Special Session Before The Michigan Supreme Court Acknowledging The Retirement Of The Honorable Robert P. Griffin

DECEMBER 7, 1994

 CHIEF JUSTICE CAVANAGH: Before we proceed any further this morning I’d like to indicate a special session of this Court to acknowledge Justice ROBERT P. GRIFFIN. Today is the final time he will sit publicly as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, so you are all witnessing an historic, very special session. I wanted to exercise my prerogative as Chief Justice and place a brief comment on the record. This special portion of the arguments will appear in the bound volumes as a Special Session of the Michigan Supreme Court. I’ll then offer any of my colleagues an opportunity to do so, and then I’ll ask Justice GRIFFIN to introduce to all of us his special guests.

Bob Griffin, you know, didn’t have to come here. By the late 1970s he had served in Washington under some six Presidents, and he had established a reputation for personal integrity that few could hope to match. Men as diverse as Abe Fortas and Richard Nixon learned to their dismay that Bob Griffin knew right from wrong and would call each by its proper name. He really didn’t need to embellish his political reputation, because in our lifetime, perhaps in all of Michigan history, there have been two great electoral juggernauts in this state: G. Mennen Williams and Frank J. Kelley.

This quiet man sitting here at the end of our bench has bested both of them in separate statewide elections.

But he did choose to come here, and we’ve all been the better for it. Bob Griffin loves the law and he understands the maxim, “God is in the details.” His presence in our conference has been large, and each of the Court’s many accomplishments these past eight years, both on the law side and the administrative side, reflects in some fashion his wise counsel. Volume 428 of the Michigan Reports reports and records Justice GRIFFIN’S investiture. Toward the end of his remarks he said, and I quote, “When my judicial service is completed, I hope it may be said that in the exercise of my sense of justice, I contributed to the preservation for future generations of the freedoms we hold so dear.” So let me be the one to say it: Bob, you have contributed, and you’ve done the job well, and with energy, and with an abiding commitment to justice, and each of us will miss you.

 JUSTICE MALLET: I’d like to speak if I might, particularly to the senator’s special guests. I am the son of a public man myself, who spent his entire life, and still spends his life, in service to the people of the United States. I recognize, having been both a beneficiary senator, and the part of a family that suffered greatly when my father was called away to do the work that was important, to do the work that had to be done, that there are only very special people who can truly do the job in the way that the people of the United States have a right to expect. They have a right to expect that their public servants behave with integrity. They have a right to expect that their public servants behave with discipline. They have a right to expect that their public servants bring energy and dedication and sincerity to all of their tasks, and, Senator, it is clear to me that in every one of the rightful expectations the people of this country have, you have never failed them, and I have a special place for you in my heart, because I know the tremendous price that you and your family have paid in the process of delivering the best that the country needs, the best that the country deserves, and I am privileged to have served on this Court with you, and will miss you very much.


 JUSTICE BRICKLEY: Well, I just want to say that the usual wedding comment by the father of the bride is something like, “I’ve lost a daughter, but gained a bathroom,” so you all may be losing a justice, but I’m losing a roommate, and that’s pretty serious, and I’m going to miss him.

 JUSTICE RILEY: I would just like to add that Justice BOB GRIFFIN is a special friend, a special person, a true gentleman, and his family is delightful—every single one of them.

 JUSTICE LEVIN: I would like to add that it’s been a privilege to work with Bob. I was told by a former justice that I would find him to be a good colleague, and that proved to be the case. The former colleague had an instinct for people, I think. Bob always listened attentively to comments by the justices in our counsel, in our chambers, and didn’t always respond immediately, but at the appropriate time always stepped up to the plate and contributed to advancing the work of the Court. He could always be depended upon to make the principal contribution at the right time, and we will miss him.

