Presentation Of The Portrait Of The Honorable Dorothy Comstock Riley

OCTOBER 7, 1997

CHIEF JUSTICE MALLETT: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of my colleagues, members of the Michigan Supreme Court, let me welcome you all here to this very special session. In times past we have started each new session of the Court by conducting our first oral argument here in the Michigan Supreme Court’s former chambers. On occasions like this, the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society has gathered with us and oftentimes entered the program. That has allowed us, in fact, to indicate to the public the significance of the day, the moment, and the role the judiciary plays in the lives of the men and women in this state. This day is no different.

We are here today with Mr. Wallace Riley, president of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society to honor our former colleague, Justice DOROTHY COMSTOCK RILEY, who left us just recently, but remains very deeply imbedded in our heart, and has in fact a tremendous place in the history of this Court. We are grateful for her leadership in times past; it is always good to see her. Let me open the session by asking Mr. Riley to come forward and occupy his usual place at the lectern conducting these ceremonies on behalf of the Court. Good morning Mr. Riley.

 MR. RILEY: Good morning, Your Honor. Thank you for those kinds words about the Society. Mr. Chief Justice, justices of the Michigan Supreme Court assembled here today for the opening of court for the 1997-98 term of court, members of the bar in attendance, and ladies and gentlemen. With the Court’s permission, I would turn to the very special business of the day, an activity in which we have been most dutifully involved during the past nine years of our existence, and that is the commissioning and presentation to the Court of portraits of former justices of the Supreme Court. As a part of that ceremony there are certain persons I want to call on. This is not John Engler’s first appearance before a session of the Michigan Supreme Court. He returns today, a lawyer still, but now our Governor. I present to you Governor John Engler.

 GOVERNOR ENGLER : May it please the Court, Mr. Chief Justice, justices of the Court, ladies and gentlemen. On the entrance to the Justice Department in our national capitol there is an inscription that reads: “Justice in the life and the conduct of the State is possible only as it first resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.” My friends, justice resides in the heart and soul of DOROTHY COMSTOCK RILEY. I’m honored to have this opportunity to pay tribute once more to one of Michigan’s greatest jurists, a woman of grace, honor and integrity.

Certainly there is no group of individuals who hold Justice RILEY in higher regard than her former colleagues on the Court. That fact was reflected in her selection as Chief Justice not just once but twice. It certainly is a reason why her fellow justices have talked of looking across the table to see what she was thinking as they sought to make up their own minds. They knew that no one worked harder, no one was more thoughtful, no one was more incisive, and no one had a better understanding of and respect for our Constitution.

Today, as we honor Justice RILEY, I’m reminded of many things, certainly her election to the Court itself. On that election night, I recall the media looked in vain, looking for a comment from a winning candidate. She made it very clear to her staff that there was not to be that comment from the candidate, and the next morning, given an opportunity to exult in her triumph she didn’t. That wasn’t her way. Her way was to put politics behind and put the hard work of justice front and center. I said in this very room when we had Justice TAYLOR in front of us for his investiture ceremony that no one will ever replace Justice RILEY on the Supreme Court, but we will and must do our best to follow her trailblazing path with the same commitment to truth, hard work, honesty, and decency. DOROTHY RILEY, in everything that she has done as a justice and a public servant, has done so with the utmost integrity and class from head to toe. While small in stature, she looms large as an historical figure. And this Historical Society does a great honor by naming her as an honorary chair, and I’m proud today as that portrait is unveiled that we will have gracing the walls of the Michigan Supreme Court the picture of what it is to be a true justice of the Supreme Court. I’m proud to have worked with her as a colleague in public service and Michelle and I consider ourselves blessed to know Dorothy and Wally Riley as friends, and we wish them all the best. Justice RILEY, congratulations.

MR. RILEY: I believe this to be the first portrait presentation at which an active Governor participated. Governor Engler we thank you for your participation on behalf of the society. Before unveiling the portrait of former Chief Justice DOROTHY COMSTOCK RILEY, I would call upon her former colleague, Justice CHARLES L. LEVIN, for his remarks.

 JUSTICE LEVIN: May it please the Court. I am honored to have been asked to speak on this very special session of the Michigan Supreme Court. Dorothy and I were, I think, in agreement that a public hanging was from time to time necessary for the commonwealth. Although we might–probably would–have disagreed as to who or whom should be hung, all, I think, would agree that it is an understatement to observe that Dorothy’s and my work styles and habits differed. On more than one occasion she was, I believe, ready for my public hanging. That is all, I hope, in the past. Today I am here, as are you, because we all need to join in honoring and paying tribute to Dorothy for her lifetime of public service upon the hanging of her portrait in the courtroom of the Michigan Supreme Court where she served for fourteen years with great distinction.

