Sunday, May 29, 2011


The rehearsal dinner was at Buckner’s Brewery, which backs up to the twelve foot high levy that keeps Cape Girardeau, Missouri from being a lake.

The locals don’t seem to notice. I guess when you are born and raised within earshot of the mighty Mississippi you get used to it.

But it was all very novel for the Brennan and Schafer clans, which assembled from Michigan, Illinois and Florida to celebrate the marriage of Thomas E. Brennan III to Meghan Elizabeth Jones.

What are the chances that a young man who grew up in East Lansing and now lives and works in Grand Rapids would meet, court and marry a girl who was born in Cape Girardeau and worked in Shaumburg, outside of Chicago, Illinois?

Mighty slim in my day.

Odds were you’d marry someone who was born less than twenty-five miles from you. A school mate. Your pal’s sister. A bridesmaid at your brother’s wedding.

But somebody from some place you never heard of? Not likely.

And we weren’t surrounded by men and women in their twenties and thirties for whom the prospect of marriage and family is seen as an aberration, a burden, a detour on the road to happiness. At best an interruption of the good life.

Frank Sinatra sang it for us: Love and marriage go together like horse and carriage. Taking up casual residence with a person of the opposite sex was a criminal offense known as lewd and lascivious cohabitation. If you were open and notorious about it, it might just become a common law marriage.

The idea of advertising for companionship in the personals column of the classified page was considered a sign of discouragement, if not desperation.

All that has changed. Now there’s match dot com.

And that’s how they met. Shared religion. Shared politics. Shared family experience and values.

Pictures exchanged. Emails flew back and forth. Laughs were shared. Opinions expressed. Phone calls and Skypes turned acquaintances into friends and friends into lovers.

By the time they met face to face they knew each other pretty well. All it took was a few kisses to seal the deal.

He asked her father for her hand, bought her a ring and proposed. She said yes and immediately set about planning the wedding.

No big problem. That’s what she does for the Marriott chain. Plan weddings and such.

Watching the merger of the Brennan and Jones families has been an exhilarating exercise for me. My son, Thomas E. Brennan, Jr., the retired judge, father of the groom and host of the rehearsal dinner, expressed it this way in his welcoming remarks:

“Frank and I are already good buddies even though we have little in common! He runs, I walk. He’s a fisherman, I’m a golfer. He plays racquetball, I play hockey. He knows computers, I know the law. He’s a Tiger, I’m a Spartan. He’s a gourmet cook, I love to eat. He says, “ya all” and I say “eh?” And he’s a grandpa and I’m not .. yet.

But here’s what we have in common: a shared Catholic faith, fantastic spouses, beloved children, similar politics, and a taste for beer! I really like this guy! In his kitchen, right above the stove, in large stenciled letters is his mantra, 'It’s All Good.' So I’d say we’re both full of happiness.”

The wedding at Saint Vincent’s Church was spectacular: a bevy of beautiful bridesmaids, a cadre of spiffy groomsmen, a couple of giggling flower girls, a stunning bride and grinning groom presided over by a priest who has known the Jones family since Meghan was a toddler.

Then came the reception, about an hour away at a vineyard set above the lush Missouri countryside, the tour de force of a professional event planner who just happened to be the bride.

It all took place on May 21, 2011. That was the day Harold Camping predicted would be the end of the world. For Tom and Meghan, it was the beginning.

But 270 miles to the West and twenty four hours later, it was indeed the end of the world for over 120 people in Joplin, Missouri.

The ferocious power of Mother Nature turned that town into rubble, snatched babies from their mothers’ arms, threw a three hundred pound patient out of a hospital window and sucked a high school graduate out of the roof of his car.

The juxtaposition of the predicted Rapture, the leveling of Joplin and the wedding of my grandson has sparked a kind of philosophical melancholy in this old judge.

Life ends when it ends. We know not the day nor the hour. Our faith tells us to live each day as though it is our last, leaving no debt unpaid nor duty undone.

Still, it brings a flush of warmth to see young people, good young people with their heads screwed on properly and their hearts in the right place stepping out together into the sunrise of a new day and a new life. Excited. Hopeful. Unafraid.

Makes me think this old earth’s going to last a while longer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


It didn’t take them very long.

Earlier today, the Supreme Court of Michigan decided the case of Attorney General v Clarke.

