Charting a New Course Macomb Court Administrator ready to write next 'chapter'

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Keith Beasley pretty much blew any thoughts he had of becoming a doctor after a life-changing, unauthorized high school prank involving a paperclip and an electrical outlet.

"I shorted out electricity in the science lab, probably because I was bored," Beasley said. "It made a spark and knocked out the lights and the circuit breaker was blown, and the teacher was mad at me," he said.

The results of that unscientific experiment were predictable.

"I didn't do well in science after that," he said.

But for every door that closes, or every circuit that gets blown, another door opens and another light switch is flipped on. And in Beasley's case, that door led to college, and that light that went on in his head illuminated a path to law school.

Now, more than 30 years after that lesson in electric conductivity, Beasley is retiring as Macomb County Circuit Court Administrator. He's been with the county for 28 years, the final 18 years as the administrator.

So, in the end, it all turned out quite nicely for him.

"It's been a great job," Beasley said during a recent interview. "I've loved it because the judiciary is a position where you can feel a part of improving government and helping people. The judicial system is often about that, and I hope I've done my little part to making it a better system."

Beasley, 58, was born in Detroit and grew up on the east side until the family moved to Shelby Township when he was in high school. He graduated from Utica High School in 1970, and then started his college career at Wayne State University.

But he still did not know what career he wanted to pursue, so Beasley said he took a year off from college to clear his head and formulate a plan for his future while working at a carpet warehouse, driving trucks and becoming a manager there.

He decided law was for him, mainly because his mother told Beasley that he argued with her so much that maybe becoming an attorney would be right up his rebellious alley.

Beasley returned to WSU with a renewed vigor, and graduated from its Montieth College, an honors program, in 1975 with a bachelor of philosophy degree.

"Because it was a liberal arts college, they let you do what you wanted to do to explore where you were going," he said.

A liberal arts background closed the door for good on any lingering thoughts he had about attending medical school, but he always harbored a desire to be a professional and also believed being an attorney would be a great opportunity.

"I had no idea what lawyers did," Beasley said.

No one in his family had practiced law, and no friends had entered that field either. But he entered Detroit College of Law and excelled.

"It turned out I really had a knack for it," he said.

He landed on the school's law review, in its moot court program, represented the college in a labor law competition in New York, and graduated second in his class in 1979.

Beasley then worked for the Michigan Court of Appeals in Lansing as a research attorney for one year, and another year for then-Chief Judge Robert Danhof. Court policy dictated that one could only work for the court for two years, so Beasley came to Mount Clemens and joined the law firm of Freeman and McKenzie.

But before leaving Lansing, Beasley married Mary Fowlie, in 1981. The two met through a mutual friend while Beasley was working at the Court of Appeals, and his future wife was working with the Michigan Legislative Bureau. Beasley said he was ice skating with the friend from law school who worked with Fowlie.

Fowlie told her friend that she'd like to meet Beasley, and the friend told her to forget it because he was too shy, and she planned to fix him up with someone more suited to his personality, perhaps a librarian.

"But we got together anyway, and we hit it off well," Beasley said.

The couple have a daughter, Kaytie, 27, an attorney at IBM who is getting married this summer, and a son, Mark, 25, a web designer in Chicago.

Fowlie was a bank attorney but is now consulting and volunteering.

While at Freeman and McKenzie, Beasley acted as the assistant city attorney for Mount Clemens, prosecuting misdemeanors. In 1982, after about 18 months with the firm, Beasley received an offer from the Chief Judge of the Macomb County Circuit Court he couldn't refuse - as chief research attorney for the court.

The research division was very small at the time, with only Beasley and two part-time law students manning the office. But over the next 10 years, Beasley built the office into a staff of seven full time attorneys and a general counsel.

Armed with that knowledge of the circuit court, Beasley applied for the position of Court Administrator when Sam Crimando, the court's first and only administrator from the 1960s, retired. Beasley became Macomb County's second circuit court administrator.

He said he felt well prepared for the job because of his previous 10 years with the court and the advancements he made to the research office.

"That gave me an opportunity to learn about it from the inside out," he said.

