Upward bound: Former County Commissioner settles into new role on bench

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

If he hadn’t gone to law school, recently appointed Oakland County Circuit Judge Jeffery Matis might have made his living as a commercial pilot.

“My dad was a pilot and owned a small commercial aviation business,” Matis said. “I earned my pilot’s license, taking him up on his offer to teach me the business if I stayed in the area for college.”

Matis graduated from Oakland University, and the University of Detroit School of Law, now Detroit Mercy Law.

“I have no regrets. I learned a lot running a company while I worked on my undergraduate degree in business.” Matis said. “And I have priceless memories of the time I spent with my dad, who has since passed away.”
The contacts Matis made while working as a pilot proved influential when he considered attending law school.

“Many of my passengers were attorneys,” Matis said. “I had discussions with them about the law. Those talks affected my choice to pursue a legal career.”

It was  a dinner conversation with his wife, Kimberly that persuaded Matis to get involved in the political process.

“I was out with my wife when I took issue with a recent news event,” Matis said. “She literally banged her fist on the table and said, ‘You complain a lot so why don’t you get involved and make a difference?’”

Matis took her advice to heart, beginning a trajectory from Rochester’s city hall to the Oakland County Circuit Court.

After serving on Rochester’s City Council from 2007-11, and as an Oakland County Commissioner from 2011-15, the 50-year-old Matis was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder last October to fill a vacancy left on the court by the retirement of Judge Rudy Nichols. Matis must seek election in November 2016, to the remainder of Nichols’ term, which expires in 2020.

From start to finish, Matis’s first political race was a grassroots effort.

“I went down to (Rochester’s) city hall and got a petition to run for city council. I had never been a candidate for elected office before so I talked to people who knew me for advice. ” Matis said. “I got a list of potential voters’ names from the city clerk’s office. Then I went door to door asking people for their vote.”

“Later I found out that there would be 12 people running for four city council seats and four of those were incumbents. I knew I would have to beat an incumbent to win. I came in first in the primary and also in the general election, winning over the incumbent.”

While he was a city council member, Matis continued to practice full time as a civil litigator at Garan Lucow Miller, PC. in Troy, and teach a comparative procedure class as an adjunct instructor at Western Michigan University Thomas Cooley Law School.

He managed to maintain that schedule when he was elected to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners.

“Being a commissioner was a significant time commitment, almost a full time job,” Matis said. “You have to have a strong base of support from your family. My wife is incredibly supportive.”

Just as he did in his run for city council, Matis won the primary and the general election in the County Commissioner’s race. Still, it was a surprise to him when he was chosen by his cohorts on the board to be the vice-chair.
“It was the first time anyone who was newly elected was asked to take a leadership role,” Matis said. “Both parties approved my appointment.”

In 2015, Matis decided to throw his hat in the ring for the vacancy left by Judge Nichols’ retirement after he consulted with friends, family and colleagues.

“I talked with friends and judges I knew. They thought I would make a good judge, so I took their advice.” Matis said.

“The call from Governor Snyder informing me that I’d been appointed to the bench was probably one of the first times in my life I have been speechless,” Matis said. “This is an incredible opportunity to serve the people of Oakland County, and the perfect merger of my love for the law and for public service.”

Unlike his last two elected positions, Matis’s assignment to the Family Law Division of the Circuit Court puts him in direct contact with at-risk parents and children.

“I’ve seen cases where people with tremendous drug and alcohol problems have had to make decisions that were right for their kids. Sometimes that means terminating parental rights,” Matis said. “I’ve also seen cases where people have changed their paths and corrected their bad circumstances in order to be reunited with their kids. That’s very good to see.”

Having served the community from three distinct platforms in the past nine years, Matis is concentrating on the task at hand.  Asked if this was his last job as a public servant, Matis said, “I don’t know. Right now I am focused on being the best judge I can be. I am just happy to be here.”
 

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