Tried and true Judge knows value of never giving up

 By Tom Kirvan

Legal News
 
Consider him a late bloomer. 
Darnell Jackson, a Saginaw Circuit Court judge, certainly had his struggles in high school, where he posted a 1.97 grade point average, barely good enough to merit a diploma from Saginaw Buena Vista.
So how does he explain his eventual rise to the circuit court seat?
“Perseverance,” he proclaimed.
He certainly has displayed plenty of that over the course of his career, which has included stops in private practice, as an assistant city attorney, an assistant county prosecutor, a deputy police chief, and state “Drug Czar,” earning the appointment from a staunch Republican governor known nationally for his conservative political ways.
Nearly four years later, then Michigan Governor John Engler would appoint the Saginaw County native to a vacancy on the district court bench, setting the stage for his election to a full six-year term in November 2002, overcoming some staggering odds to win the seat.
“Nobody gave me, an African-American judge, much of a chance in a district that was 95 percent white, but I had faith that we would win,” Jackson said.
His professional odyssey would take another interesting political turn in April 2006 when Democrat Jennifer Granholm, nearing the end of her first term as governor, chose Jackson for an opening on the 10th Judicial Circuit Court. He accepted the job knowing full well that he would be forced to run for a full term on the circuit court bench less than seven months later when the November general election rolled around.
The appointment also landed Jackson in some exclusive judicial company, reportedly one of only eight judges in the history of the state to receive a gubernatorial nod from both sides of the political aisle.
Of course, not all has been rosy for the Wayne State Law grad, who recently chronicled his “ups and downs” in a book he wrote, titled “The Steps of a Good Man: A Journey to Today.” It was an “off and on project” over the past four years, according to Jackson, squeezed in during nights and weekends in addition to his teaching assignments with the National Judicial Institute on Domestic Violence as well as the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev.
“Whenever I had an idea for the book, I would jot down notes on napkins, envelopes, and the like,” said Jackson. “Many times I would wake up in the middle of the night with a point I wanted to convey or a story I wanted to be told in the book. That was part of the fun in writing the book, never knowing quite when the creative juices would start flowing.”
The 168-page book, published by Tate Publishing, should serve as inspiration to those who face more than their share of obstacles in life. Jackson, after all, has lived through the “frustrations of failure,” of being pigeonholed by others who were convinced he “wouldn’t amount to much in life.”
A high school English teacher was among his early doubters. She was the first to pooh-pooh his plans to become a lawyer, saying he lacked the reading skills and academic commitment to succeed in a demanding field like the law. She suggested that he enlist in the Army instead.
“I knew from the time I was in eighth grade that I wanted to be a lawyer,” Jackson said. “I loved watching Perry Mason and marveled at his courtroom skills. I knew I wanted to be like him someday.”
Eventually he would, sharpening his courtroom skills during a two-year stint as an assistant city attorney in Saginaw and then during a three-year stay with the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office. In between, he would enjoy returning to Buena Vista for his 10-year class reunion, encountering his former English teacher at the registration table. She, of course, asked the obligatory question, “What have you been doing with your life?” Her former student was more than ready with an answer.
“I said, ‘I’m a lawyer,’” Jackson said with a smile in recalling the story. “I’m sure she couldn’t believe it. I told her that in high school I was ‘saving myself’ for when it really counted.”
Now, nearly a year after winning another 6-year term in office, Jackson is living testimony to the time-honored adage that success is a journey, not a destination. He enjoys speaking to students and community groups about how the term “success” is best measured. He believes it might best be framed in the scope of “how many times you’ve failed,” but kept on trying.
“The first step in any journey consists of your attitudes and your actions,” Jackson wrote in his book. “They form a foundation for everything else. While you may not be able to control what happens to you in life, you can still control how you react to it.”

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