'A Great Person'

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Wayne judge to receive coveted Tertzag Award

By Linda Laderman
Legal News

As a young lawyer, Edward Ewell Jr. dreamed of becoming a judge. Ewell realized that aspiration when he was appointed in 2003 by then Governor Jennifer Granholm to Wayne County’s Circuit Court.

Before he took his seat on the bench, Ewell worked in the private sector, then as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorneys’ Office, a job he held for eight years.

“I knew I wanted to make a difference,” Ewell said. “The law gave me that opportunity.”

During his 2012 re-election campaign, Ewell told a judicial forum he promised the former governor “he would be on time, treat everyone with dignity, and be fair.”  It is for Ewell’s commitment to those assurances that he was chosen to receive the Kaye Tertzag Purple Sport Coat Award at the sixth annual Tertzag Tribute Dinner, March 4 in Dearborn. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy is scheduled to deliver the keynote address.

“I am delighted to keynote this wonderful event honoring civility in the profession.  It is my privilege to participate with this year’s honoree, Judge Edward Ewell, in memory of my late colleague, Kaye Tertzag,” Worthy said.

Kara Tertzag Lividini, Kaye Tertzag’s daughter and a Detroit attorney, said the Tertzag Tribute Dinner celebrates the legacy of her father, a Wayne County Circuit Court judge. His colleagues describe his tenure on the bench as one focused on integrity, service, and civility. Lividini said Judge Ewell’s emulation of her father’s values made him “an easy choice” for the selection committee.

“Judge Ewell is widely respected among his peers, by civil and defense attorneys and prosecutors alike. He made an easy transition from the criminal side to the civil side of the court,” Lividini said.

Ewell made the move from the criminal division of the court, where he was the presiding judge, to the civil branch of the court in 2014. 

“He embodies the legacy my dad created. It is one where judges are humble, courteous, and demand respect without being difficult,” Lividini said.

Despite Lividini’s accolades, Ewell admits that the award caught him off guard.

“I was extremely surprised when I got the award. Judge Tertzag was a judge’s judge. When I came onto the bench we immediately became friends. He mentored me without me asking. He had a great reputation for being prepared and civil. I strive to be like that every day,” Ewell said. 

Ewell’s own reputation for civility and preparedness had grown by the time he was picked, in 2011, to receive the Ed Pokorny Pioneer of Justice Award at the Legal Aid and Defender Association’s inaugural “Laddys” pro bono service awards ceremony. Ewell was applauded for his work in “the creation and implementation” of the drug court located in Wayne County’s Circuit Court.

“I am very proud of that program because a lot of crime is caused not because people are necessarily bad, but because they have made a mistake and fallen into the trap of drugs,” Ewell said.

The drug court offers a second chance for defendants to work within the court system to help them overcome drug and alcohol addiction and to end the criminal behaviors related to addiction.

Regardless of the reason a person is in court, the 55 year-old jurist runs his courtroom based on the Golden Rule.

“I treat everyone the way I would like to be treated. Something is already wrong if a person is before the court. I try to be a calming influence and afford each person respect and dignity,” Ewell said.
The judge’s administrative assistant, Joanne Gaskin agrees.

“What you see is what you get,” Gaskin said. “He’s a great judge, just a great person. Our staff feels more like family than employees.”

When potential jurors are reluctant to serve, Ewell urges them to put aside their hesitance and think about how they would feel if they or their family had an issue that demanded a fair and impartial jury. On occasion, Ewell asks members of the African-American community to remember the struggles that preceded them.

“Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks fought for their right to be part of the jury selection procedure,” Ewell said. “We need to encourage people from our communities to be represented in the judicial process.
“This is the best of times and the worst of times as far as the state of the law is concerned,” Ewell said. “It is the best because we have so much technology, research and great legal minds in our profession. It is the worst because many people cannot afford good legal representation.”

Ewell advises those thinking about going to law school to go “only if they really want it; not just to make money.”

For now, Ewell is looking forward to remaining on the bench and contributing his experience to the Detroit community, where he grew up and still lives with his wife, attorney Florise Neville Ewell.

“I feel like I was born to do this,” the judge said. “I love people, debate, listening, and asking questions. I appreciate what a tough job lawyers have, especially when people expect instant justice.”

Like his mentor Kaye Tertzag, Ewell dedicates his time to several local organizations. He serves on the boards of the Henry Ford Health System, The Youth Connection, Wayne State University Law School, the Deacon Board of Corinthian Baptist Church, and the alumni board of Wayne State University.

 “My goal is to be like Kaye. He had a strong work ethic and was a very caring human being. I felt like I knew him much longer than I did. I feel very honored that the Tertzag committee would choose me. I have some big shoes to fill,” Ewell said.

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