Of historical note

Attorney finds particular value in preserving legal history

By Jo Mathis
Legal News

Carl Herstein has served on the boards of many organizations through the years, from the University Musical Society to Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County to the Pioneer High School Band Parents Association.

And one of his most enriching experiences has been serving as secretary of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society.

"The Supreme Court Historical Society is special in that it gives me a chance not only to help preserve our history but to work with many of the judges and other individuals who have made a lot of that history," said the Ann Arbor resident, an attorney at the Detroit office of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Conn.

The Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society collects, preserves, and displays documents, records and memorabilia of the Michigan Supreme Court and other courts in the state, promotes the study of the history of Michigan's courts, and raises public awareness of Michigan's legal heritage.

The society began with gathering, cataloging, restoring, preserving and expanding the collection of portraits of the justices of the Michigan Supreme Court, Herstein explained.

"These portraits are dramatic evidence of our legal culture and show how we perceive our leading judges and how they present themselves to the world," he said of the portraits now hanging throughout the Hall of Justice in Lansing.

Herstein believes the study of history teaches us about human nature, institutions and culture, as well as helps us make decisions for the future by providing a record of both wisdom and folly.

"Legal history is of particular value because of the importance of law in regulating our lives and culture," he said, "especially in this country where legal institutions and the rule of law have been fundamental to our system of government and our belief in the values that bind us together as citizens of our state and country."

The society was established in 1988 by (then) Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley, who wanted to preserve court artifacts, collect memorabilia, and inform and educate the students and citizens of Michigan about their state's judicial history.

The 450-member society hosts portrait presentations, historical exhibits, and membership meetings. In affiliation with the State Bar of Michigan, the Society sponsors the Michigan Legal Milestone Program which recognizes significant cases and personalities in the state's history. It also gives annual awards for achievement in legal history and related fields to students at each of the state's law schools, and has created an Advocate's Guild for those who have argued before the Michigan Supreme Court.

A major project was the "Verdict of History," written by Professor Paul Moreno, published in a series in the Michigan Bar Journal, and subsequently in pamphlet form, which discusses 20 select, significant cases decided by the Michigan Supreme Court. In addition to the publication, lesson plans for high school students were created so that the work of the court and its historical role could be more broadly understood by new generations of Michigan residents.

"The society plays a significant role in preserving the rich history of Michigan law, and educating others about what that history is and why it is important," Herstein said. "The more members that the society is able to attract, the more work we will be able to do and the more prominence we will be able to give to the legal legacy of our State's Supreme Court and those who have been associated with it as judges, advocates, litigants and citizens.

To learn more about membership, go to http://www.micourthistory.org/.

Published: Wed, Aug 13, 2014