A 'Grand' exit: Former chief judge retiring to join new Detroit legal mediation service


– Photos by John Meiu

The federal judge who helped mastermind the $820-million deal to rescue the city of Detroit from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history is hanging up his judicial robe to open a court mediation service in downtown Detroit.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, the principal architect of the "Grand Bargain" that helped save the Detroit Institute of Arts and preserved pensions for municipal retirees, retired on January 31 to help open a Detroit branch of Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (JAMS) in April.

He will join retired U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, who presided over the historic Detroit bankruptcy case and appointed Rosen to mediate the controversy; Clarence "Rocky" Pozza Jr., a retiring partner at Detroit-based Miller, Canfield, Paddock, and Stone PLC, which served as the city's local bankruptcy counsel; and Mary Beth Kelly, a prominent Detroit lawyer and former Michigan Supreme Court justice and former chief judge of Wayne County Circuit Court.

JAMS, based in Irvine, Calif., is an international company that provides mediation and arbitration services for lawyers and litigants. The firm has about two-dozen offices nationwide.

Rosen grew up in Oak Park, the son of a heating and cooling wholesaler. His mother was a psychologist. After graduating from Oak Park High School in 1969, Rosen enrolled at Kalamazoo College to study political science. Rosen, a high school and college tennis star, spent a summer interning for Michigan Gov. William Milliken, a Republican. After earning his bachelor's degree in 1973, Rosen served as a legislative aide for Michigan Sen. Robert Griffin, R-Mich., and enrolled in evening law courses at George Washington University. He received his law degree in 1979. From 1979-90, he worked for Miller, Canfield, Paddock, and Stone, representing corporate clients.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush appointed Rosen to the federal bench. Rosen became chief judge in 2009 by virtue of his seniority and oversaw a $25-million plus budget, 420 employees and more than two dozen judges, who operate in five courthouses in eastern Michigan. Rosen served as chief judge until 2015 when he took senior status-semi-retirement-though he continued handling a full caseload.

In addition to the Detroit bankruptcy case, Rosen has handled a number of other high-profile cases over the years, including a 1997 ruling in which he overturned a state ban on partial-birth abortions, saying the law was unconstitutionally vague.

The same year, he ruled that Michigan could prosecute Dr. Jack Kevorkian, holding that the U.S. Constitution provides no legal protection for physician-assisted suicide.

In 2004, he presided over the Detroit Sleeper Cell case, the first criminal trial to result from the federal 9/11 terrorism probe. Though a jury convicted three North African immigrants in the case, Rosen overturned the convictions after discovering that prosecutors had withheld evidence favorable to the defendants.

In 2011, Rosen dismissed a lawsuit filed by the family of Tamara Greene, a 27-year-old stripper who was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2003, some eight months after supposedly dancing at a rumored but never-proven party at Detroit's mayoral mansion. Rosen said there was no evidence that former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick or city officials sabotaged Greene's murder investigation to protect the mayor and his wife, Carlita Kilpatrick, who supposedly assaulted Greene after walking in on the party.

Rosen is credited as chief judge with improving the diversity of the jury pool in eastern Michigan, persuading the General Services Administration to spend $140 million to renovate the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in Detroit and guiding the court through budget cutbacks without layoffs or furloughs.

In the fall of 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn introduced Rosen at a "State of the Court" luncheon sponsored by the Federal Bar Association, lauding his colleague as he prepared to step down as chief judge.

"He has been the very paradigm of a chief judge," Cohn said of Rosen. "In the more than 30 years since he became a lawyer, Judge Rosen, aside from his skills as a judge, has been a masterful litigator, teacher, author, and community leader."

In his spare time, Rosen taught evidence at area law schools, has written legal texts, and currently is writing a book about the Detroit bankruptcy case. He lives in Oakland County with his wife, Laurie, a former engineering executive with Hughes Aircraft, and their 19-year-old son, Jake.