Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society-- History of courthouses topic of annual luncheon


By John Minnis

Legal News

Some 130 members and supporters of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society were treated to a history of the court as seen through its courthouses at the society's 19th annual membership meeting on Thursday, April 29, at the Detroit Athletic Club.

The keynote speaker was John Fedynsky, author of "Michigan's County Courthouses."

"What can be more appropriate to a historical society than a recitation of the history of its courthouse?" asked President Wallace Riley, husband of the late Dorothy Comstock Riley, former chief justice and the society's founder.

Current Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly introduced her fellow justices, who were all present: Michael Cavanagh, Elizabeth Weaver, Maura Corrigan, Robert Young Jr., Stephen Markman and Diane Hathaway. Former justices present were Patricia Boyle, Charles Levin and James Ryan.

"We owe the late Dorothy Riley and Wally a deep debt of gratitude," Kelly said, referring the work of the MSCHS.

"I have enjoyed my work with the historical society," Riley said. "Whatever we've accomplished, though, it is due to you, the members."

Kelly mentioned a session of the Michigan Supreme Court that was held in the Lapeer County Courthouse after it was refurbished.

"It was obvious the people of Lapeer loved their courthouse," she said, "and it was fitting that it was in downtown, the heart of he community. The Hall of Justice (the 8-year-old state courthouse in Lansing) does not have the history, but it serves the same purpose as the county courthouse."

Markman, who wrote a foreword to "Michigan's County Courthouses," introduced Fedynsky as the "finest and most enterprising young man I know."

He credited Fedynsky as "the impetus" behind the 2005 painting Augustus Woodward, one Michigan's first three territorial Supreme Court justices. "Which is pretty good," Markman said, "since we don't know what he looked like."

Markman noted that instead of traveling Europe, Fedynsky, a University of Michigan Law School graduate and assistant state attorney general, traveled Michigan's 83 counties.

"It is truly a comprehensive tour of the county courthouses," he said.

"Michigan's County Courthouses" is Fedynsky's fourth book.

"This book began with a digital camera and a full tank of gas," he said.

It took him several years to visit all 83 county seats and the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, home of the Michigan Supreme Court. Fedynsky said he devoted the final chapter of his book to the Hall of Justice, which opened in 2002.

Fedynsky noted that the first meeting of the Supreme Court of the Michigan Territory was held in 1805 in the home of James May, a prominent Detroit resident.

Prior to 1873, the court was peripatetic, with the justices traveling throughout the state. In January 1879, the court moved into a permanent home in the state Capitol, a 30 by 40 room with a 20-foot ceiling. For 90 years, until 1970, some 60 justices sat on the bench and nearly 38,000 cases and almost 10,000 oral arguments were heard.

On Oct. 8, 2002, Chief Justice Corrigan remarked on the curved shape of the new Hall of Justice: "To me, it seems to be arms outstretched, both shielding and embracing."

At the dedication ceremony, all justices simultaneously dropped their gavels.

Fedynsky noted that the words Freedom, Truth, Equality and Justice are inscribed on the black granite that anchors the colonnades and public sitting areas.

"These words prevail at every level of the courts," he said. "Courthouses are symbols. Physically they stand, but figuratively they speak."

In conclusion, he said, "if every county courthouse is a gem, then the Hall of Justice is the crown jewel. All roads lead to Lansing."

Published: Fri, May 7, 2010