Distinguished Servant Chief Probate Court judge to retire on a 'high note'


 By Tom Kirvan

Legal News
Eugene A. Moore, chief judge of the Oakland County Probate Court, is an aficionado of Gilbert and Sullivan, the comedic opera team from the Victorian era. He might even say that he owes his marriage to them.
He was in law school at the University of Michigan when he decided to join the Gilbert and Sullivan Society at U-M, where his future wife, Mary, was an undergraduate student and a fellow member of the musical theater group.
“She had the wonderful voice and I was the one who stood in the chorus behind the trees,” he said with a chuckle.
Somewhat fittingly for a future jurist, one of the first shows that he appeared in was the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, “Trial by Jury,” an operatic spoof. It would not be a precursor of the judicial career for Chief Judge Moore.
He certainly has played pivotal roles in plenty of “trials by jury” during his distinguished 44-year career on the bench, which was preceded by six years in private practice with a small Pontiac law firm. What sets him apart, however, is the steady, compassionate, and almost unflappable approach to a job that is rife with heartbreak as he considers matters involving some of the most vulnerable members of society.
“Judge Moore has provided strong and wise leadership to the Oakland County Probate Court and the Sixth Circuit Court Family Division, particularly in juvenile law matters,” said Probate Court Judge Elizabeth Pezzetti, who preceded him as chief judge.
In June, the Oakland County Bar Association chimed in with its own form of praise, presenting Judge Moore with the Distinguished Public Servant award, an honor recognizing his “superior dedication to the OCBA, legal community, and the general public.” 
“For more than 40 years the Honorable Eugene Arthur Moore has displayed the qualities the public should expect from a probate/family law judge,” OCBA officials said. “He is thoughtful, compassionate, and deliberate. He was elected to the Oakland County Probate bench in 1966, and has served as the chief judge on three separate occasions including his most recent appointment, which he holds today.”
A native of Royal Oak, Judge Moore will leave office in December, retiring from the bench as part of the state-mandated age exit for jurists. It will be a bittersweet time for the 1957 U-M alum, who graduated from Cranbrook High School in 1953. It will mark for the first time that a “Judge Moore” has been missing from the Oakland County judiciary since 1938.
That was the year his father, Arthur E. Moore, became a probate judge, a position he held until 1963 when he joined the Oakland County Circuit Court for a stay that lasted 13 years.
“Longevity, at least as far as being a judge, runs in the family,” Chief Judge Moore said with a wry smile.
There is more than just staying power to the “like father, like son” comparison. As with his son, the elder Judge Moore was known for his work on behalf of juveniles. Oakland County, in fact, annually presents a “Champion of Children” award in memory of the late judge who was “instrumental in the development of many programs geared to the special needs of children and the prevention of delinquency.”
“My father’s work on the bench has had a tremendous influence on mine,” Judge Moore acknowledged. “He was the ultimate role model for me, not only as a judge but as a person.”
His father attended Ypsilanti Normal School, now Eastern Michigan University, graduating with a teaching degree. He taught physics and coached football following graduation, and school officials had even greater plans in store for him as he set sail on a career in education.
“They wanted him to be the principal, too,” his son said. “After that first year, he decided to go to law school instead.”
It would prove to be a wise move, ultimately influencing his son to follow a similar legal path. 
“A lot of my interest was sparked by listening to my dad and his sister in their debates about the law and education,” Judge Moore recalled. “My Aunt Eva was an English teacher in Royal Oak and she was very articulate and eloquent. She didn’t like small talk, but she loved to go back and forth with my dad about the topic of the day. He, of course, fancied himself as an expert on education, while she likewise considered herself an expert on the law. Any time they would get together it was like I was sitting in on a presidential debate. They really knew how to frame an argument.”
He put those homespun lessons to good use during law school at Michigan and in the early stages of his legal career, opting to run for a newly created seat on the Oakland County Probate Court in 1966. One of his challengers for the judgeship was Barry Grant, a highly regarded attorney whom he would defeat at the polls in what could be termed a Pyrrhic victory of sorts.
“I won a seat on the bench and thereby qualified for an annual salary of $27,000, while Barry lost and continued to make big bucks in private practice,” Judge Moore said, poking fun and his longtime friend and judicial colleague who retired from the Probate Court in 2008 after a 31-year career.
Since his first win at elective office, Judge Moore was re-elected six times, each race without formal opposition. Such a fact stands as a testimony to his stature in the county and state legal communities, where his name has become synonymous with work on behalf of child welfare causes. He is a past president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges as well as the Michigan Probate Judges Association, and has been honored repeatedly for his leadership efforts by groups that range from the Boys Club of America and the NAACP to Starr Commonwealth and Cranbrook Schools. Fittingly, he also was a recipient of the “Champion of Children” award named in honor of his father.
“One of the reasons I’ve stuck around so long is the privilege of working with so many wonderful and dedicated people on the court staff and in the legal community,” Judge Moore said. “I’m indebted to those who have devoted their careers to helping the youth of this community, particularly the volunteers who have been involved in the mentoring programs. They are among society’s unsung heroes. I contend that the most important thing in life is being an effective parent. For those who are lacking a parent or a parent role model, the next best thing in many respects is having a mentor who can offer guidance and support along life’s way.”
The father of two children, Judge Moore took an active role in the education of his two sons, Evan and Brewster, serving on the board at Cranbrook for more than 30 years, including eight as president. Evan graduated from U-M and earned his veterinary degree from Michigan State. He currently is a vet specializing in the care of horses. His brother, Brewster, also graduated from U-M and was awarded a law degree from Cornell University. He worked for the prosecutor offices in Wayne and Oakland counties before deciding to join the teaching ranks. He currently teaches sixth grade English at Cranbrook, where he also coaches soccer. In his spare time, he gives riding lessons.
The brothers inherited an interest in horses from their mother, a retired psychologist who grew up on a farm. Her husband, the jurist, admitted that he has come along for the ride. He regularly rises at 5 a.m. to feed the couple’s five horses, including two ponies that are fancied by their three granddaughters.
“I’m the foremost manure shoveler in the family,” he said with a smile. “I took riding lessons for a year. I then was told that I should take up golf.”