I also want to add that his opinions are distinguished by the clarity and focus of what he writes. He sticks to the issues, and they are not littered with a lot of extraneous writing that sometimes creeps into judicial opinions. I think that the Court, and the jurisprudence, and the profession have benefited from the care with which his work was done. We will miss you, Bob.

CHIEF JUSTICE CAVANAGH: Thank you, Justice LEVIN. Justice GRIFFIN, would you care to introduce your guests?

 JUSTICE GRIFFIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chief Justice.

I must say that I am overwhelmed by the kind and very generous remarks delivered by the Chief Justice and by my other colleagues on this Court. Before attempting a response, I do wish to acknowledge the presence of some special guests who have braved three hours of very bad weather on the highway to be here on this special occasion.

First, I would like to introduce Jason Griffin, a fifth grader who is eleven years old. Next to him is his brother, Andrew, a third grader who is nine. With them is their mother, Kelley Griffin, the wife of my son, James. Kelley is more than a mother; she is also a very busy, hard-working packaging engineer who has her own business. After this session concludes, Kelley and the boys will be visiting the campus of Michigan State University where Kelley and my son Jim met as college students. Of course, I am pleased that at least a few of my relatives are here to bear witness to the nice speeches that have been made about me today.

As I look about this room at the portraits of great justices who have served on this Court, I am reminded that, in a real sense, my career in the law and public service really began, as it now comes to an ending, because of a relationship to the Michigan Supreme Court. Let me explain.

When I graduated from the law school in Ann Arbor in June of 1950, the arrangements were all set. I had been interviewed by then-Justice JOHN R. DETHMERS, and in September I was to begin a one-year term of service as his law clerk. However, an unusual twist in the plan developed on a Friday afternoon that June when my wife, Marge, and I decided to stop and visit briefly with Justice DETHMERS as we passed through Lansing on our way to Ludington, where Marge grew up. Justice DETHMERS happened to ask what I would like to do after my year of service as his law clerk was completed. I had a ready answer. I told him that Marge and I had traveled the whole state, and we had picked Traverse City as the ideal place to practice law and raise a family.

Justice DETHMERS thought about that for a moment or so; then he said something like this: “You know, there is only one law firm in Traverse City, and it just happens that one of the three partners recently dropped out of the firm. While I would not like to lose you as law clerk, if you really want to locate in Traverse City, the opportunity to do so is probably better now than it will be a year from now.”

With my approval, Justice DETHMERS then placed a call to his friend, Robert Murchie, the firm’s senior partner. An appointment for me was arranged, and in September Marge and I found ourselves, not in Lansing, but in Traverse City. And that’s how the Supreme Court happened to be a factor in the beginning of my career.

Now, I look toward the end of my service as a member of this Court. For me, the eight years have flown by too rapidly. It seems that the investiture ceremony to which the Chief Justice referred took place only a few months ago.
Recently, the Traverse City Record Eagle referred to the Governor and the justices of the Supreme Court as the eight most powerful people in Michigan’s government. My experience convinces me that this assessment is not an exaggeration. Yet, it is perplexing that so few people, even among those in the legal community, fully appreciate the broad scope and great weight of the responsibilities borne by this Court.

As the Chief Justice has noted, I have enjoyed the honor of earlier government service in other capacities. However, I can say without hesitation that I have never worked harder, nor have I met a higher calling, than as a member of this Court. The challenge has been fulfilling, and the memories will be indelible because of the exceedingly able, distinguished, and delightful colleagues with whom I have been privileged to associate.

I wish to add that this Court is very fortunate to have the assistance of a very competent and dedicated staff, to whom I am very grateful.

Thanks so much for all of the gracious and generous words that have been directed my way on this occasion. I shall certainly miss the collegiality that has enriched our close association in the work of the Court. However, I do not say goodbye today because there remains much work to be done during the remainder of my term in office even though this may be my final public appearance as a member of the Court. Moreover, I do not say goodbye because our friendship endures, and I regard each one of you as a dear friend. Thank you very, very much.