McKeague portrait ceremony reveals effective and dedicated judicial career



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

According to speakers at the dedication ceremony for Judge David H. McKeague’s official portrait Tuesday, he spent his judicial career being direct, hard-working, and incredibly effective.

As William Jack, attorney at

Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge, put it, “Most of us live on a 24-hour clock. I don’t know how many hours Judge McKeague has in his day, but it seems like there are a lot more than 24.”

Though McKeague is currently a judge for the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, he spent the years 1992 to 2005 at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The dedication of the richly-hued portrait, taken by well-known photographer David LeClaire, took place at the federal court building here.

About 15 people from the overflow crowd watched on monitors in the courtroom across the hall.

Chief Judge for the Western District Court Paul Maloney presided. Speakers included Jack, U.S. Western District Court Magistrate Judge Joseph Scoville, Kent County Circuit Court Judge James Redford, and Gordon Quist, also a judge in the U.S. Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Other judges who attended to honor Judge McKeague, from the Sixth Circuit Appeals court, the Western District Court, and Kent County Circuit Court, filled the jury box, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman was in attendance.

Magistrate Judge Scoville acknowledged that Judge McKeague could be blunt, but said that not only was he impressively well-prepared going into trial, but he also was generous in every way and a visionary.

Scoville said he actually competed with McKeague for the appointment in 1992, despite knowing that McKeague had spent personal time with President George H.W. Bush who would do the appointing. The Department of Justice employee who interviewed both candidates was John Roberts, now Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge McKeague, born in Pennsylvania, attended Michigan State University for his bachelor’s in business administration, and received his J.D. from University of Michigan Law School. He spent the years 1969 to 1975 in the U.S. Army Reserves, and practiced with Foster, Swift, Collins and Smith from 1971 to early 1992.

For many years, Judge McKeague has taught at Michigan State University College of Law; Dean Joan Howarth was present for the dedication. The judge also said that he will be an adjunct professor at his alma mater, the U of M Law School, in the fall.

According to the speakers, Judge McKeague was responsible for spearheading the excellent computer systems at the Western District court, developing the Voluntary Facilitative Mediation program which has been a model, and starting up the well-known Hillman Advocacy Program.

He also served on the Defender Services Committee and the Budget Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States at the request of the Supreme Court, and chaired the District Judge Education Committee for the Federal Judicial Center.

All of the speakers expressed astonishment at how much work Judge McKeague does, and how intently he focuses on the cases he reviews.

Judge Redford talked about practicing before Judge McKeague. Redford said he remembered attending a pretrial conference where Judge McKeague told both the plaintiff’s lawyer and Redford himself to throw out most of their arguments and start over. “After we resuscitated the plaintiff’s counsel,” as Redford told it, “he asked me, is he serious? I said, absolutely, this is a serious guy. We  have to amend our pleadings.”

Redford added, “If timeliness is next to godliness, Judge McKeague is a demi-god,” and wrapped up by saying, “Thank you for all you’ve done, serving in a way that has brought great credit to our American system of justice.”

Western District Judge Gordon Quist spoke right before the unveiling. He and Judge McKeague have been  exchange of witticisms and marginally truthful stories as they spoke about each other for the past few years. His turn having come again, Judge Quist was quite gentle. Though he teased Judge McKeague about collaborating in a scheme to replace judges with computers, Quist ultimately came to praise him. “He has always been considerate of others’ ideas and never tried to undermine a colleague, he’s forthright, he is cooperative, he gives credit to others where such credit is due, he’s a hard worker and, in my judgment, he is driven by issues and not personalities. He doesn’t do anything for his own aggrandizement.”

After the unveiling by Chief Judge Maloney and West Michigan Federal Bar Association President Jennifer MacManus, McKeague spoke for himself. After some joking, he observed, “The truth is that no judge acts alone — we might think that we do but it’s not true.” He thanked his family, his wife Nancy, his law clerk Paul Brandenburg, who has been with him since he started on the bench, and his “loyal assistant,” Bonnie Kipp, saying, “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your willingness to help me.”