It rendered a per curiam opinion. Per curiam. That means, “by the court.’ In other words, unanimously. All seven Justices agreed to dismiss the Attorney General’s request to oust Judge Clarke from the Lansing District Court.

In the process, the Court repudiated the 1983 case of Kelley v Riley, on the ground that its controlling opinion is inconsistent with the constitution of the State of Michigan.

It was front page news in the Lansing State Journal, which noted that the Court consists of four Republicans and three Democrats, and that I had told them a party line vote would demean the Court and make a mockery of the rule of law.

Since they didn't decide to remove Judge Clarke, they didn't have to answer the question of whether they have the power to do it. They didn't have to come face to face with the plain words of the constitution which say they don't have the power to remove judges.

No surprise. Also no surprise that they included a paragraph defending their right to answer that question either way if it evercomes up. Judges don't giveup the gavel very easily, even to the sovereign people.

Bottom line, the case is closed. Judge Clarke stays on the bench. The Good Lord was willin' and the creek didn't rise.

So the Honorable Hugh Clarke can get back to concentrating on the miscreants, the landlords, the tenants, and the hapless DUI defendants who make his job so challenging. And begin to plan his 2012 election campaign.

And I can get back to being a bogie golfer, a harried homeowner, an itinerant grandparent, and a concerned citizen of these United States.

Still, I have to admit that donning the familiar blue suit, hauling a bulging brief case to the courthouse and jousting with the folks in the black robes was an exhilerating exercise for this old warrior.

Nice to know there's still a bit of fire in the belly that isn't just heart burn from eating jalopenos.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I had not argued a case in the Michigan Supreme Court in more than fifty years.

Everything was different. The Courthouse. The security precautions. The people, of course.

And TV cameras, for heaven’s sake. I had been a voice crying in the wilderness a half century ago, urging television in the courtrooms. Now there it was. And I would be on it.

For folks who have never seen a Supreme Court case argued, take a look at:

Despite my years on the bench, I confess that I was nervous. Chief Justice Bob Young graciously greeted me with “Welcome back.” I was so up tight, I didn’t thank him.

Bad start.

Afterwards, a generous email from an old friend gave me occasion to size up the experience. I told him I was having “litigation remorse.” I should have said this. I should have said that. Why didn’t I think of this? Why didn’t I think of that?

He reminded me that the best jury speeches are addressed to the ceiling of a lawyer’s bedroom on the night after the trial.

Still, mulling over the questions asked by the justices, I can’t help but think that some of them simply didn’t understand the gist of my argument.

Chief Justice Young, for example, asked if I was claiming that the Court could not remove an imposter.

I wish I had answered by pointing out that an imposter is not a judge, and that removing an imposter is not removing a judge.

Suppose, for example, that a judge goes on vacation, and while he is away, his jealous, identical twin brother, dons the robe and starts holding court. The imposter can’t make enforceable decisions. Can’t legally put people in jail. Anyone can challenge him. You don’t need a Quo Warranto action. And when you take the gavel away from him, you are not removing a judge, you are exposing an imposter.

Justice Marilyn Kelly put the case that someone other than Judge Krause might have won the District Court election in November 2010. If Judge Clarke tried to stay on the job after January 1, couldn’t the Court remove him and install the newly elected judge?

I wish I had responded by telling her that when I was Chief Justice there was a judge who kept coming to the office after he lost the election. I told him to clean out his desk and go home. It’s not rocket science. You don’t need a court order to remove somebody from an office they no longer hold.

Justice Zahra wondered what would happen if the new Governor had also appointed someone to the job. Would the Court then have the power to remove Judge Clarke?

Again, I wish I had answered that there is only one judgeship at issue. If there are two claimants, one of them is a judge and the other is not a judge. You can’t remove the judge because the constitution forbids it, and you can’t remove the other claimant because he doesn’t occupy an office from which to be removed.

I did try to remind the Court that even the Attorney general agrees that Hugh Clarke is a sitting District Judge. But I should have pointed out that their own Court Administrator lists Clarke as a judge, monitors his workload, and keeps his judicial statistics.

Arguing the case for the umpteenth time to my bedroom ceiling, I can hear myself asking the justices the crucial question, If the words,’The Supreme Court shall not have the power to remove a judge’do not mean that you can’t remove a judge, what exactly do they mean?

The ceiling doesn’t answer. Maybe the Supreme Court of Michigan will.