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A Better Partnership
May 15, 2009

Chief Justice Kelly on her experience before the Supreme Court

Pundits in the ongoing discussion about who will replace Justice Souter frequently mention that all of the current Supreme Court justices had limited, if any, trial experience.' In contrast, Chief Justice Kelly explained to us that she had a diverse practice before being elected to the Court of Appeals.' A search of Westlaw's database reveals two published decisions by the Michigan Court of Appeals in which Chief Justice Kelly was an attorney of record:' Board of Education of Rochester Community Schools v. Michigan State Board of Education, 104 Mich. App. 569; 305 N.W.2d 541 (1981) (attorney Kelly represented an intervening plaintiff in an Open Meetings Act dispute) and Hernden v. Consumers Power Co., 72 Mich. App. 349; 249 N.W.2d 419 (1976) (attorney Kelly represented the defendant employer' in an employment dispute).'

OCJ Blog:' Please tell us about the 17 years you spent in' private practice before ascending to the bench.' ' '

CJ Kelly:' ' I spent 17 years in a variety of' legal settings, and in retrospect I recognize that it' was helpful to me to have such a variety of experiences.' I was at one time in my own law firm, at another in a' small partnership, and at another in one of the largest' firms in the state, Dykema Gossett.' I probably handled' almost every kind of case, civil and criminal.' Well,' not all criminal, but certainly all civil that one sees in the law in both federal and state courts.' ' Particularly at Dykema Gossett I did contract' litigation, construction and commercial litigation in particular.' In the latter years I did a lot of domestic relations law.

What did I learn from that experience'' Well, I learned something about the variety of courts that we' have in the state of Michigan; the different levels of' skill that the jurors exhibit and the practitioners in those courts.' And my philosophy as advocate was to' represent my client to the best of my ability and to try to adhere to the canons of the profession regardless of' the situation.' I remember early on making the decision' that I would sacrifice volume of work if need be in' order to make sure that I was giving my clients as much' attention as they needed in their legal matters.

OCJ Blog:' You were elected to the Court of Appeals in 1988.' What' led you to decide to serve the state of Michigan as a judge'

CJ Kelly:' I had prior experience as an elected official, so I had some concept of what it was like to run and I wasn't too daunted by the prospect.' And I had some constituency.' Also, there was a wonderful opportunity in 1988 because' in my district, which was then the 2nd District of the' Court of Appeals, there were two openings and no' incumbent.' As you realize, incumbents just have never' yet been beat on the Court of Appeals in this state.' So this was an opportunity to run when there were much' better opportunities to win.' And I received some' encouragement, and I was at a point in my career after' 17 years of service where I had been able to gain a' certain amount of recognition, most recently as a member of the State Bar Board of Commissioners and as President of the Women's Bar Association and then as President of' the Women Lawyers Association.' So I had a leg up, so to speak, at that particular moment.' So it was just the right time to do it, and that's what made me decide to do it in '88.

OCJ Blog:' What adjustments did you have to make moving from' private practice to your new role as a Michigan Court of Appeals judge'

CJ Kelly:' I've always said you lose something and you gain' something when you go from private practice to being a judge, and I still regret some of the losses.' The' thrill of combat in the courthouse -- in the courtroom;' the challenge of preparing a case so as to be able to try it to completion, to success; the interaction among' other members of the Bar.' I missed some of that because when one becomes a judge a certain barrier goes up' between former friends in the Bar and oneself.' But, of' course, the job of judging is a thrill, and one I've' always been -- I've always felt enormously privileged to have got.' And so I found that the adjustments that I had to make were well worthwhile, and I've never really looked back from that point of view.

OCJ Blog:' Taking a step back to when you were in private practice, did you have an opportunity to argue in the appellate courts in the state in private practice'

CJ Kelly:' I did.' Even when I was running for the Court of' Appeals, interestingly, I remember being up before a' panel on a domestic relations matter.' And that was the first time I remember looking at them and thinking, I' just wonder if I'll ever be where you are'

OCJ Blog:' And, sure enough, within a few months you were colleagues with that panel.

CJ Kelly:' That's right.

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