A Judge's Journal: Turbulent time in the Michigan Supreme Court, Part 7

Editor's Note: This is Part VII in Thomas Brennan's account of a turbulent time on the Michigan Supreme Court. Brennan's ongoing series runs Mondays in the Ingham County Legal News.

Completely Alone

Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley treated her law clerk, Brian Mckeen to dinner at Robert's a campy underground bistro in East Lansing..

It had been an interesting day, her first back in action since the dreadful challenge to her appointment had been mounted by Frank Kelley.

It was a celebration. Dorothy was assured that her relations with members of the court would be collegial and friendly.

Even Soapy, whom they suspected had connived to remove her even before Frank Kelley filed his lawsuit, had come around. On Friday afternoon he had walked into her office and offered his congratulations. He was very gracious. His gesture was particularly meaningful and appreciated by Dorothy.

The war was over.

It was time to celebrate.

Sometime around seven o'clock, they returned to the Capital Park Hotel. It was raining. Brian dropped the justice off at the front door, then went on to park the car.

As Dorothy entered the lobby, she recognized a familiar face.

Harold Hoag, the Clerk of the Supreme Court walking toward her. She instantly sensed that something was amiss. He handed her a piece of paper and said, "Mrs. Riley, I have an order for you." Then he turned and walked out of the building.

She unfolded the document, an eight and half by eleven standard letter size page.

At the top was the title of the case of Kelley v Riley.

She read the words slowly, in stunned disbelief.

Upon reconsideration on the Court's own motion, there now being four justices who vote for ouster, the order of February 11, 1983 in this cause is vacated. This cause having been brought to this Court by complaint for quo warranto and due deliberation having been had of the complaint and the of the briefs and oral arguments of the parties, it is hereby ordered and adjudged that defendant Dorothy Comstock Riley, has, since the first day of January, 1983, claimed to exercise the office of Justice of the Supreme Court, and whereas, upon full consideration we find that claim from that date to be without authority, it is ordered that the said defendant, Dorothy Comstock Riley is hereby ousted and excluded from the office of Justice of the Supreme Court.

She was still standing there, paralyzed by shock, when Brian came into the lobby.

Shoving the document into her purse, she gave her clerk a strained smile.

"Pack your bag, Brian." She said it in a low but firm voice. "We're checking out."

The 97 mile ride down Interstate 96 to Grosse Pointe was mostly silent, with sporadic bursts of commentary, mostly by Brian.

How could they do this? How could men, sworn to uphold the constitution, so blatantly and crassly violate their oaths of office?

The Federal Courts would not let this happen. His boss had not been given even the merest modicum of due process.

She had been fired. He would lose his job as well. They had been on the payroll for six weeks of 1983. Would they be expected to return their salaries?

It had been an emotional roller coaster of a day. Excitement and anticipation in the morning. Celebration at supper. Then darkness and devastation.

86 Lothrup. Home again. Early. Unexpectedly. And broken hearted.

Brian carried her bags inside, and said good night.

And then Dorothy was alone. Her son, Peter was staying with his grandmother. Wally

was in New Orleans.

If she shed a tear, nobody saw it.

Correction: Part VI, Terrible Tuesday was in both April 11 and April 18 papers. We regret the error.

Published: Mon, Apr 25, 2011