A court's history revealed in new book

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By Carl Bookstein
Legal News
     
With insights into colorful judges and such fascinating eras as the Civil War and Prohibition, author David Gardner Chardavoyne captures the personality of a court in his latest book, “The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan: People, Law and Politics.”

Chardavoyne’s second and latest book is a compelling and informative study of the court from its origin in 1837 to the present day.

The book published by Wayne State University Press will be released March 15.

Recruited by the Historical Society for the U.S. District Court to tell the legal tale, Chardavoyne is a student of history, weaving stories of judges and litigants, cases and their complexities, and notable people in the context of their times.

Legal cases come to life in Chardavoyne’s book, as seen with the coverage of the World War II era espionage cases. A fine example is the case of the German American bar owner Max Stephan aiding and abetting an escaped German soldier, a story that makes for riveting reading.

Chardavoyne, a law professor, found that writing the history of the U.S. District Court was “rewarding and exhausting.” It was certainly a yeoman’s job, covering nearly 180 years of the court’s history – a court that went from one judge to 15 and a caseload that skyrocketed. The federal trial court, based in Detroit, has jurisdiction over the eastern half of Michigan.

Chardavoyne “took the advice of a professor, as an undergraduate English major at the University of Michigan, and went to law school.”

His first experience with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan began immediately after graduating from Wayne State University Law School, magna cum laude.

He went to work as a law clerk in 1976 for District Judge James Harvey, who served in Flint and Bay City, and was one of three law clerks at the time.

Chardavoyne calls Harvey “a great mentor,” who took pride in giving those who ran afoul of the law a second chance if warranted.

Chardavoyne brought dozens of cases before the U.S. District Court during his more than 20 years of legal practice with the firm that is now Bodman LLP, specializing in litigation and antitrust work. One such case before the court involved members of the Central Red Army Hockey Team in a legal duel against the Detroit Red Wings, a case that drew its share of notoriety. His years of law practice would help prepare him for the latest task at hand. The result: an engaging, thoughtful history of the U.S. District Court that holds its reader from the start.

He begins with the 33-year term of Judge Ross Wilkins, Michigan’s first federal district judge from 1837-70.  Judge Wilkins struggled in his duty to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act despite his own beliefs as an abolitionist.

The Civil War would bring tremendous changes to his docket. This was a formative era where, according to Chardavoyne, “the court and judge were the symbols in Michigan of the federal government and the Union.”

District Judge Arthur Tuttle, one of Chardavoyne’s personal favorites, also served a monolithic term of 32 years beginning in 1912. 

“Judge Tuttle was the greatest character of the court — very conservative, yet very humanizing,” says Chardavoyne. “Tuttle was one of the most energetic, forceful and hard working judges to ever grace the court.”

In his letters, Tuttle boasted that “I can do the work of any five men,” according to Chardavoyne. Significantly, Tuttle tried to find a post-parole job for every defendant he sentenced to prison.

Judge Tuttle served during the Prohibition era that saw so many criminal defendants charged with liquor law violations. This, according to Chardavoyne, “totally changed the court, including a docket that swelled tenfold from 300 cases a year to 3,000—a very colorful era.” During Prohibition, public corruption in Michigan had run rampant and also gave rise to gangland warfare, according to Chardavoyne.

Chardavoyne’s book offers colorful descriptions and intriguing insights into a range of precedent-setting cases. Included is analysis of the Trial of the Michigan Six, the red scare case that dealt with the then seemingly threatening U.S. Communist Party.

Judge Theodore Levin, who Detroit’s federal court building was named after, was nominated by President Harry Truman in 1946 and became one of the Eastern District’s greatest judges.
Levin served as chief judge of the court from 1959-67 and achieved national renown. Chardavoyne describes Judge Levin as a “kind, gentle man who got things done. The facilitator who encouraged people to agree.”

Chardavoyne expressed his gratitude to Judge Avern Cohn, who wrote the book’s foreward, as “the number one man behind this book.” As a judge, Cohn is described by Chardavoyne as “tireless in fulfilling his duties.” He further praises the judge’s love for knowledge. 

“He is interested in everything that comes along,” Chardavoyne says of Cohn, a University of Michigan Law School alum who has served on the U.S. District Court bench for more than three decades.

The book cites the wide variety of Judge Cohn’s docket, including his mastery of complex patent cases.

The book attacks its matter chronologically as it analyzes the development of the court that now practices in five federal buildings through the eastern half of Michigan including:  Detroit, Bay City, Flint, Port Huron and Ann Arbor.  Included is some in-depth analysis of the law, including the highly publicized reverse discrimination cases filed against the University of Michigan.

Chardavoyne’s first book, “A Hanging in Detroit: Stephen Gifford Simmons and the Last Execution Under Michigan Law,” chronicled Michigan’s second and last capital punishment case and was published by Wayne State Press in 2003. The book was Chardavoyne’s first endeavor into historical writing and taught him the value of research and “not to believe everything” he reads.

“The second book was twice as long and at times seemed overwhelming,” Chardavoyne says of his latest literary effort.  “The capital punishment book covered 10 to 15 years. This book covered 180 years of history. . . As long as you keep writing and writing and writing, it all comes out.”

Chardavoyne left Bodman in 1999 after more than 20 years in private practice, and started teaching at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in 2001.  He also teaches at Wayne State University Law School. 

As a child, Chardavoyne and his family lived for a time in Geneva, Switzerland, one of the great experiences of his life.  There he studied with students from Thailand, Indonesia and India who were classmates and friends growing up. 

“It was an experience someone from St. Clair Shores never would have had otherwise,” Chardavoyne says.

Additionally, he served in the U.S. Army Airborne in Germany, before attending law school.

Chardavoyne, an Ohio native, is married to Dr. Kristine Duffy, an obstetrician and his wife of 31 years.  They have two sons:  Colin, who works for Charles Schwab in Orlando, Fla., and Mark, a senior at Michigan State University.

Chardavoyne has written extensively, including in scholarly journal articles, about the legal history of the state of Michigan. He is a member of the board of trustees of the Historical Society for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, an organization that commissioned his latest work.

In summary, the author speaks to the ultimate goal of a U.S. District Court and the Eastern District in particular:  “To protect the Constitution and to be an example of a court operating without partisan feelings. To provide justice and show other courts how it can be done.”
 

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