Goodbye: Judge to bid farewell to storied '1200' abode

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

With the end of 2018 fast approaching, Wendy Potts has already begun turning the page on her judicial career.

Literally.

Perhaps figuratively, too.

Judge Potts, a member of the Oakland County Circuit Court bench since 1998, is less than two months away from state-mandated retirement and yet she is hoping that shortly after she leaves to put the finishing touches on a real page-turner.

It’s a book, aptly titled as “1200,” the Telegraph Road address of the Oakland County Courthouse in Pontiac. It’s not being written as a “tell-all” book, but rather as a collection of important reflections on her judicial career, which also included a brief stay on the Probate Court bench and a 6-year stint as chief judge of the Circuit Court.

“It seems like everyone wants to write a book these days, so I figured that I would take a turn at it,” Potts said with a smile, noting that she is spending virtually all of her leisure time on the writing project.

Actually, Potts already is a published author, launching her writing career more than a decade ago in a different genre. In 2007, she teamed with her younger brother, Bryan Yolles, in authoring a children’s book titled “The Judge Has a Fish.” The book was spawned, so to speak, by a prized pet that Potts won at a summer picnic for county employees. The prize came in the form of a Betta fighting fish, a colorful possession that would serve as the inspiration for the book title.

Her brother, who lost his life in late 2009 after a battle with cancer, remains a constant source of inspiration.

“The way in which he handled adversity has been an inspiration to me,” Potts said of her brother, who was a marketing executive for a major advertising firm in New York. “I think of him often as I come across cases where people have been faced with so many obstacles in life, especially those who have lost jobs, loved ones, or have had health challenges. People can rise above some of these obstacles if they have the will and the desire, and it’s my hope as a judge that they use the tools provided to turn their lives around.”

In some respects, her career path would serve as a prime example of the value of perseverance. She experienced it first-hand en route to completing her law school education, a journey that took her 11 years to complete.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Potts embarked upon a career in education, teaching ninth grade math and English in Detroit for seven years. She decided to attend law school at Wayne State University at night and it was there that she met her husband, David Potts, former general counsel for the Detroit Lions and now of counsel with the Cronin Law Firm.

Her law school studies were put on hold while the couple began raising their two daughters, Kelly and Stephanie. She later completed her studies at Wayne Law and began clerking for the Michigan Court of Appeals, eventually joining the firm of Hill Lewis, now known as Clark Hill in Detroit.

A Detroit native and graduate of Mumford High School, Potts served as president of the Oakland County Bar Association from 1994-95, earning an appointment to the Oakland County Probate Court bench in 1997. Less than a year later, she accepted an appointment to the Circuit Court, subsequently winning election three times.

While serving as chief judge, Potts was instrumental in helping spearhead changes to the state’s jail overcrowding statutes. The overcrowding problem was particularly acute in Oakland County where the jail population mushroomed in the wake of the area’s economic downturn.

She also has been widely praised for her efforts to support the drug court program in Oakland County, helping lead the way for the creation of The RESTORE Foundation in 2008 as a means of providing private funding help.

For those efforts, Potts was honored by the State Bar of Michigan in 2010 with its coveted Champion of Justice Award, just one of many honors she has received from various bar associations and civic groups over the years.

Several years ago, she was assigned to the docket of the newly created Oakland County Business Court, a task she has shared with her Circuit Court colleague, Judge James Alexander, who is one of her chief admirers.

“What can I say about my colleague who is my best friend,” Alexander asked rhetorically. “She is everything that is good about being a judge and a person. Bright, insightful, decisive, and most of all, caring. Wendy cares about the court, the lawyers and the litigants. She is the most loyal and loving friend.

“It’s been an honor and a pleasure working with her to create the Business Court. She’s leaving very high heels – stylish, of course – for whoever succeeds her to fill.”

Such praise –and considerably more – would be lavished upon Potts at her retirement sendoff on Tuesday, Nov. 20, if she would allow it. But Potts has already told organizers of the party, which will run from 5:30-8 p.m. at Bloomfield Hills Country Club, that “there will be no speeches.”

Instead, her preference is this: “Simply a time for friends, family, and colleagues to get together before Thanksgiving,” said Potts, matter-of-factly. “Such is my wish.”

Attorney Linda Orlans, founder of Orlans Associates and a host of other title companies, is among those coordinating plans for the November 20 event, and says she will do her best to keep a lid on any speech-making.

“Judge Potts is a very self-effacing person and we want to respect her wishes,” said Orlans. “But it will be hard not to sing her praises. She has done so much for the courts and the legal community.

“Everyone would agree that she has been a great judge with the proper temperament, always fair and open-minded,” said Orlans. “She has shown great leadership during her time as chief judge and always has believed strongly in promoting collegiality and civility. She is all about helping and listening.”

 

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