To bid adieu: Reception scheduled to honor retiring federal judge


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

After nearly 36 years on the federal bench, U.S. District Judge Julian Abele Cook Jr. still has a firm grasp on his sense of humor, a quality that has helped make him an endearing and enduring figure over the course of a distinguished judicial career.

As he reflects on his impending retirement, Cook recalls a saying that hangs on the wall of his kitchen.

“It goes something like this,” says Cook, who will leave office Sept. 23 on the 36th anniversary of his ascension to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, “If you’re being run out of town, get in front of the crowd and make it look like you’re leading a parade.”

This Friday, Sept. 19 from 2-4:30 p.m. at a retirement reception for JCook in the federal courthouse in Detroit, there figures to be nothing but a parade of well-wishers, all there to pay tribute to a longtime jurist with a sterling reputation as a “storied, legendary judge.”

Those words were used by Chief Judge Gerald Rosen some four years ago when a portrait of Cook was unveiled during a presentation ceremony. At the time of the June 2010 ceremony in his seventh-floor courtroom, Cook was lauded by friends and colleagues for “judicial excellence” and for his character traits of being “unfailingly polite,” “decent,” “caring,” “honest,” and “hard-working.”

Rosen, who appeared before Cook a number of times when he was in private practice, said his court colleague has cast a giant shadow of good.

“Judge Cook has been a leader of our court, and in the legal community at large, for decades,” Rosen said.  “He not only led the court as its chief judge, but he has continued to lead the court as a shining example of how a federal judge should conduct oneself — with dignity, compassion under the law, probity, and courtesy toward all who come before the court. 

“It is no accident that the Federal Bar Association's Civility Award is named after Judge Julian Cook, as he personifies all that it stands for,” Rosen noted. “He is admired, respected, and beloved by our judges, lawyers and, indeed, all members of our greater court family. We wish he and Carol Godspeed and enjoyment of their well-earned retirement years."

The comments were echoed by U.S. District Judge David Lawson, a colleague of Cook’s for the past 14 years.

“He is a gentle soul and a prince of a fellow,” Lawson said of Cook, whom he first met when the two crossed legal paths in Pontiac in the 1970s. “As a lawyer, he was always very genteel, civil to a fault, and never would attack an opponent, preferring instead to advance the cause of his own client.

“As a judge,” Lawson continued, “he never gets rattled. He is a deliberate jurist with patience that is seemingly boundless. He doesn’t rush to judgment, and when he makes a pronouncement it is as if from the oracle.”

A native of Washington, D.C., Cook obtained his bachelor’s degree from Penn State in 1952, serving in the U.S. Army for two years before entering law school at Georgetown University.

After obtaining his law degree, Cook and his wife, Carol, moved to Michigan where he began work as a law clerk for Judge Arthur E. Moore in Pontiac.

He then spent 20 years in private practice, developing a reputation as a skilled litigator and reasoned voice in the courtroom.

“My father, who was an architect, absolutely loved his profession and his work,” Cook related. “I had a deep adoration for my father and I always wanted to be as happy in my life as he was in his. It was a conscious goal of mine. Fortunately, I can with all honesty say that I have loved my job.”

As a judge, he said, he loves what he’s doing “and that has been the hard part of deciding to step down.”

“I’ve always enjoyed going to work each day,” Cook said. “It has been a privilege to work here. Everyone associated with the court has been so kind and so helpful to me.”

Chairman of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission from 1968-71, Cook fondly recalls “the journey” surrounding his appointment to the federal bench in 1978 by then President Jimmy Carter.

Cook was among a number of topflight candidates who were being considered for several openings on the U.S. District Court.

As the field was whittled down to a select few, Cook traveled to Washington for a pivotal interview with U.S. Sen. Donald Riegle Jr., the ranking Democrat in the Michigan Congressional delegation.

“I had never met him and I was extremely nervous going into the interview,” Cook recalled. “I was hoping to make a good impression and to solidify my candidacy, but things didn’t go as planned that day.”

The scheduled formal interview in Riegle’s office took a few “twists and turns” as the then chairman of the Senate Banking Committee was called back to the Senate floor for an important legislative matter, deciding to conduct the interview of Cook en route.

“It was an interview on the run, actually several interviews as he went back and forth from the Senate floor to his office,” said Cook, who earned an LLM from the University of Virginia. “I wasn’t sure if I put two plausible words together during any of it. “

Cook said all he could “really remember is calling my wife that afternoon and telling her that I had just blown my chance at being on the federal court. She, as is her custom, did her best to pick me up, saying that everything would turn out just fine. Boy, was she ever right.”

His wife, he indicated, has made a habit of being ahead of the curve, making Phi Beta Kappa at Howard University. She then earned a master’s degree from Columbia University, the Ivy League school in New York City.

“Thankfully, her intellect didn’t prevent her from marrying me,” Cook said with a chuckle.

The couple has been married for 56 years, and has three children and three grandchildren. Their son, Julian III (Jay), teaches evidence and criminal procedure at the University of Georgia School of Law. His brother, Peter, is an architect with a major firm in Washington, D.C. and is currently a project designer for a baseball stadium in Venezuela.

The couple’s daughter, Susan, is a freelance graphic designer of note and formerly worked at The White House.

The prospect of her husband’s retirement is particularly pleasing for Mrs. Cook.

“I am thrilled that he will be able to rest and relax, and I have been anxious for it to finally come,” she said this week, noting that a revamped schedule might even allow him time to “clean out his tool room.”

Whatever the case, Cook can expect more time to enjoy his interests in jazz, comedy and the success of Duke basketball. Better yet, there will be a greater opportunity to reflect on a life full of good fortune.

“I have been blessed with a wonderful wife and a great family, and I will always be grateful for that,” Cook said. “The fact that I have had the opportunity to serve as a federal judge for all these many years, and to have met and worked with so many dedicated and talented people, has made my life all the more meaningful.”


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