Late judge to be honored during federal court open house

A bronze plaque commemorating 28 years of service by the late U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff will be unveiled during a ceremony at 11 a.m., Oct. 2, at the Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Port Huron.

The event will coincide with a 10 a.m.-3 p.m. open house featuring self-guided tours of the newly renovated courtroom complex in Port Huron as well as the expanded prisoner lock-up and office facility operated by the U.S. Marshals Service.

The plaque ceremony will take place in Zatkoff’s former courtroom, currently occupied by U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland. The plaque will be displayed in the courthouse lobby. The ceremony and tours will be open to the public.

The three-story courthouse featuring Renaissance and Greek Revival styles with an octagonal cupola was completed at 6th and Water Street in 1877 at a cost of $200,000. The building is operated by the General Services Administration and is the oldest structure in the GSA’s Great Lakes Region.

Although a courtroom was installed on the second floor, the building functioned primarily as a Post Office and Customs House until the 1960s, when federal judges began handling some of their cases there.

That changed in 2005 when Zatkoff transferred his Detroit courtroom to Port Huron and began handling his entire civil and criminal docket there.

Zatkoff was committed to improving the Port Huron courthouse and led the push to persuade the GSA to embark on a $2.4-million program to modernize and improve courthouse security; upgrade the building’s heating, cooling, fire and safety systems; and restore the lobby to its Victorian-era appearance. Zatkoff also pushed for the installation of a prisoner lock-up operated by the Marshals Service in the basement of the building.

Zatkoff was born in Detroit in 1939, graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Detroit in 1962 and received his law degree with honors from the Detroit College of Law in 1966.

He practiced law in Detroit and Roseville from 1966-78, served as a Macomb County Probate Court Judge from 1978-1982, and a Macomb County Circuit Court judge from 1982-86. President Ronald Reagan appointed him U.S. District Court Judge for Eastern Michigan in 1986.

Zatkoff served as chief judge from 1999-2004.

He died in January 2015 during his 28th year as a federal judge. He was 75.

Zatkoff’s widow, Kelly, and children, are expected to attend the Oct. 2 ceremony in Port Huron.

Since his passing, the Port Huron courthouse has continued to evolve.

The U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan recently completed a $488,000 project to redecorate the second-floor courtroom complex and install high-tech audio and visual equipment, including flat-screen monitors, in the jury box, witness stand and on lawyers’ tables to improve the presentation of trial exhibits. The project was part of a program to install high-tech equipment in the Eastern District’s five courthouses.

The U.S. Marshals Service is completing a $2 million project to add cell space to its first-floor prisoner lockup, install interview rooms for lawyers and prisoners, a new control center and additional offices for supervisors and staff.
The Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Port Huron also houses the Court’s Probation Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the GSA’s janitorial service and Blue Water Federal Credit Union.