It has been observed that the definition of a judge is a lawyer who knows how to governor. DOROTHY RILEY knew Bill Milliken, who appointed her to serve on the Wayne Circuit Court in 1972. And Bill Milliken knew Dorothy and elevated her to the Michigan Court of Appeals in 1976 and to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1982. Dorothy was elected in November of 1984 to an eight-year term, and reelected in 1992 for another eight years. Dorothy, I’m confident, intended to fully serve this last term, but her illness and sense of duty and responsibility constrained her to leave the Court just a month ago. Harold Hoag, Corbin Davis’ predecessor and mentor, once characterized the justices as constitutional visitors to the Court. Dorothy’s successor, CLIFFORD TAYLOR, whose investiture was just a few weeks ago, is the 100th visitor, Dorothy, the 92nd and I was privileged to be the 87th.

Mr. Dooley boasted that he enjoyed that much-sought-after judicial temperament. Dooley said that “if I had me job to pick out, I’d be a judge. I’ve look over all th’ others an’ that’s the on’ y wan that suits, I have th’ judicyal timperamint, I hate wurruk.” DOROTHY RILEY truly had and has judicial temperament, loves work. She is, I believe, the most industrious, hard-working person I have ever known. She was almost always the first off the dime. In cases assigned to her for opinion, she never missed a deadline. Opinions, majority, concurring, and occasionally dissenting, were always timely. Dorothy was infrequently in dissent. She was, year in and out, the most influential person at the conference table, insidiously and collegially, to craft a majority view and opinion so that as many justices as possible could join in signing. Dorothy’s talents were manifest immediately upon her taking office in January 1985. Just two years later, in January 1987, she was elected Chief Justice, an accolade that is a testimonial to the respect and admiration in which she was held by her colleagues. She served two two-year terms, as long a tenure as Chief Justice as any Chief Justice since her predecessor, my dear friend, who left us not so long ago, THOMAS GILES KAVANAGH was Chief Justice.

There can be no doubt regarding Dorothy’s abiding respect for and love of the Supreme Court as an institution.

Dorothy’s mark will be long lasting through her outstanding, meticulous opinions and strong administrative contributions and leadership. She brought the Court’s relationship with the Legislature to a new and higher level of understanding and cooperative effort.

Dorothy wrote clearly and forcefully. She was an exemplary jurist. Her vision for the judiciary, explored through the Twentieth Century Commission and now being implemented, takes Michigan’s one court of justice a number of steps forward in the administration of justice. In addressing the future of the Court and the judiciary, Dorothy cast off paradigms and embraced what appeared most promising for this institution and the one court of justice. While there are critics of the program of reorganization, and only time will tell whether this undertaking will ultimately pass the test, the test of time, it is a bold approach conceived of a desire to put the Michigan Courts at the forefront in serving the people. Dorothy has been recognized as a trailblazer for women in the legal profession. Her intellect and her quiet strength and determination helped her to pry open doors that she then held open for others to pass through. At the Women Lawyers luncheon, Justice BOYLE described Dorothy as like bone china–delicate in appearance but strong throughout for the job to be done. Dorothy was for each of us our dear, supportive, trusted colleague. In so many thoughtful ways she told us that we enjoyed her respect, and we all respected, admired, and indeed love her. The Court, the institution, the people will miss her wisdom and insight. Thank you.

MR. RILEY: Thank you, Justice LEVIN. You may have noticed, now that we’re talking about portraits, that only one portrait now hangs in these Court chambers. It’s the portrait of Chief Justice JAMES VALENTINE CAMPBELL, one of the so-called Big Four. When the Court left the Capitol Building in 1970, they took with them the portraits of many of the Supreme Court Justices which covered these walls, save one, this one of Chief Justice JAMES VALENTINE CAMPBELL still hanging here. He presided at the dedication of this Capitol Building and this Supreme Court chambers on January 1, 1879. And then he presided at the first session of this Court in this very courtroom on January 7, 1879. Our next speaker presided at the last session of court in these chambers some ninety-one years later, Chief Justice THOMAS E. BRENNAN. I now call upon him for some remarks.

