Twice as nice: Longtime chief judges earn honors from Board of Commissioners


Pictured (l-r) at the awards ceremony were: Michael Gingell, chairman of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners; Shelley Goodman Taub, chairwoman of the Republic Caucus for the County Board; Linda Hallmark, former chief judge of the Oakland County Probate Court; Nanci Grant, former chief judge of the Oakland County Circuit Court; and David Woodward, chairman of the Democratic Caucus for the County Board.

Photo by John Meiu

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Leadership and longevity go hand-in-hand for a pair of Oakland County judges who were honored in bipartisan fashion by the Board of Commissioners last week.

Nanci Grant, longtime chief judge of the Oakland County Circuit Court, and Linda Hallmark, who since 2000 has spent 8 years as chief judge of the Oakland County Probate Court, each received a special proclamation from the County Board at its January 17 meeting in recognition of their years of judicial service at the helm of the respective courts.

Grant, who joined the Circuit Court bench in 1997, served as chief judge from 2009-17, receiving a series of two-year appointments from the Michigan Supreme Court for the key leadership role. An alumna of Wayne State University Law School, Grant now holds the title as the longest serving chief judge in the history of the Oakland County Circuit Court.

Earlier this month, Grant turned over the chief judgeship reins to Shalina Kumar, a member of the Circuit Court bench since 2007. Like her predecessor, Chief Judge Kumar is an alumna of the University of Michigan. The new chief judge earned her law degree from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

Hallmark, who joined the Probate Court bench in 1997 after spending 17 years as a referee for the Circuit Court, has served three stints as chief probate judge, from 2000-04, 2011-13, and 2016-17. She now is chief judge pro tem of the Probate Court, second in command to the new chief judge, Kathleen Ryan, a University of Notre Dame graduate who earned her juris doctor from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

Grant, who was just 32 years old when she joined the bench, spent the first 7 years of her legal career as an attorney with Dickinson Wright, specializing in commercial litigation. A native of Oakland County, Grant went against the family grain when she enrolled at U-M.

Her father, retired Oakland County Circuit Judge Barry Grant, is a Michigan State alum, as are her two brothers, Jim and Scott. Her husband, attorney Mark Frankel, received his bachelor’s degree from Oakland University, which when it was established in 1957 was known as Michigan State University - Oakland. One of the couple’s two sons, Zachary, continued the green and white ties by attending MSU College of Law, where he is a second year student with an interest in pursuing a career in intellectual property law. His brother, Eric, is a U-M alumnus and is working as a playwright in Chicago after interning at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Judge Grant’s mother, Lisa, attended the University of Vermont and Wayne State University, and is the “rock of the family,” according to her daughter.

Her father retired from the Oakland County bench in 2008, some 11 years after administering the oath of office to his daughter. The swearing in, of course, was a very special occasion that resonated to a statewide level.

“We were the only father-daughter sitting judges in the state at the time,” Grant said. “That made it even more special.”

Former secretary of the Judicial Tenure Commission, Grant is a past president of the Michigan Judges Association. Last fall, she was honored by the Warriors Trust Fund for her “outstanding contributions and commitment to the Oakland County Combat Veterans Treatment Court,” which Grant helped launch in 2013.

“Judge Grant’s leadership and guidance has made the journey to help save our veterans easier,” stated Marseille Allen, president of the Warriors Trust Fund, an organization that provides emergency funding and lifestyle support to military veterans.

For Judge Hallmark, the proclamation from the County Board was just the latest recognition that she has received over the course of her legal career. Last June, she was honored by the Oakland County Bar Association with the Distinguished Public Servant Award for 2017, while also being recognized by the OCBA for marking her 40-year milestone in the legal profession.

The oldest of six children, Hallmark grew up in Detroit and graduated from Henry Ford High School, earning a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in 1973. Her father, Michel, was a native of Lebanon and spent his career on the assembly line at General Motors before retiring. Her mother, Angeline, raised six children and was an insurance underwriter before retirement.

Hallmark was awarded her juris doctor from Wayne State Law School in 1977, spending three years in private practice before joining the Friend of the Court in Oakland County. It was during her time as a Friend of the Court referee that Hallmark ramped up her involvement in bar association activities and in child welfare issues.

She is the longest serving member of the Governor’s Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, receiving appointments from three governors, Republican John Engler, Democrat Jennifer Granholm, and Republican Rick Snyder.

In addition, Hallmark currently serves as president of the Michigan Inter-Professional Association, a nonprofit organization comprised mostly of judges, lawyers, and mental health professionals who meet periodically throughout the year to combine “skills, knowledge and insights with a goal towards strengthening family life,” she indicated.

Since her appointment to the Probate Court, Hallmark has been elected to three 6-year terms, most recently in 2012.

“I love this job and the many challenges that are part of it,” Hallmark said in an interview last summer. “Even though we are faced with a heavy volume of cases, almost all of them are interesting in some respect, either in terms of the factual situations that are presented or the legal issues involved.”

She and her husband, Robert, an attorney who headed his own firm for many years before retiring, have two daughters, Jessica, an attorney, and Jamie, a French teacher at the International Academy in Troy.