'25' and out: Longtime county judge now mapping retirement plans

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Photo 1: Colleagues past and present were on hand for Judge Rudy Nichols’s retirement celebration on June 30. Pictured (l-r): Retired Judge Jack McDonald, Judges Michael Warren, Lisa Gorcyca, Cheryl Matthews, Denise Langford-Morris, Nichols, Colleen O’Brien, Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, Judges James Alexander, Phyllis McMillen, Wendy Potts, Shalina Kumar, and Retired Judge Edward Sosnick.

Photo 2: Judge Rudy Nichols and his wife, Gail, whom he met while a student at MSU.

Photo 3: Joining Judge Nichols and his wife for the retirement party were (left) former Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca and Oakland County Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca.

Photos by John Meiu

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

For Judge Rudy Nichols, 2015 figured to be a milestone year in his career as an Oakland County Circuit Court jurist.

It was to be framed in the context of 25 years on the Circuit Court bench, a silver anniversary sort of celebration that took on a different light when retirement suddenly beckoned in late June.
Nichols, a former state legislator, said he decided to accelerate his retirement plans in an effort to live closer to his children and grandchildren.

“Our daughter (Jodie) and our son (Jason) both live in the south, and my wife (Gail) and I want to reside closer to our children and five grandsons in retirement,” Judge Nichols explained. “Our family means the world to us, and the opportunity to live so much closer to our children and their families was vitally important to us. I figured that the move probably wouldn’t happen until the end of the year, but when our house sold in June, everything lined up to retire by July 1st.”

Friends and colleagues said a fond farewell to Nichols at a retirement reception June 30 at the Birmingham Athletic Club. Retired Judge Jack McDonald, of the Oakland Circuit Court, was among the well-wishers on hand for the occasion.

“Rudy is a great guy and was a very well-respected judge,” said McDonald, who retired from the Circuit Court in November 2010 and now serves as a mediator. “He has been a wonderful friend and someone I will certainly miss when he moves away. He is just a rock-solid person.”

For Nichols, the event served as a “wonderful opportunity for me to express my gratitude to all those who have been so good and so supportive of me during my career” on the Circuit Court bench.

“I am especially grateful to Judges Wendy Potts and Colleen O’Brien for organizing the reception, bringing together so many wonderful people from the Circuit Court and the county,” said Nichols, who was re-elected to a six-year term in office last November.

A 1963 graduate of Flint Northern High School, Nichols earned his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State, majoring in history with minors in economics and physical education. He served as a teacher for two years before enrolling in the former Detroit College of Law in 1970.

During his time at DCL, now Michigan State University College of Law, Nichols clerked for Oakland County judges Robert Anderson and Ken Hempstead.

“I really got an inkling about being a judge while clerking for them,” said Nichols, noting that he coincidentally worked out of the chambers that the late Judge Anderson once occupied. “The challenge of the job and my desire to be involved in public service really made a judgeship appealing to me.”

After graduating from DCL in 1974, Nichols landed his first job in private practice with a Waterford firm, spending three years there handling personal injury and divorce cases. He then was appointed deputy city attorney in Pontiac, a post he held for five years.

In 1980, he was a finalist for a district court opening in Waterford, but when the appointment went to someone else, Nichols set his public service sights elsewhere. He was elected state representative in his home district of Waterford in 1981, defeating the son of a township supervisor by a 49-46 margin. A year later, he decided to run for a state senate seat that had become vacant following a recall election, receiving the nod from voters again. The state senator was re-elected to a final four-year term in 1986, eventually becoming chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.

Nichols, who was a standout swimmer in high school, continued his success at the polls in 1990 when he was elected to the Circuit Court bench, setting the stage for a distinguished 25-year career in which he was widely admired for his breadth of knowledge along with his dedication and determination.

“I have loved this job for years and feel that I could go on for another five years, but at age 70, the time is right for me to retire,” said Nichols, who has a brother, Kirt, and a twin sister, Trudy. “I have been blessed with a terrific staff and a great group of judicial colleagues.”

Until Governor Rick Snyder appoints a judicial replacement for Nichols, retired District Court Judge Dennis Drury of Troy will handle his Circuit Court docket.

‘“I’m sure that there will be a lot of interest in the opening on the bench,” Nichols said of the appointment process. “I expect there will be at least two-dozen applicants.”

In the meantime, Nichols and his wife Gail are busy preparing for their move to a retirement community in Fort Mill, S.C. The town is a short hop from Charlotte, N.C.

“Our son and his family live in Birmingham, Alabama, which is a six-hour drive away, while our daughter and her family reside in Fayetteville, North Carolina, which is a couple hours drive from Fort Mill,” Nichols said. “We have shortened the drive to see both families considerably, and we are excited about living in a warmer climate year-round, especially after the last couple of winters here.”

The move also will afford Nichols the time to enjoy such leisure time pursuits as golf, travel, and his Harley, which he did indeed drive to work several times before calling it a career.

“I expect now that I have more time, the lure of the open road will be even more attractive,” Nichols said with a smile.
 

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