 JUSTICE BRENNAN: Mr. Chief Justice and justices, may it please the Court. It is always a singular honor for any lawyer to address the Supreme Court. For me it is honor mingled with nostalgia, spiced to be sure with memories viewed through the gauze of intervening years as busier, happier, more important, and productive than they possibly could have been. I think it was Yogi Berra or some such philosopher who said of a retired ball player, “he never was as good as he used to be.” And so I am sure it is for me, as I look at my seven years on your side of the bench. Still I make no apology for my affection and respect for this Honorable Court. Indeed my embellished recollections have, as you may know, Mr. Chief Justice, prompted me in recent days to compose a work of fiction which one well-regarded literary agent has characterized as “a valentine to the court.” So be it. The Court is often enough called upon to dodge the slings and arrows of outraged critics. A little sweet talk from time to time, like the proverbial chicken soup, can certainly do no harm. So much for the crass commercializing.

We’re here today to attend to the pleasant task of presenting and receiving the portrait of Honorable DOROTHY COMSTOCK RILEY, the most recent addition to our jolly band of Supreme Court alumni. Because these ceremonies are published in the official reports, they form an invaluable original source of information about the history of this institution and indeed of the State of Michigan. And so I beg the Court’s indulgence for just a moment to record here for the edification of posterity a few of the salient facts about the life of our distinguished and beloved honoree.

DOROTHY COMSTOCK RILEY was born in Detroit on December 6, 1924. Her father, a career employee of the Ford Motor Company, was wounded during military service in World War I. While recuperating, he was attended by a lovely Hispanic nurse who had migrated from her home in Mexico City to the University of Indiana to learn her profession. Faithful to the Ernest Hemingway story line, the soldier and the nurse were married, and their union was soon blessed with a bouncing baby girl who would one day ascend to this bench. The justice’s early years were ordinary enough. Detroit Public Schools, Northwestern High School, then on to Wayne State University, where she not only excelled academically, but was also selected as the homecoming queen.

With a bachelor of arts degree securely in hand, Justice RILEY entered the law school at Wayne State University in the fall of 1946. That was long before the social revolution which prompted women to enter the legal profession in numbers very nearly equal to men. And if female students were scarce in the law schools of the 1940s, women lawyers were almost unheard of in the profession. The hiring partners with whom Justice RILEY interviewed after her graduation in 1949 invariably asked her if she could type. The message was clear. The only place for women in a law office was at the secretary’s desk. Justice RILEY would have none of it. She hung out her shingle and went into practice for herself and six years later, having proved that she could compete in the courtroom, she was appointed Assistant Wayne County Friend of the Court.

She stayed with the Friend of the Court for twelve years, eventually becoming the chief of its burgeoning paternity division. In the meantime, she met and married Wallace Riley, and in 1967 gave birth to their son, Peter. In 1968 the Rileys formed a law partnership with George Roumell. Except for a brief interim appointment to the Wayne Circuit Court in 1972, Justice RILEY practiced at Riley and Roumell until she was elected to the Michigan Court of Appeals in 1976. She returned to the firm again in 1983 and 1984.

The chronicle of Justice RILEY’s professional activities, associations and awards is far too voluminous to recite this morning. It is enough to observe that she has labored mightily in the vineyards of the law, and has earned the universal respect and admiration of her professional peers. Her accomplishments are all the more remarkable when we consider that she made her mark so well, while being both the tireless caregiver to her aging mother and the consummate wife and helpmate of an ambitious and successful lawyer whose own career path led to the pinnacle of lawyer organizations, the presidency of the American Bar Association. On that subject I must say upon this record that Dorothy and Wally Riley are a very special couple. Their mutual devotion for each other between these two strong and independently successful people inspires all of us who are privileged to call them our friends. And I count myself fortunate to be in that category.

While I did not serve on the bench with Justice RILEY, it has been my honor to be her colleague on the Board of Directors of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and I can attest to her prudence, her vision, and her generosity.

In every great career there seems to be some particularly defining moment, and I must turn now to that time in the life of DOROTHY COMSTOCK RILEY. In preparing my remarks for this ceremony, if the Court please, I struggled no little bit with the question whether and to what extent I should make reference to the events of 1982 and 1983. The death of BLAIR MOODY, JR., after his reelection in 1982 and the appointment of Justice RILEY by Governor Milliken in the closing days of his final term of office led to one of the most painful and divisive chapters in the history of this Court. DOROTHY RILEY would be the first to urge that that stormy chapter should not be revisited without some compelling reason. But I must beg her forgiveness and your indulgence, Mr. Chief Justice, while I make some brief mention of that episode because I feel it is impossible to craft a verbal portrait of our honoree without acknowledging the distinctively courageous and remarkably generous manner in which she conducted herself through those turbulent and tortuous days and weeks.

