Friday, March 4, 2011


Her weekend had been ebullient. The challenge to her tenure on the Supreme Court was dismissed. Between congratulatory phone calls, including several from her husband Wally, who was in New Orleans for the mid year meeting of the American Bar Association, and preparations for the upcoming week of work in Lansing, Dorothy Riley fairly bubbled with enthusiasm and anticipation.

On Monday morning, her law clerk, Brian Mckeen, loaded her things into the car. Two large briefcases full of papers, her overnight bag, and the leather case in which her carefully folded judicial robe was carried.

Despite the fact that she had been on the court for nearly a month, she had worn her robe only three times; at her own inauguration and those of Justices Brickley and Cavanagh.

She would stay at the Capital Park Hotel, a short walk to the Law Building.

And she would be ready. Always a good student, Dorothy approached her duties with scrupulous diligence. Her colleagues would soon see how valuable she could be.

Tuesday, February 15 dawned a clear, crisp, cold Michigan winter day. The agenda called for the court to meet at 9:30 and be in conference all day, disposing of administrative chores.

And window matters.

That’s what they called applications for leave to appeal and other miscellaneous motions. Window matters. It all started generations ago when the clerk of the court brought each Justice his share of motions to read and decide. They were stacked on the window ledge. Hence the name.

The mood in the conference room was polite, but somber. Dorothy went out of her way to be cheerful and friendly. Nine-thirty came and went. Everybody in their chairs except Chuck Levin.

It was ever thus. Justice Charles Levin had no concept of time. He was always late. His opinions were invariably overdue. He was slow to decide, slower to act.

When the bailiff appeared at the door to announce that Mr. Justice Levin had just called from his car to report that he was a few miles west of Howell and that he would be there as soon as possible, there was a collective groan around the table.

Someone attempted to break the ice.

“Maybe we ought to oust him for habitual tardiness.”

Nobody laughed.

As the day passed, the court worked its way through several dozen issues. Dorothy contributed to the discussion, stating her views succinctly and softly. As was the custom, lunch was brought in, and the work continued until late afternoon.

It was nearly four o’clock when Soapy gaveled adjournment.

In the hallway, Mike Cavanagh took Dorothy’s arm and asked her to stop by his office for a few moments.

Inside, he began by expressing his personal regard and admiration for her as a person and as fellow judge on the Court of Appeals. He was sure that they would be able to work together on the Supreme Court as well. He hoped she understood that his vote in the Quo Warranto proceedings was not reflective of any personal animosity. While she knew he was a lifelong Democrat, he hoped she appreciated that his vote was based on his reading of the law, that it was principled and not political.

Dorothy reassured him that they were friends, and that there was no hatchet to be buried.

They hugged. She left to go to dinner with her clerk.

Twenty minutes later Justice Cavanagh’s phone rang. It was the Chief summoning him to a meeting in his office. Now.

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