Beasley also picked up a thing or two when the court was sued in Federal Court and he represented Macomb County so it did not have to hire outside law firms.

"That was a big help to a small county," he said.

Back then, it was not a requirement for the Court Administrator to be an attorney. Only recently has Macomb County required the position be filled with some who is either an attorney, or someone with a master's degree, with five years of experience in business or government.

Beasley believes it is helpful to be an attorney "because everything we do impacts legal rights of people, or we have to determine if we're following laws, legislature and court rules."

During his tenure, Beasley has led the court to new heights and overseen a number of new programs and achievements. One of his most gratifying was helping institute the drug court.

"It's a great program," he said. "It's rare for the justice system to have something that we can intervene in and we're making lives better and are able to see the change."

Beasley was also involved with improving the time between when cases were bound over to circuit court from district court. In the past, there was a delay of up to six weeks. Now, those cases are processed within two weeks.

He also oversaw integrating juvenile matters from Probate Court into the Court's Family Division, updating the computer system, and the on-going nearly-completed phase of going paperless for court records, all during a growth spurt of Macomb County. When Beasley started, eight judges handled about 10,000 cases each year. Now, 13 judges handle 24,000 cases, although the juvenile caseload addition has been a large part of that.

"The Court has become much more professional and sophisticated than it was in the 1980s," Beasley said.

The growth has been reflected not only in population of Macomb County, but in the crimes committed and civil filings, which have become more complex.

"As the area has become more urbanized, the crimes have also become more difficult for the courts," he said. "Drug cases in particular have been a growing part of the caseload."

And Beasley said drugs are the underlying factor in many other cases. That all equals an additional growth to the role of Court Administrator, Beasley said. Fewer judges translates into fewer programs to manage. But with larger caseloads, Beasley has helped develop alternative dispute resolution, which keeps court dockets flowing and sends fewer cases to trial.

Usually one party will not be pleased with a judge or jury's decision, and that case could likely be appealed.

"And with (dispute resolution), we achieve better results for the people, because they have agreed to it," he said. "They understand what they're getting, and of course, there's no appeal."

Beasley said retiring now makes sense, both financially, because of the county's pension plan, and personally. He said he did not initially intend on staying in this spot for so long, and had planned on returning to private practice.

He even returned to college and received a master's degree in the early 1990s in finance law to maintain his marketability. And for one summer, Beasley taught a tax class at college, but found it to very difficult.

"I didn't have the gift of gab, and it really helps to have that if you're going to teach," he said.

And he described himself as being really shy, which explains why he was not attracted to litigation.

He looks forward to retirement as "a chance for a do-over. I can do what I want to do."

What he plans to do is finish writing a science fiction book with outer space adventures.

"I have a few chapters done" Beasley said. "It's probably not that good, but it's a start. Writing is my best talent."

Beasley also plans to fix up properties and considers himself a do-it-yourself kind of guy. He and his wife owns five properties in Michigan and Florida. And he will play the piano more, at least in the winter.

"I've always found it a wonderful relaxation," he said.

He said he may even become a beekeeper.

"Beasley is old English for 'He who lives in a meadow and keeps bees,' so that would be absolutely perfect for me."

One thing he is doing right now to prepare for retirement is letting his hair grow.

"I've become a little rebellious, and I've been threatening to become a surfer dude," he joked.

Many people credit Beasley for doing his job professionally and low-key but quietly effective.

"He has helped modernize the administration of the Court," said Macomb County Judge Antonio Viviano. "He's always been on the scene, keeping track of all the various areas, and making sure we all knew what was going on."

"I give him a lot of credit for what the court has accomplished. He's worked hard and he's earned the rest," Judge Viviano said.

Macomb County Chief Judge Mark Switalski said Beasley has been "an excellent Court Administrator" who employed a style that has allowed him to work effectively with a number of chief judges over the years.

"He's been here with the day-to-day things while still planning for the future, and we're going to miss him. He's very talented, but he won't brag on it," Chief Judge Switalski said.

Photo by Paul Janczewski

Keith Beasley, longtime administrator of the Macomb County Circuit Court, was honored at a special retirement reception May 27 in Mount Clemens.

Published: Tue, Jun 1, 2010

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