The Attorney General’s challenge to Justice RILEY’s appointment in 1982 cast her into the epicenter of a controversy which entangled lawyers and scholars, politicians and commentators, and which ultimately captured the attention even of the citizens at large, who otherwise rarely pay much heed to judicial selection and tenure. Throughout that heated debate, DOROTHY COMSTOCK RILEY remained absolutely silent, professional and serene. She refused to make any comment to the press, she uttered no criticism of her colleagues, she gave no encouragement to those who sought to make her plight a cause célèbre. And when the final decision of the Court went against her, and her legal counsel, her husband, and throngs of supporters, friends, and admirers encouraged her to continue the legal battle in the federal courts, she adamantly refused. The Supreme Court of Michigan, she insisted, had suffered too much incitement to partisanship, too much fomentation of ill will, too much distraction from the people’s business. Like the eminently respected Justice BERT CHANDLER who, half a century before had declined to ask for a recount when he lost his seat on this Court by a scant two votes–declined to ask for a recount because he thought it would lower the dignity of the Court–Justice RILEY placed the welfare of this institution above her own self-interest. She determined simply to accept the adverse decision of the majority of the Court and submit her cause to the electorate in 1984. Her vindication by the voters was overwhelming, and in January of 1985 she returned to this august bench with a full eight-year term of office.

Her quiet, steely courage in defeat was matched by her gracious, magnanimous gentility in victory.

Despite her diminutive stature, she worked like a Clydesdale. Every assignment was finished on time. Every brief was read and studied. Every argument was heard and considered. She treated her colleagues with deference and respect. She respected their opinions. She advanced her own views with conviction and defended her positions with civility. It was the ultimate testament to her gentle persuasion, her personal magnetism, her selfless dedication to the welfare of the Court and the advancement of the administration of justice that her colleagues selected her as their Chief Justice in 1987 and again in 1989.

May it please the Court, every portrait hung in the courtroom brings to the bench something of the spirit of the jurist whose image abides there. It may indeed be a romantic notion on my part, but I like to think that each time the clerk intones the oyezes which summon counsel to the lectern, the justices will have occasion to look around the room and draw from the hallowed icons looking down on them a portion of what the painted subjects left of themselves in that place. From this one courage, from that one humor, from another scholarship, and still another commitment to the common welfare.

And if that be so, I commend to your attention today, and to your frequent recourse in the days and years ahead, the portrait of Chief Justice DOROTHY COMSTOCK RILEY, for surely she has loved this Court, and the justices with whom she served. She loved them as brothers and sisters, sharing a devotion to the law and a commitment to public service. Her symbolic presence in the courtroom will, I am confident, foster and perpetuate the great tradition of collegial affection which she personified during her tenure on the bench. Her portrait is truly a valentine to the Court. She will, through that portrait in a voice so soft and so familiar, say to the Court and to all of us who have been privileged to be part of this great institution, I love this Court and every one of you. Thank you.

MR. RILEY: I hate to break the mood, but I do want to introduce to you, seated here in front of me, the members of the Board of Directors of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. Would you all rise and be acknowledged. Thank you. I now introduce to all of you Joseph Maniscalco, the artist who painted the portrait, and ask that he come forward and assist me with the unveiling.

[At which point, the portrait was unveiled.]

 JUSTICE RILEY: Governor Engler, Mr. Chief Justice and justices of the Michigan Supreme Court, President Riley, and officers and directors of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, colleagues and friends. For the past twelve years, the most thrilling day of the year for me has been the first Tuesday in October, the opening session of the new Court year. That thrill is surpassed only by the pleasure of appearing before the Court this morning. I am particularly grateful to Chief Justice MALLETT for letting me participate, and for allowing my portrait to be presented at the opening session of the 1997 Supreme Court year. Like all of you, I began my career as a lawyer before becoming judge and justice, and I still feel comfortable on this side of the bench.

