Friday, February 4, 2011

A GENTLE TIGER (Number 6)

It is not widely known, but the second woman to serve on the Michigan Supreme Court was also the first Hispanic.

Josephine Grima was born in a suburb of Mexico City. She studied nursing at the University of Indiana and found work as a nurse at the veteran’s hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan.

There she met Charles Comstock who had returned from service in World War I. They married, moved to Detroit and on December 6, 1924 became the parents of little Dorothy.

She was a pretty, petite package, and stayed that way all her life.

The very definition of diminutive, she stood barely taller than five feet and didn’t weigh 100 pounds in her overcoat.

Attractive and popular, she was elected homecoming queen at Wayne State University before going on to law school there.

When she graduated in 1949, she was a rarity. The only females in law firms were the secretaries. Undaunted she opened her own law office, and made it work.

She met and married Wallace D. Riley, a mountain of grace and girth, himself an accomplished member of the bar, who was elected President of the State Bar of Michigan and eventually President of the American Bar Association.

Dorothy began her public service as an assistant Wayne County Friend of the Court. From there, she became a Circuit Judge, then a Judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Soft spoken and unassuming, she nevertheless harbored a will of steel and the tenacity of a tiger.

New Year’s Day in 1983 was on a Saturday.

She spent several hours at her office over the week end, preparing for the January term of court. She had studied all the cases on the docket. She had read the briefs. She would be ready to hear the arguments of counsel. To ask probing questions. To seek truth and justice in every case.

Still, there was this uneasiness. The sense of foreboding.

She wouldn’t have long to wait.

By daybreak on Monday, her phone was ringing. The press wanted to have her reaction to the suit filed by the Attorney General to remove her from the Supreme Court.

In typically demur fashion, she declined to comment. She knew nothing of the suit, hadn’t seen it. But don’t bother to call again. She would not comment on this or any other pending litigation.

By early afternoon, Harold Hoag, the efficient ex navy officer who served the court as its chief clerk, called. He was arranging a telephone conference of the justices. To deal with the crisis. To talk about her. The very thought of it sent chills down her spine, and prompted a nauseous taste under her tongue.

Soon, too soon, they were all on the phone. Her colleagues. Her co-workers. Jim Ryan. Jim Brickley, Mike Cavanagh, Chuck Levin, Tom Kavanagh, Soapy Williams.

And they were talking about her.

She was no longer a colleague. She was a case. She had resigned a secure position on the Court of Appeals to come to the Supreme Court. She loved being an appellate judge. She was good at it. And respected by bench and bar.

Now she was just another Defendant.

Someone suggested she ought not to be sitting in on a discussion of the Attorney General’s law suit. It didn’t look good.

She hung up the phone. A woman would be entitled to cry. Not Dorothy.

3 comments:

  1. Dear judge
    The last few of your essays seem to end in the middle of the story. Is it my Mac? Or is there something wrong in the transmission?

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  2. Nelson:
    They are indeed mid-story. There will be several more installments.

    If you go back to a blog entitled PARTISAN JUDGES, youwill see the beginning of the tale. I call it SECOND LADY. It's the story of Dorothy RFiley's ouster from the Michigan Supreme Court back in 1983

    I hope you find it interesting.

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