Time has come: Investiture ceremony slated for Macomb judge

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

Michigan Supreme Court Justice David Viviano will formally administer the oath of office to newly appointed Macomb County Circuit Judge Joseph Toia during an investiture ceremony Tuesday, Oct. 13 in Sterling Heights.

Toia was initially sworn in Sept. 1.

The ceremony — scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at Penna’s of Sterling in Sterling Heights — will not only celebrate Toia’s new position, but also will signify a slight twist of fate.

Toia, who filled the seat left vacant by the retirement of Judge John C. Foster, ran against Foster in the 2000 Circuit Court election.

“To fill his seat is quite an honor for me,” Toia said.

Although Foster’s term officially expires January 1, 2021, Toia will have to run in 2017 to fill the entire term. 

Despite his earlier loss, Toia never completely discarded the idea of a judgeship.

“I think maybe in the back of my mind, I wondered how I would rule,” Toia said. “Others have said I have a good judicial temperament. I thought I would be able to bring that to the courtroom.”

With his wife and other family members by his side, Toia took the call from Gov. Rick Snyder, confirming his appointment to the circuit court bench. Toia admits he was surprised when he got the call.

“Someone from the governor’s office calls first to either tell you to expect a call from the governor or to let you know you were not appointed,” Toia said. “When I got the call from Governor Snyder it was as if my hard work paid off.”

Before Toia was appointed to the bench he ran his own law practice in Shelby Township. There, he earned a reputation as an attorney who attended to his clients as if each were his only one.

“Closing my practice was bittersweet,” Toia said.” My clients were happy and excited for me. At the same time they were asking me how they would find another attorney to represent their interests. Over the years many of my clients became good friends.”

As he prepared to take his new position, Toia wound up his law practice by personally selecting lawyers to match the specific needs of his clients.

“I tried to match them with attorneys who had a personality that would be particular to their needs,” Toia said. “It has taken some time to transition.”

Pat Thoel, Toia’s legal assistant for the past decade, and now his judicial secretary, has had an active role in the move from Toia’s law practice to the circuit court.

“He hand-picked every attorney, depending on his client’s needs. That’s the kind of person he is,” Thoel said.

“It has been really good working for him,” Thoel said. “He’s very ethical, a teacher with integrity who explains everything so you know why you’re doing it. He is one of the good ones.”

Family has consistently underscored Toia’s approach to his personal and professional life.

Toia was inspired by his grandparents, Italian immigrants who possessed a love for art, words, and family. 

“My grandfather taught me so much,” Toia said. “He was a painter, an artist with a wealth of knowledge. He would read the dictionary to me every day. I learned to pay attention to detail from those moments.”

The first in his family to attend college, Toia said he was especially proud that his parents and grandparents were able to see him realize his goal of becoming at attorney.

“I think they would be even more proud now,” Toia said. “My dad was a custodian and my mother didn’t work outside the home, but she was a great keyboard player.  She could play anything just by hearing it once. I inherited her love for music, but not her talent.”

Toia also inherited the work ethic of his grandparents and first-generation American parents.

“I want younger generations to know that if you work hard you can achieve your goals,” Toia said.

Notwithstanding decades of legal experience, Toia finds some of the formalities of his new job a bit surreal.

“The first time someone called me ‘Your Honor’ it was hard to comprehend,” Toia said, who has two daughters and three grandchildren. “It’s an honor to the position and the office as opposed to the person. “

It’s only a month into his judgeship, but Toia is not overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the office.

“You have to be mindful of the issues before you and believe that by applying the facts you will come to the best decision,” Toia said. “I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to have a diverse background. It has helped me tremendously to be able to bring that experience with me.”

Toia said he wants his constituents to know that they will find a judge “who understands the law, is impartial, and will move their case along.”

“It’s an honor to be appointed and a privilege to serve the people of Macomb County,” Toia said.

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