As many of you here this morning are aware, I have been struggling with the effects of Parkinson’s disease for a year and a half. Parkinson’s has severely impacted on my ability to walk and to talk and has seriously affected my handwriting and in recent months has begun to affect my eyesight. But Parkinson’s has not affected my mind or my heart, my ability to think or to feel subconsciously and deeply, and I thank all of you who came here this early morning to celebrate this occasion with us. I thank Governor Engler for his presence this morning. I am very honored. And I also want to thank Governor William G. Milliken, who had the confidence in me to appoint me initially to three different courts of this state, and who in a very real sense, made this day possible. I also thank my colleague of many years, Justice CHARLES LEVIN, who played a significant role in my career on the Michigan Supreme Court. I never served with Chief Justice THOMAS BRENNAN, though I wish I had, and so I missed what surely would have been a memorable mentoring at his hands. Before I arrived, he had left the Court to organize the Thomas M. Cooley Law School and devote his teaching skills to mentoring the next generation of lawyers. Thank you Governor Engler and Justices LEVIN and BRENNAN for your overly generous remarks on my behalf. I must acknowledge and thank Joseph Maniscalco for agreeing to do my portrait. As a reluctant subject, I want to tell you, Joe, that I am delighted with the results of your conscientious labor.

There are so many in these chambers this morning who hold a special place in my heart, two who mean the very most to me are my beloved husband Wallace, and my dear son, Peter. They have always been the wind beneath my wings. And Peter, who has recently married, now has his own wings, and the wind beneath his wings will surely be his lovely new wife, Michelle. Finally, from the bottom of my heart my special thanks to the most recent members of the Court I just left: Conrad, Jim, Michael, Patty, Betty, Marilyn and Charles. Thank you for the many courtesies extended to me, particularly over the past year and a half. I shall never forget the tender treatment shown to a failing colleague. And so we’ll discover as our book ends, we were more than colleagues, we’re friends. God bless Chief Justice MALLETT, this Honorable Court and Michigan’ s One Court of Justice.

MR. RILEY: I know that Dorothy is grateful to all of her dear friends on the Court, to her fellow board members on the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, and in fact to all of her friends who showed up today to honor her. We’ve done a number of portraits and I’ve had the pleasure of appearing and presenting many of them. Today is a special one because the Court’s gain of this portrait is my loss. I have had the pleasure of being able to look at it for awhile and it is in fact a valentine. So with it come Dorothy’s best wishes and mine. Thank you, members of the Court, and thank everyone for coming.

 CHIEF JUSTICE MALLETT: One of the great privileges of being Chief Justice is that I get to tell people when the session is over. And this one is not yet complete.

The Michigan Supreme Court in many ways, in many important ways, is a family. I remember the day that I was appointed to this Court. Some of you might recall that a firestorm of controversy was ignited. Two people in this room stood up for me in a way that I had really no right to expect. Justice BOYLE, a longtime friend, when called upon by the with me for many years. Justice RILEY only that morning had met me in the hall with then and now Mayor Dennis W. Archer. I shook her hand and Justice RILEY and I spoke for a few minutes, and soon thereafter the papers obviously found her. They asked Justice RILEY for her reaction, and she, like Justice BOYLE said that CONRAD MALLETT would do just fine. Now ladies and gentlemen, Patty’s reaction was based on her friendship and knowledge of my family and association with me for many years. Justice RILEY’s response had everything to do with her desire to protect this Court. And so however it is that I become as the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, following the examples of MICHAEL FRANCIS CAVANAGH and JAMES HENRY BRICKLEY, all of us owe a tremendous debt to the example of leadership provided to this Court by DOROTHY COMSTOCK RILEY.

No one put this Court first more often than Dorothy. And however the decisions of this Court come down, however it is that we operate as an institution, whatever we do in our relationship that develops with the public, as Charles made reference, this process of court reform that we go through, we are, and I particularly, mindful of my responsibility to put the Court before anything else. And so as we think about all the things that Justice RILEY has meant to this institution, understand this, that she could compromise not one whit if for the benefit of the Court she was called upon to do anything. She always did her best. And that is why all these men and women have gathered here. Because we know the sacrifice that she made on behalf of the people of the State of Michigan and we honor that and we honor her. And so all these warm words, and some of them are emotional, particularly mine, are heartfelt, are sincere, and are as true as we can make them, we want you to know that this is an important event. This is an extraordinary woman. We are grateful for her participation in the life of this Court. And with that Mr. Riley, I believe this special session of the Michigan Supreme Court is adjourned. Thank you very much.