Purple reign Hundreds pay tribute to late Judge Kaye 'Chach' Tertzag

By John Minnis

Legal News

Nary a dry eye could be found at the inaugural Kaye Tertzag Tribute Dinner held Thursday night, Feb. 25, at the Park Place Banquet Hall in Dearborn.

The tears were happy ones as those attending celebrated the life of their friend, mentor, husband, father and grandfather § Kaye "Chach" Tertzag, the popular retired Wayne County Circuit judge who died Feb. 4, 2009, at the age of 70, after a short battle with bile-duct cancer.

The annual Tertzag Tribute Dinner was the idea of Tertzag friend and colleague Michael Butler, a Southfield attorney and blogger.

"Today we honor Kaye Tertzag § 'Chach' to many of you § and the qualities he represented," Butler told the crowd of 225 there to pay homage. "'Be well' was his sign off. We'd like to make this the first of a tradition, especially during these tough times when traditions are falling away."

Also part of the Tertzag Tribute Dinner tradition was the Purple Sport Coat Award, another idea of Butler's in recognition of Tertzag's hallmark colorful jackets.

"When I first met Judge Tertzag," Butler said, "he always had a robe on. Then I saw him with this purple concoction he wore. It was one of his more subtle colors. I never had the nerve to ask him if he had matching shirt and pants."

The original purple sport coat, an Armani, was left to son Kraig "Love" Tertzag, who could not attend the tribute dinner. The recipient of the purple sport coat replica was retired Wayne County Circuit Judge James Rashid.

"Judge Jim Rashid served with Kaye on the Wayne County Circuit bench and then, like Tertzag, as a facilitator," Butler said.

The evening was kicked off on a nostalgic note by premier Frank Sinatra tribute artist Kevin Sands, who recently returned from Las Vegas to his (and Tertzag's) hometown of Allen Park. Tertzag was a Sinatra fan and his favorite song was "My Way," which Sands dedicated to the late judge.

Speaking of Tertzag's heritage, Sands quipped, "As an Armenian boy, you learn to shave your ears at an early age." He then went on to tell a "little, old Armenian lady" joke he had heard some 50 years ago.

"It is a tribute to see so many from all walks of life," Butler addressed the crowd. "Plaintiff and defense attorneys sitting down with one another. We could sure use someone like Kaye in Lansing or Washington right now."

Butler thanked the Tertzag Tribute Dinner committee, consisting of family friends and colleagues: wife, Kathy Tertzag; daughter, Kara Tertzag Lividini; son, Kyle; Wayne County Circuit Judges David Allen and Gregory Bill; Butler; Robert Cassar; Anthony Guerriero; Lance E. Mermel and Norm Tucker, who was the keynote speaker.

"Anytime we needed anything," Butler said of the outpouring of support the committee received in planning the tribute, "people would say 'anything for Chach.' The focus of this evening is friendship. That is really why we are here tonight."

In comparing the evening to an Olympic event, Butler said it would be the "short program, with points awarded for brevity."

However, the list of dignitaries attending was anything but brief, including some 16 or more current and retired judges, not counting state and municipal officials.

Keynoter Tucker, of Sommers Schwarz, was impressed with the gathering and the Purple Sport Coat Award concept.

"This is probably a unique award for Michigan," he said, "a spontaneous award not sponsored by a big organization or a newspaper."

Tucker then gave a brief biography of Tertzag.

"Chach" graduated from Southwestern High School before earning a Bachelor of Science degree in education in 1961 at Wayne State University, where he was active in basketball and track. He worked his way through college at Ford Motor Co. as a janitor, a humble position he never forgot.

He taught for 10 years at River Rouge High School and attended night school at the Detroit College of Law, where he earned his juris doctor degree in 1969. He opened his first law office at Vernor and Springwells in Detroit, still teaching during the day and practicing law at night.

Tertzag later moved his office to Allen Park, where all of his children attended the public schools. He was city attorney for River Rouge and Melvindale, was active in the Democratic Party and served on the Wayne County Charter Commission and the Wayne County Community College Board of Trustees before being appointed by then Gov. James Blanchard to the Wayne County Circuit Court bench.

"I heard and read a lot of stories about Kaye," Tucker said. "I think I see what made him special. He savored and cared for everything he loved in life."

Tertzag was known for thank-you notes he wrote to attorneys for appearing in his court.

"I Googled Kaye Tertzag," Tucker said. "What came up were attorneys' Web sites quoting letters from Kaye."

He said the color purple was appropriate for the annual Tertzag award because it was the color awarded to those killed or injured while serving their country. The color purple also appears on the Mardi Gras flag and stands, appropriately enough, for "justice."

Tertzag's motto was "Be Prompt. Be Prepared. Be Polite." The Purple Sport Coat Award is given to someone who exemplifies Tertzag's three "P's."

"I can think of no one better to receive the first Purple Sport Coat Award," Tucker said of recipient Rashid.

"I was very concerned about my emotional stability tonight," Rashid said, his voice cracking after donning the purple jacket. "I have been blessed in my career but never has any award touched my heart like this one. That you could even suggest that I could ever rise to his level."

He described Tertzag as a trusted friend, mentor, colleague and someone who "set me straight" on occasion.

"Kaye loved our profession and the people in it," Rashid said. "This is a great tribute to him. (But) I believe he would want it to be more than that. The great camaraderie, food and drinks are fine, but ... in the next day or so stop and reflect. Think of the man and the qualities he exhibited. And to quote a very famous person, 'Be well.'"

Speaking on behalf of the family, Tertzag's daughter, Kara, thanked the Tribute Dinner committee for its "tireless efforts."

"I had to fight off people who wanted to be on the committee," she said. "You learn who your friends are and who loves you when you go through tough times. I've seen so many people step up and support us. I hope we see each other next year."

She then offered a Sambuca toast to "Chach," a tradition she started at her father's memorial service.

"Dad is with us tonight in many ways," she said.

Published: Mon, Mar 1, 2010