In Select: Company New Chief Judge saluted at annual Soul Food event

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

The list is long and distinguished, and includes the likes of civil rights icon Rosa Parks, singer Aretha Franklin, basketball great Joe Dumars, as well as former Detroit mayors Dennis Archer and Dave Bing.

On February 18, Denise Page Hood, who recently ascended to the role of chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, became the latest recipient of the coveted Soul and Spirit Humanitarian Award, an honor presented annually by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon J. Keith during Black History Month.

The presentation, which took place in the magnificent “Million-Dollar Courtroom” at the federal courthouse in downtown Detroit, capped festivities surrounding the 29th annual Soul Food Luncheon founded by Judge Keith.

The luncheon is an opportunity for Judge Keith to break bread – with some 400 of his dearest friends at the invitation-only event. The event, which honors a “local, outstanding African American,” annually draws a host of federal, state and local dignitaries to the courthouse. It features a menu of fried chicken, black-eyed peas, corn bread, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and other soul food delicacies, according to Judge Keith.

“It is a wonderful chance to take pause and to express thanks for our many blessings in life,” Judge Keith said of the event. “As Detroiters, we especially need to recognize the people who are making a difference in this community with their good works. Judge Hood, who has served the cause of equal access to justice for years and from many courts, is one such very deserving person.”

Hood has an Ivy League pedigree, graduating from Yale University and Columbia University School of Law. She formerly served as a judge with the 36th District Court, the Recorder’s Court, and the Wayne County Circuit Court before accepting an appointment to the federal bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.

A past president of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association, Hood has been widely honored during her legal career, receiving the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association’s 2014 Trailblazer Award and the Fair Housing Center of Metro Detroit’s Fair Housing Attorney Appreciation Award in 2013.

In accepting the award at the Soul Food Luncheon ceremony, Hood said she was “blessed by God to live in this time – the time of Judge Keith,” whom she saluted as a role model, a mentor, and a “wonderful citizen of our country.”

As the fourth African American chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Detroit, Hood said Keith “led the way as the first,” and has been a “mentor and friend to citizens high and low,” praising him as the “true spirit of this award.”

Her sentiments were embraced by other keynote speakers, including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Wayne State University President Roy Wilson, Detroit Lions Coach Jim Caldwell, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Eric Clay, and U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, who preceded Hood as chief judge.

Rosen, who played a key role in the City of Detroit’s emergence from bankruptcy in late 2014, called Keith a “national treasure” and a judicial giant. For nearly a decade, Rosen presided over judicial proceedings in the Million-Dollar Courtroom, the centerpiece for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The quarters feature some 30 types of marble and elaborately carved works of mahogany, and include a portrait of Judge Keith that hangs to the left of the bench.

“I was comforted to know that Judge Keith was looking over my shoulder every day for nearly 10 years,” Rosen said to chuckles from the Soul Food Luncheon audience.

While gazing at the standing room only crowd in the elegant courtroom, Rosen said the last time he remembered such a turnout was when he invited the city’s bankruptcy creditors to a mediation meeting in the early stages of the financial proceedings. Rosen recalled the look in the eyes of some of the creditors as they marveled at the architectural detail and ornamentation throughout the courtroom.

“The first thing I said to them is, ‘Don’t get excited. This courtroom isn’t owned by the city,’” Rosen related to a roar of laughter.

Now, the courtroom is the judicial home for Chief Judge Hood, a Columbus, Ohio native “who will do a wonderful job as head of our court,” Rosen stated.

“Chief Judge Hood is a very fair-minded person with an enormous heart,” said Rosen. “She will carry on the great work of the court.”

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