Long-serving Judge Servaas receives another distinction

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By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Judge Steven R. Servaas has served his 63rd District constituents since his election in 1971 at the age of 27, making his term the longest of any sitting judge in Michigan.

Along the way, the community he serves has backed him, praised him and benefited from his fair and caring decisions.

Now the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) has recognized Judge Servaas with its 2012 Jurist of the Year award.

The association, a police officers’ union which advertises itself as “the choice of professionals,” met in Grand Rapids May 23-25 for its annual convention, as it has for the past several years.

Kent County Law Enforcement Association President and POAM board member/business agent Timothy Lewis nominated Servaas, and says that the prestigious award is a result of discussions by the entire executive board.

Previous Jurist of the Year Award winners include former Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan, now head of the Department of Human Services; Detroit area District Court Judge J. Cedric Simpson; former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver; and current Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young.

In introducing Judge Servaas, Lewis said, “Judge Servaas is an outstanding judge. I’ve been in law enforcement 27 years, and since I started here in Kent County, he’s taught me a lot. After 9 years in the Pittsburgh area, getting called into the judge’s office after a trial, I thought ‘what did I do?’ But it wasn’t what I did, it was that he wanted to teach me a better way to do it.

“I’ve watched him mentor police officers, prosecutors,and many others. He probably has one of the busiest courts in the state, but he always takes the time to talk with you.”

In later conversation, Lewis added, “It’s just always been an honor to appear in front of him in his courtroom.” Servaas, a graduate of Grand Rapids Union High School and Trinity University in San Antonio, Tex., received his Juris Doctor from University of Michigan Law School in 1969.

He has always excelled at sports. At Union, he was a three-time Class A singles tennis champion and two-time letter winner in football and wrestling, and at Trinity University, he was part of that school’s number one nationally-ranked collegiate tennis team in 1964. He was voted the most valuable intramural athlete at MSU Law School.

He continues his athletic endeavors to this day, playing tennis, racquetball and golf on a regular basis. He also frequently competes in the Women Lawyers versus Judges Softball Tournament, coming up later this month, to raise money for charity.

Athletic ability might not be high on the list of skills used on the bench, but there is still a story circulating on the Internet about his 1981 encounter with someone he convicted of a civil infraction who attempted to flee. Atowering figure, Servaas “threw off his robes” and pursued the man into the parking lot, where all that was required to stop him was a firm touch on the shoulder.

In the time after law school graduation, Judge Servaas was an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University, teaching Criminal Law, Business Law and Administrative Law; and on the faculty of the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, He served two years as an assistant Kent County prosecutor before deciding to run for District Court Judge.

His 40-year service has not been controversy-free, as many in the area will remember. In 2008, Judge Servaas received a visit from the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission Executive Director Paul Fischer, asking him to resign or have his reputation sullied over sexual harassment charges. Fischer — who was being recorded by a sheriff’s deputy he had brought along — made many threats and was later reported for his own tactic.

Servaas survived the attack with a censure for not living in the part of the 63rd District he covers (though he lived in the 63rd District as a whole), along the way reinforcing his popularity as a fair and excellent judge, and was re-elected.

The POAM gave other awards to local individuals at its 2012 convention. These included a Distinguished Service Award to Montcalm County Sheriff’s Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Allman, and Officer of the Year awards to several Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputies (Shawn James, Richard Sykes, Meri-Beth Brouwer, Travis Babcock and Tyler Kempema), a Muskegon County Sheriff’s Deputy (Shane Brown), and posthumously to Walker Police Officer Trevor Slot, killed by a vehicle as he set up spikes to stop a suspect’s flight.

Senator Rebekah Warren received the POAM Legislator of the Year Award.

When he accepted his award, Servaas commented, “You feel kind of insignificant after hearing these other stories. I was trying to come up with something heroic I’d done in 67 years, and came out empty. But for 40 years I’ve had the absolute honor of working with...topnotch police and law enforcement officers, and that has been part of why I’ve immensely enjoyed my job.”