'Biggest cheerleader of all'-- Cooley honors Judge Markey with public service award

By Cynthia Price

Legal News

It is fitting that Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids bestowed its 2010 Marion Hilligan Public Service Award to its self-professed "biggest cheerleader of all."

That is just a tiny fraction of what justified Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Jane E. Markey receiving the award, and it factors in to the award mainly because of her long-time service on Cooley's board.

The selflessness demonstrated on that board is typical of Markey's dedication to serving the community.

To quote Nelson Miller at the April 30 Law Day Luncheon, "Like Marion Hilligan, the Grand Rapids-campus dean who passed away a little over two years ago, our winner is a tireless public servant, one who, as hard as it must be for her, simply continues to share her formidable talent where ever she can do the most good."

Miller, who is the current dean of the Grand Rapids Campus, both nominated Markey and gave her the award at the luncheon.

Markey responded that day with characteristic modesty by praising Marion Hilligan. In a later interview, she said, "Marion's passing was unexpected and rather quick, but she had an enormous impact in getting the Grand Rapids campus up and running. She had a very stabilizing presence, and was very good at building consensus."

The award named after Hilligan is given to those who go above and beyond the call of duty, both professionally and in the community.

Markey is a good fit on both accounts. She has a long history in the judiciary, having first run for a district court seat in 1990.

"When the first woman on the bench was tragically murdered by her husband in the courtroom," Markey says, "Governor Blanchard appointed a man to take her place. I challenged him and won."

She successfully ran for the Court of Appeals in 1995, and has made that court her home ever since.

At the same time, Markey has participated broadly in volunteer activities to support her profession. She has served on numerous state and local bar committees, including current stints on the Michigan Court of Appeals Personnel, Quality Review and Ace Award Committees, and was previously on the Attorney Discipline Board. She has acted as faculty for the Northwestern University/Loyola University School of Law National Institute for Trial Advocacy, the Hillman Federal Trial Skills Workshop, the Michigan Judicial Institute, the Institute of Continuing Legal Education, the State Bar Professionalism in Action Program, and the Grand Rapids Bar's New Attorney Orientation Seminars. She speaks widely to both legal and community groups.

Beyond that, Markey gets around in the Grand Rapids community. She is currently a member of the Gerald R. Ford Republican Women's Association and the downtown Rotary Club, for which she acts as a mentor in its STRIVE Program. In the past she has served on such boards as the Quota Club, which assists the hearing impaired, and the Grand Rapids Art Museum Arts Alive board of directors.

Concurrent with all of that, she has been raising two children, now 20 and 22, both of whom are currently in college. She is married to Curt Benson, an attorney who co-hosts "The Lawyer's Show" on WOOD Radio.

Markey speaks frequently to a variety of groups about balancing personal and career lives, but she says, "Your family has to be the priority." Asked if she thinks her children will follow in the family footsteps and become lawyers, she says, "Right now I don't know! It seems possible with their family history, but 'que sera sera.'"

Markey graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School after receiving her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University and working for five years or so as a teacher and social worker. She is endlessly grateful to Cooley for the excellence of the education she received there and the opportunities it afforded her. She says that only about 10% of her class members were women, but the top ten graduates were all or almost all females.

Markey was the very first editor of the Cooley Law Review when it started, and as an outstanding student caught the attention of the school's founder Justice Thomas Brennan. "He was very instrumental in opening doors for me, and also was a great help to me in starting my judicial career.

Returning the favor, Markey's vision and passion have been shared without regard to time during her 15 years on the board, and she helped move Cooley along the path to becoming the world's largest law school.

Says Miller, "The award is intended to reward people who are active in the community and in their professions. Judge Markey is the classic example of that. She is the very best possible role model for students here and for members of the bar generally. She's in no sense partisan in her approach, she's a very unifying professional."

For that and other reasons, Markey has been mentioned prominently as a potential 2010 candidate for the Michigan Supreme Court. "I'm doing exploratory campaigning to be nominated by the Republican party," she says. "The Court of Appeals, which I sometimes call 'the farm club' for the Supreme Court because a majority of justices have come from there, offers great training and allows people to see how you will do -- your judicial philosophy, how consistent you are, how you treat people and get along with your colleagues."

Markey also feels it is important to have a Supreme Court justice from the West side of the state, and has heard from others who agree.

Published: Mon, Aug 16, 2010