice to the young lawyer and assisted them in every way that he could to advance in their profession.
In the passing of Judge SEARL Michigan has lost a splendid citizen and a capable and efficient judge; and we who lived in or near the community where he resided have lost a good neighbor and a good friend.

Chief Justice BERT D. CHANDLER: I understand Mr. Dean W. Kelley, Vice President of the State Bar Association, will speak for that Association.

 Mr. Dean W. Kelley: May it please the Court:

The Michigan State Bar recognizes the great contribution which Judge SEARL during 56 years of industrious service has made to the jurisprudence of the State. That contribution extended beyond service at the bar, on the bench, and as an author. He served the State Bar as an organization from its inception, by active participation in its procedures and by his wise counsel. He made a notable contribution to the committee responsible for drafting the State Bar rules. He served generously and effectively upon the civil procedure committee and he was an active member of that committee until the time of his departure.

But beyond all this, he attended the annual meetings of the State Bar, participated in the proceedings, and in so doing gave to the State Bar as an organized body not only the benefits of his technical learning and his wide experience but also the inspiration of his cordial and colorful personality. In his association and labors in the State Bar he impressed upon the profession of the State the indelible mark of high character, mental honesty, and personal integrity.

As a member of the circuit bench his fundamental qualifications of mind, conscience, learning, and exalted motives guided and built a judicial career of the highest order, the ending of which is a distinct and recognized loss to the State Bar, to the State judiciary, and to the people.

His career is marked by diligence in acquiring legal knowledge and by integrity in the application of that knowledge; and both were balanced and tempered by a refined personal conscience; so that it may be said of him that he was a learned and upright judge, which is the highest tribute that can be paid to any man who has lived and served as a member of the judiciary under a written Constitution.

His natural and acquired attainments would have eminently qualified him to serve as a member of an appellate court; his character, ideals and industry were such that the circuit court which he served became a judicial institution of the highest order. He was independent and courageous, and withal moderate and modest.

In his thinking he was technically exact, but liberal. A philosopher has said:

“There is a time in every man’s education (and life) when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.”

Judge Searl’s philosophy of life was rooted in the character of the pioneer forefathers of the republic, and the results of his labors will remain an active influence in maintaining the integrity of the judiciary under our constitutional system for generations.

Therefore, may the history of his long and useful life, of his professional and personal attainments, of his generous and charitable deeds, of his friendships and social attitudes, be restated, rewritten, and illumined upon the records of this great Court.

Chief Justice BERT D. CHANDLER: I see some other circuit judges here and other members of the bar, and if there is anyone else who would speak or would desire to speak upon this occasion?

If not, I might add: All that has been said by those familiar with the life and work of Judge Kelly S. Searl, his character, integrity, his ability as an advocate at the bar and as a jurist, is affectionately and emphatically approved by this Court and each member thereof.

To give voice to what is in our hearts and minds today would be but a repetition of that which has already been so sincerely and eloquently expressed by those who are proud to have been neighbors, associates and friends of this beloved character.

I think it may be truly said that Judge Searl, at the time of his passing, was the dean of Michigan circuit judges, and the dearth of appeals from his judgments and decrees speaks silently, but most eloquently, not only of his ability as a jurist but of the confidence that the members of the bar, who practiced before him, had in his integrity and fairness. It is as fine a tribute as could be paid to any lawyer.

It is needless to dwell upon the great service that Judge Searl, by his writings, has rendered the bench and bar of Michigan, and will continue to tender for years to come. His life, his work and his success should, and will be, an inspiration to the younger members of our profession.

To the family of the deceased jurist and his close friends we say we grieve with you and tender you our deepest sympathy.

To the bar association of the twenty-ninth judicial circuit, we advise you that the memorial resolutions you have presented will be received and placed upon the records of this Court.

Out of respect for the memory of the late Judge Kelly S. Searl, this Court is now adjourned.