Burke investiture well attended-- Prosecutor welcomed to 15th District Court bench

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

The investiture of Joseph F. Burke as 15th District judge was a solemn occasion with plenty of laughs as Burke, the youngest of 10 children, kidded with his large extended family during a closing talk.

Burke's new courtroom in the Ann Arbor Justice Center was filled with so many relatives at Friday's ceremony that dozens of well-wishers watched the ceremony on a monitor in the hallway.

Burke, who was a Washtenaw County assistant prosecuting attorney for more than 20 years, took the seat once held by Judge Julie Creal, who resigned in November citing health reasons. Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Burke as Creal's replacement.

Elizabeth Pollard Hines, chief judge of 15th District Court, noted that it's not just Burke's 30 years of legal accomplishments that make him a remarkable choice for judge.

"It's the things that you can't learn in law school, things you can't learn in a book, that will make Joe an exceptional judge," she said. "It's his character, his integrity, his open-mindedness, his willingness to listen, and his sense of humor."

Noting that Burke is well liked by all who know him, Hines said many attorneys ask his advice on legal and computer issues, as well as ethical issues.

Washtenaw County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steven Hiller called Burke a man of uncompromising ethics who knows a lot about lawyering as well as the law. He said Burke has always been protective of people's rights - whether they are victim or defendant - and predicted he will carry that with him to the bench.

Brian Miller, who is in charge of internal affairs for the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department, said it was hard to measure how much he was going to miss Burke as a prosecutor.

"Call Joe Burke" has long been on his new case to-do list.

"From a homicide scene to a crash scene to a search warrant, we'd call you up and say, `Joe, this is what we have. What can you do? What do you think?'"

Miller said he'll miss Burke's integrity, fairness, and willingness to help out any time of day or night.

"My loss is Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County's gain," said Miller, filling in for Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, who was in Dexter handling post-tornado duties.

When introducing Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Kurtis Wilder, 15th District Court Judge Chris Easthope noted that Wilder and Burke were high school football officials together.

Easthope said instant replay wasn't available back then.

"But it seems to me that Judge Wilder has moved up into the booth and he'll be fielding all Judge Burke's calls on instant replay now," quipped Easthope.

Wilder called it a privilege and honor to participate in the day's ceremony.

"Joe has the temperament, the talent, the confidence and the work ethic he needs to be an extraordinary judge for the citizens of Ann Arbor," Wilder said. "As a prosecuting attorney for Washtenaw County, Joe was always very well prepared. He knew the facts. He knew the law. And he was prepared to fight to win the case on behalf of the people of Washtenaw County. But his ultimate goal was winning the case only if that was equal to winning a just outcome. He wanted fairness for the victim, for the defendant, for the people."

He said that desire for fairness will guide every decision he'll make as a judge, even if it isn't popular.

Five of Burke's siblings presented him with the robe worn by his grandfather, George James Burke, Sr., when he served as a judge in the Nuremburg war crimes trials. George Burke had also served as Washtenaw County Prosecutor for two terms starting in 1910.

Hines administered the Oath of Office, and Burke's wife, Marilyn Eisenbraun, presented him with his gavel. Burke later gave much of the credit for his success to Eisenbraun, an assistant Wayne County prosecutor.

Burke was both humble and witty during his talk, as he introduced members of his large extended family and recalled fondly his years working for Washtenaw County prosecutors Bill Delhey and Brian Mackie.

"I'm just a lucky guy," he said.

He's also determined.

"I will do my best to be the best judge this county has ever seen," he said, in closing.

The Ann Arbor resident began his legal career as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Washtenaw County in 1982, then went into private practice in 1986 as a partner at Burke & Rennell, PC. He returned to the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office as the chief assistant prosecuting attorney in 1993, where he remained until this appointment.

Burke is a graduate of Howell High School, Michigan State University, and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

He will serve the remainder of Creal's term through Jan. 1, 2013. Burke will need to run for re-election in November.

Published: Thu, Mar 22, 2012

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