Keeping focus on the big picture

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Judge reflects on career, therapeutic justice, and love of law

By Christine L. Mobley
Legal News

Oakland County 52-4 District Court Judge Dennis Drury will wrap up his career on the bench serving the City of Troy at the end of this year.

Drury graduated with a degree in Chemistry from DePaul University and after deciding that working in a lab wasn’t quite up his alley, he pursued a degree from Michigan State University in History. Drury then studied law at the University of Michigan Law School.

He served as a Michigan Assistant Attorney General until he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Drury then attended Officer Candidate School. After his commission, he went on active duty serving at TACOM in Warren.

Upon completion of his military service, he helped form the firm Andrews & Drury along with now-retired Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Steven Andrews. When Andrews left the firm, Drury continued in private practice until his appointment to the bench by then-Governor James J. Blanchard in 1984. Drury has served in his position  ever since while finding love along the way.

As he was building his staff, the judge asked Robin Nice if she would be his court reporter. Nice had previously worked a short time for Drury in private practice. A romance blossomed between the two and they were married in 1989.

During his time with the 52-4 District Court, Drury served as chief judge for 8 years. He was also assigned to serve as a Circuit Court judge for the Oakland County Drug Court in 1996. That same year, Drury was selected by the Japanese government to consult on the decriminalization of traffic matters.

“Being a judge is just a great job — you couldn’t ask for a better job,” Drury said. “Every day you’re given the opportunity to deal with lawyers — and I like lawyers — and help people solve problems. The whole idea of being a judge is the greatest part of what I enjoy.”

Seeing the City of Troy develop over the years has also been quite enjoyable for the judge.

“When I started, 16 Mile Road was a two-lane highway for most of the way through Oakland County, so that was a lot of years ago. Watching it from that point forward has been exciting because it really is an exciting city — lots of new buildings, lots of new businesses, lots of national and international business headquarters — we’ve really had a tremendous wide variety of cases coming through the court that most district courts would never see,” Drury noted.

“It’s been really an exciting place to live — still is an exciting place.”

Drury has been a part of a renaissance of change with the adjudication of cases before the court.

“The real theme behind all the criminal work has been drug and alcohol abuse,” Drury said. “The exciting thing that’s changed is that we’ve finally figured that out and started addressing that problem specifically.”

Upon further examination of cases, it was found that 85 percent of cases had either a direct or indirect correlation with the use of drugs or alcohol.

“If we can eliminate the problem with the individual then they’re not going to recidivate and come back through the system again.”

Drury is proud of the drug therapy court that he has been a part of for the past 12 years.

“We’re identifying the people who are committing the crimes over and over again and getting them into treatment. We can treat someone for like $2,500 a year and get them back on the road to sobriety as opposed to $27,000-$28,000 to keep them in prison for one year.

“It’s really a better way to spend our money and it actually works.”

Throughout his legal career Drury has held numerous posts in both the State Bar of Michigan and the Oakland County Bar Association. He has participated in seminars for the Michigan Judicial Institute, the Michigan Municipal League, the Oakland County District Court Judges Association, and the Institute of Continuing Legal Education.

He has been involved with several community organizations focusing on Troy’s youth and senior citizens and has been honored by both legal and community organizations.

After 28 years and 8 months (“But who’s counting?” Drury laughed), the judge plans to keep working well into retirement keeping his teaching positions at Walsh College and Cooley Law School. Drury also plans to work in arbitration, mediation, and as a visiting judge. On a more personal note, the judge will also enjoy spending time with his two grandchildren.

“I would keep busy anyway,” Drury says of his choice to keep working. “I would not retire if it were not for the mandatory (age) requirement. It’s not a big shift at all to keep going.”

A retirement celebration for Drury will be hosted on Thursday, Nov. 8, beginning at 6 p.m. at the San Marino Club in Troy. The evening will feature cocktails, dinner, entertainment and a short program.
Tickets are $65 per person. To get tickets, contact Albert L. Holtz at (248) 593-5000.

Nice will also be retiring along with her husband.

“It’s her retirement party too,” Drury said.

“No one can fill my shoes,” Drury laughs. “My jersey goes up to the rafters of the 52nd District Court – they closed the seat.”

By that, he means after his retirement the 52nd District Court will only have nine judges instead of 10. This change is part of recent reforms to the Michigan judicial system.

As he prepares to leave the bench, Drury leaves these words of wisdom: “You have to look at the big picture of what you’re doing as a lawyer — particularly students of the law get lost in minutia because they’re just deluged with all this reading they have to do and they have to be an expert in all these different areas. They become narrowly focused and they don’t appreciate what they’re job is as a lawyer and a counselor — to people to help them with the problems that they have. They look at it as more of a trade — like a carpenter.

“When you look at the big picture (you) act in a fashion that helps the most. When you’re all caught up in minutia you can’t help people. I tell (my law students) to relax, look at the big picture, and enjoy themselves.”

Drury also wants to extend his gratitude to those he’s known and worked with in the legal profession.

“I loved being a lawyer and practicing law with other attorneys. I’ve met some really terrific people so continuing to work in the law is just going to be continuing my enjoyment. It’s a natural thing.
“They say find a job that you love and it will never feel like work. Well, I’ve felt that way both as a private practitioner and as a judge and that will continue.”

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