Toast of the Town Retirement in store for County Circuit Court judge

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

On the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 10 at The Reserve restaurant in Birmingham, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Jack McDonald will be the toast of the town.

At least that is his hope.

The occasion will be a farewell party for Judge McDonald as he prepares to retire from the Circuit Court bench after 17 years of service.

"I expect that it will be part 'toast' and part 'roast,'" Judge McDonald said with a smile of the retirement party, which figures to be punctuated with plenty of laughs from his friends and admirers. "They haven't told me too much about their plans for the evening, which is probably good, otherwise I might not show up."

He will be there, of course, armed with his own homespun quips and treasured memories collected from a career in public service. It will be a time filled with mixed emotions.

"I have met and worked with so many wonderful people over the years, that it will be hard to say goodbye," Judge McDonald said of his impending retirement. "The party will be a nice opportunity to say how much they have meant to me over the years. I will certainly miss the daily contact with the attorneys and court personnel."

A native of Pennsylvania, McDonald got his first taste of public service in 1974 as a member of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners. His election win that year would be repeated six times before he accepted an appointment to the Oakland Circuit Court bench in 1993 by then Governor John Engler. He subsequently was elected to a pair of six-year terms on the Circuit Court.

A star football player in high school, McDonald took his gridiron talents to the University of Detroit in 1957, receiving a partial athletic scholarship. He earned a bachelor's degree in history from U of D and landed a teaching job at Western High School following college graduation. He later was awarded a master's degree from Wayne State before embarking on his legal studies during night classes at Detroit College of Law. His first job in the law was as an assistant prosecutor in Oakland County, a post that paid $12,500 a year in 1970.

As his departure date approaches later this month, Judge McDonald is in a reflective mood.

"It's been a career spiced with variety," he said. "Working in the public sector, in private practice, and now on the bench has given me an opportunity to see the legal challenges from all angles. And then when you blend in my years on the Oakland County Board, I think I bring a perspective to this job that attorneys who appear before me appreciate. They know that I have just about seen it all from a legal point of view."

Initially, he spent three years in the Family Division of the Circuit Court, an assignment he volunteered for and reunited him with then Chief Judge Edward Sosnick, a former colleague in the Oakland Prosecutor's Office. For the past 14 years, Judge McDonald has been assigned to the General Jurisdiction Division.

"The one aspect about being a judge that I didn't expect is the fact that you are a lot more isolated than you would think," he said. "Because of our schedules, there really isn't much opportunity to interact with your colleagues on the bench. Everyone has a docket to keep up with, jury trials to preside over, and motions to consider. It can be a lonesome existence at times, especially when you have one case that consumes you."

When he leaves the bench in late November, Judge McDonald will look forward to some down time.

"I'm going to take two months off to reflect on what I want to do next in my life," he said of his immediate plans. "I'm really not sure what path I will take, but I know that I won't be idle for long.'

His beloved wife, Sharon, and his three children, Michael, Julie, and P.J., will make sure of that. In fact, just days before his retirement bash, Judge McDonald was headed out east to watch daughter Julie compete in the annual New York Marathon, a 26.2-mile endurance test around the Big Apple's five boroughs.

"In retirement, I hope now to have more time for trips like this," he said with a smile.

Published: Mon, Nov 8, 2010