Portrait of an honorable man-- Judge Julian Abele Cook Jr. painted as 'storied, legendary judge'

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By John Minnis

Legal News

"The Honorable" was coined for men like U.S. District Judge Julian Abele Cook Jr., Eastern District of Michigan, whose portrait was unveiled Monday, June 21, at the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse.

Chief Judge Gerald E. Rosen presided over the Presentation and Dedication of the Portrait in Cook's seventh-floor courtroom.

"This is a very happy gathering," Rosen said, "not only for the Cook family but for our entire court family. There are few things we judges get to do where everyone goes away happy. This is one of them."

Joining Rosen, with Cook to his right, were some 18 judges and four magistrates, not to mention the administrative assistants, case managers, court reporters and law clerks in attendance. The Cook family was also well represented by the judge's wife, Carol, daughter, Susan, sons Julian III and Peter and grandson Christopher.

Rosen described Cook as a "storied, legendary judge" who has a spotless reputation among local and national attorneys and on the bench. He, and others, said Cook is unfailingly polite, decent, caring, honest and hardworking.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Cook to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in 1978. He served as chief judge from 1989 through 1996.

In recognition of Cook and federal bench colleague Judge Bernard A. Friedman, the Federal Bar Association, Eastern District of Michigan, created the Cook-Friedman FBA Civility Award, which will be bestowed annually to others in the federal bar who demonstrate "excellence and civility" in the profession.

When told of the planned award last year, Rosen recalled, "I said you certainly couldn't find two better examples. I know that as a lawyer it was always a pleasure appearing before Judge Cook."

Son Peter Cook, now an architect in Washington, D.C., working on the Smithsonian's African-American Museum, acted as master of ceremonies.

"Today we honor a man who truly earns the term honorable," he said of is father.

He related how he once met Jimmy Carter while on a plane and thanked the president for appointing his father to the federal bench.

"He asked an interesting question," Peter Cook recalled. "He asked, 'How did he do?'"

The son replied that he was not an impartial observer, but he thought "the world was a better place to have had him as a federal judge." He got Carter to autograph his book, but the inscription was made out to the judge. So he loaned it to his father.

Glancing back at his dad, Peter Cook quipped, "If you could return it..."

He said his parents always told him to "find something you love. If you love it, chances are you will be good at it, and everything else will take care of itself." He said his father exemplified that philosophy.

Law clerks Brandy Y. Robinson and Zoraida Fernandez then presented a David Letterman-like list of Top 10 Confessions of a Judge Cook law clerk, beginning with No. 10--All clerks become part of Judge Cook's family--and ending with No. 1--the judge (a huge basketball fan) is leaving the bench to join Duke, the 2010 NCAA basketball championship team. (Judge Cook was even given a Duke jersey signed by his law clerks and guests.)

Sarah Welling, who worked with Cook on the Sixth Circuit Pattern Criminal Jury Instructions Committee and is now a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, said it was "a thrill to work with Judge Cook."

"Other circuits have not succeeded in developing their own pattern jury instructions," she observed. "That's because they don't have a Judge Cook. You are the best mentor ever."

Cook's son, Julian Abele III, followed in his father's footsteps and became an attorney. He teaches at the University of Georgia School of Law. He informed the many courthouse regulars and visitors that his dad liked Duke basketball, jazz, comedy and "The Jeffersons."

He recalled a "Jeffersons" episode in which George replaced their old Bible with an new one, thinking maybe there had been some "revisions." Joking aside, the son said, if there were ever a revision, it would be rewriting the passage to say, "There has been no greater man born to a woman than my father."

"The sole reason I'm an attorney today is because of my father," he said. "I'm so proud to be named after my father."

In fact, son Julian is the recent father of fraternal twins. He named the boy Julian after his grandfather, though not the fourth.

James Nabrit III, a childhood friend of Judge Cook's when they were growing up in Washington, D.C., also became a lawyer. He said he attended Judge Cook's investiture 32 years ago "in this very same courtroom."

"'Buddy' Cook and I always treated each other as brothers," he said, adding that Cook was the first one to tell him about baseball.

"Seven decades later," Nabrit said, "Buddy is still telling me about baseball. I'm the designated friend."

Daughter Susan put together a video presentation of her father's childhood, career and family life. The trailer included the words "our mentor, our 'Papa Bear,' our judge, our love."

Assisting with the portrait unveiling was grandson Christopher, son of Peter Cook. The last time Christopher was in his grandfather's courtroom he was 1 year old, the father explained. When the child got whiny, his grandfather held him in contempt of court.

"I don't know if the contempt charge has ever been rescinded," Peter Cook said.

With that, father and son unveiled the large, 3- by 4-foot portrait of Judge Cook.

"Pete mentioned a contempt citation," the honored judge said after his portrait was unveiled. "This is the first Pete has raised that motion. I hereby waive that contempt citation."

He asked his administrative assistants, case managers, court reporters and law clerks to stand.

"The people who have stood are people who have clearly helped me over 32 years," he said. "While judges tend to get the credit, these are the people who have helped me immeasurably."

Judge Cook also made a point to mention his past secretary, Patricia Funni, now retired, who for 30 years took a train from Pontiac to Detroit and then a bus to the courthouse.

"That is sheer dedication," he said, "and I truly appreciate it."

The judge choked up only once, when he thanked his wife, Carol, "the love of my life," the "general and commander of the Cook household."

Chief Judge Rosen asked Carol Cook why in the portrait her husband appears to be wearing his wedding ring on his right hand. She explained that the painter had made a big mistake. He had posed her husband with his right hand atop his left, thus covering up his wedding band. She demanded the artist paint in a wedding band on the right hand.

With that, Judge Cook presented his portrait to "the bench of the Eastern District of Michigan with gratitude to all my colleagues."

Before accepting the portrait, the chief judge mentioned that the following day was Judge Cook's 80th birthday, though he was relieved that the judge was not really leaving the bench to join the Duke basketball team.

"On behalf of your colleagues and the court," Rosen said, "I wish you a happy birthday and I accept your portrait."

Published: Thu, Jun 24, 2010

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