A 'friend of friendless,' an advocate for kids

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

He was known as a “compassionate problem-solver,” a man who became an “institution” as chief judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court where he assumed a leadership role for 27 of the 37 years that he served on the bench.

A judge who called “labor disputes the most important of any personal controversy,” Ira W. Jayne was particularly proud of the role he played in mediating sticky problems between workers and employers.

“The Chancery Courts had inherited from common law the right to declare that a laborer had no interest except to do what his employer told him on the employer’s terms,” Jayne reflected after retiring from the bench. “This court was a leader in recognizing that this is untrue.”

Such comments endeared Jayne to the working man in Detroit and earned him the label as a “friend of labor,” according to a profile of the jurist that appeared in a special publication of The Detroit Legal News during its centennial celebration in 1995.

Jayne, who was lauded as a “tireless worker for children and families and a national leader in court reform,” was honored in the publication as a Detroit “Legal Legend,” joining a distinguished list of 15 others who were accorded the honor.

He was first elected to the bench in 1918, running on a platform asserting that “judges should protect the innocent victims of broken homes.” Jayne could speak from experience after coming to Detroit in 1909 as the attorney and agent for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

“He also volunteered as a probation officer for the newly organized Juvenile Court and he helped establish the Friend of the Court to insure protection for children who were affected by divorce,” according to The Legal News profile of Jayne. “In 1910, he organized the Children’s Aid Society, serving as its attorney until 1915.”

By way of his dedication to the city’s youth and his avid interest in athletics, Jayne was appointed by Detroit Mayor Oscar Marx to the newly created post of city recreation commissioner in 1915, serving until he took a seat on the Wayne County bench 3 years later. Jayne was well suited for the job, as he earned varsity letters in football, basketball, and track during his collegiate career at the University of Michigan.

After graduating from the U-M in 1905, Jayne had a brief career as a pitcher for Marysville, W.V., in the old Ohio Valley League. He subsequently coached at Grand Marais High School and at Kentucky Eastern State Normal School.

During his time on the Circuit Court bench, Jayne “stopped the court practice of granting repeated delays and adjournments in trial cases,” according to the profile piece.

“We changed the idea of old time lawyers that a lawsuit was just a game – with no time limit,” he commented.

In 1953, he introduced the pre-trial admission and discovery conference to the Circuit Court, steps that promoted a “dramatic reduction of cases on the trial docket and the speedy disposition” of other legal matters, according to court observers.

As a one time vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Jayne was an admirer of Thurgood Marshall, special counsel to the organization in 1950 and later the first black justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In a letter to Jayne, Marshall praised the longtime Wayne County jurist.

“I cannot imagine anyone who has been a more consistent champion of the rights of the underdog than you have been over such a long period of years,” Marshall wrote.

Marshall’s words served as a fitting testimonial to a man revered for his lifetime “role as a friend to the friendless.”
 

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