Judge receives Lifetime Judicial Achievement Award from ABOTA

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By Cynthia Price
Legal News

It is difficult to talk about Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Jane Beckering, the 2018 recipient of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) Michigan Chapter’s Lifetime Judicial Achievement Award, without referencing her family history of outstanding trial attorneys.

“After law school I worked in Chicago at McDermott, Will and Emery, and rotated through three different departments. When that ended, I knew for certain I wanted to be a trial lawyer,” Beckering says

“My father and my grandfather were both in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. Only 500 lawyers in the entire world are chosen to be in the International Academy.

“I remember my dad telling me about my grandfather watching John F. Kennedy speak and saying, ‘Wow, he’s amazing. He could have been a trial lawyer!’ And he was the president,” Beckering says, laughing. “That was the way they thought about it. They really thought trial law was the ultimate keeper of peace in a civil society,” she adds.

Beckering has made the importance of the right to a jury trial in civil cases a cornerstone of her own philosophy. “It’s incredibly important that we protect and preserve our right to the jury trial,” she says. “There are these painful life stories you see in medical malpractice. Things happen in life, and the civil jury system is there to help determine who needs to bear the burden of responsibility.”

In the program for awarding Beckering, ABOTA acknowledges that it was given “in recognition of...your respect for the right to trial by jury...” among other factors.

As local Gruel Mills Nims and Pylman attorney Tom Behm, who is on the executive committee of ABOTA and presented Beckering with her award, says, “This is an award that ABOTA gives out to one of the state or federal Michigan judges who we think exemplifies the character and the integrity of a judge, and who really has dedicated their lives to service of others. I think the thing that stood out about Judge Beckering is her dedication to impartiality, her fairness; the quality of her legal opinions and analysis; and her collegiality and willingness to give back to the community.

“She’s done so much,” he added.

In addition to her heritage, Beckering is surrounded by trial lawyers. Her brother Robert “Rob” Buchanan is with Buchanan & Buchanan. Beckering co-founded the firm, formerly Buchanan & Beckering, with father John (or Jack), and it was there she practiced for many of her 17 years in trial advocacy. The name changed when Beckering was appointed to the Court of Appeals bench in 2007; Rob Buchanan was previously with Warner Norcross + Judd.

Rob Buchanan has also given a great deal of time to service of the profession and is now in succession to be the president of the State Bar of Michigan, culminating in 2020-2021.

Beckering notes that her brother runs the firm while her father, in practice for 44 years, devotes much of his time to the International Society of Primerus Law Firms, which screens and assesses members globally to provide a reference service.

And Beckering is also married to an attorney, Ray Beckering. When the couple was living in Chicago, after Jane Beckering graduated cum laude from the University of Wisconsin, they wanted to raise a family and carefully considered their options. They returned to Michigan and Ray Beckering worked at the Kent County Public Defender's office and for Willey & Chamberlain.

“Then in 2001, he went over to the U.S. Attorney’s office, where he works in health care fraud,” Jane Beckering says. He has been the Western District of Michigan office’s criminal health care fraud coordinator since 2006.

Of the Beckerings’ three children, only the youngest, Ray IV, is thinking about a career in the law — after completing his degree in kinesiology. Their oldest daughter, Marlee, works as recruiting director at the Seneca Family of Agencies in Oakland, Calif., and younger daughter Katie is a senior studying biopsychology, which is an approach to the study of the human brain.

The success of Judge Beckering’s pre-Court of Appeals career was impressive.

“From 1992 until 2007, I had done commercial litigation broadly — product liability defense, wrongful death, a lot of things — but then began to specialize in medical malpractice plaintiffs work. You really have to be on one side or the other when you decide to do that; your clientele won’t allow you to go back and forth,” Beckering says. “I loved it.”

Before her drive for service to the community resulted in her appointment to the Court of Appeals, Beckering was honored multiple times in her field. She was listed in “The Best Lawyers in America,” and was named one of the Top 100 Lawyers as well as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in the state by “Michigan Super Lawyers.” An important verdict she won in a case concerning thyroidectomy surgery was covered in detail by “Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly.”

“I had to prove to a jury that they can judge the conduct of a doctor even though he’s well-liked and has two experts who vouch for him,” she says. “Everyone thought I was going to lose, and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. But the poor woman had to do the equivalent of breathing through a straw for the rest of her life because her laryngeal nerves were paralyzed and her airway was restricted, and it was due to his mistakes, and I got her an award of $1.6 million.”

Among many other activities, and all while being a dedicated runner and doing a strenuous workout every day at 5:30 a.m., Beckering has served on the steering committee of the Hillman Advocacy Program, been active in the Michigan Supreme Court Committee on Model Civil Jury Instruction, and co-edits “Michigan Civil Procedure.”

Perhaps most important to Beckering herself, she is a firm believer in non-partisanship and impartial decision-making in the judiciary, which she has tried to adhere to during her tenure on the Court of Appeals. About her unsuccessful bid for the Michigan Supreme Court in 2006, she says, “One of the reasons I ran is there was a lot of media attention about there being a focus on the partisan nomination process, with sort of a ‘you must dance with he who brung you’ mentality. But that does not belong in the courts. No matter what we believe, we have to rule based on what the law is.”

Beckering joins a prestigious list of judges who have received the lifetime award from ABOTA, an organization that boasts equal membership by plaintiff’s and defense attorneys.

“I was deeply honored to receive the award,” Beckering says, “and I’m very humbled to be in the company of other extremely worthy prior recipients.”
 

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