Select company: Longtime Circuit Court judge honored with Archer Award


Long recognized as a pillar of the legal community, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert Colombo Jr. was in the spotlight November 8 as the 2018 winner of the Dennis W. Archer Public Service Award.

First elected to the bench in November 1982, Colombo was re-elected to office five times, most recently in 2012 to a six-year term that will expire later this year, ushering in his retirement from judicial service. Over the course of his career, Colombo has served as presiding judge of the Civil Division of the 3rd Circuit Court and as chief judge since 2014.
He has since reduced the number of citizens who must report to the court for jury duty, resulting in significant savings. In addition, he implemented the “Last Chance Jury Service Process,” which offers those who failed to appear for jury duty in 2016 one last chance to rectify that situation before facing show cause orders.

During his tenure on the bench, Colombo accepted a number of special assignments, including serving for 25 years as the asbestos judge for Wayne County, where he initiated electronic service and storage on the asbestos docket. He also was appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court to handle all breast implant cases in the State of Michigan and all of the Michigan antitrust class action lawsuits filed against Microsoft Corp. in counties across the state.

In 1989, Colombo assumed operation of the courtroom of the future with a computer-aided transcription service that allowed attorneys and parties to view the transcript in real time. In the mid-1990s, he served on a national Mass Tort Litigation Committee comprised of state trial judges who handled mass tort litigation.

Colombo has presided over a number of notable, contentious, and highly publicized cases, including the 1990 trial of People v. Lawrence DeLisle, which resulted in first-degree murder convictions for the defendant in the death of his four children. The case was brought against DeLisle after he drove his car into the Detroit River with his wife and four children, resulting in the deaths of his 8-year-old son and his three daughters, ranging in age from 8 months to 4 years. In 2017, Netflix aired a documentary on the trial, titled “The Confession Tapes.”

In 1992, Colombo presided over a volatile Detroit teachers’ strike. After extensive efforts to reach a negotiated settlement failed, he ordered the teachers back to work, prompting the parties to reach an agreement.

In the mid-1990s, he managed and tried Dow Corning’s breast implant insurance coverage case involving approximately 100 insurance companies. The Court of Appeals noted “the remarkable skill and patience exhibited by Judge Colombo in the face of some of the most expansive and complex litigation in the history of the state.”

In 1997, Colombo addressed the constitutionality of the elimination of the Detroit Recorder’s Court and its merger into the Wayne County Circuit Court. His determination that here was no constitutional violation was affirmed by the state Court of Appeals in Kuhn v. Secretary of State.

In 2008, Colombo presided over a lawsuit brought by The Detroit Free Press, which led to the release of the secret settlement agreement in the whistleblower case against the City of Detroit and then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Text messages revealed that Kilpatrick and his chief of staff had committed perjury.

Since 2016, Colombo has managed and addressed one of the largest condemnation cases in the history of the state revolving around the planned construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge spanning the Detroit River. During that time, he addressed the preliminary issues of necessity challenges, and transfer of possession of the premises and title to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

A faculty member of the Michigan Judicial Institute, Colombo also has participated in the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Advocacy Program. In addition, he has been a guest lecturer at Detroit College of Law and Wayne State University Law School.

The recipient of a host of awards over the years, Colombo has been long active with the Detroit Bar Association Foundation and Barristers, regularly serving as an advocate for Law Day events that draw more than 300 students each year to participate in activities at the Circuit Court.

A cum laude graduate of the University of Miami with a degree in accounting, the longtime jurist earned his law degree from the former Detroit College of Law, now known as Michigan State University College of Law. He and his wife, Jane, have two sons, Robert and James.