Retirement beckons for a 'force' on bench

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(l) - In a photo from November 2010, Judge Patrick J. Duggan and his wife Joan were all smiles at his portrait presentation ceremony in the federal courthouse. (r) - At the 2010 ceremony, Judge Duggan’s sons, James and Robert, unveiled the judicial portrait of their father. Artist Michael Del Priore created the portrait.

Photos by John Meiu

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

As is customary when a federal judge takes senior status, a portrait of the jurist is commissioned for display in his or her courtroom.

In the case of U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan, his portrait found a home in a different courtroom, that belonging to one of his chief admirers on the federal bench, David Lawson.

“Pat was of a mind to have it put in storage until he retired, but it is such an excellent likeness of him, capturing his wit and his personality, that I asked him if it could be displayed in my courtroom,” said Judge Lawson, a federal colleague of Duggan’s for the past 15 years. “It has, indeed, been a great honor to have it displayed there.

“He is, after all, the genuine article, unassuming, self-effacing, and someone who shuns publicity even though he has handled more than his share of high-profile cases,” added Lawson. “He has been a very steady force on the bench since his appointment (in 1987).”

On Friday, September 25, Duggan brought his judicial career to an unofficial close at a retirement reception at the U.S. District Court in downtown Detroit. The event will serve as an opportunity for family, friends, and colleagues to pay tribute to the former Wayne County Circuit Court judge who ascended to a leadership role on the federal bench over the course of a distinguished 28-year career.

“In typical Judge Duggan fashion, he does not want anyone to make a big deal about his retirement celebration,” said Lauren Mandel, a former career law clerk to Judge Duggan and now a career law clerk to U.S. District Judge Linda Parker in Flint.

Despite his wishes, the court expected waves of well-wishers to turn out for the occasion, including such legal luminaries as U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn, a member of the federal bench since 1979.
“In his career on the bench, Pat has been the very model of a federal district judge,” said Cohn, who indicated that Duggan was a “go-to lawyer” on zoning law matters when in private practice. “He is respected by all of his colleagues and is known as the ‘bellwether judge’ when there is a critical vote facing the court as a whole. Generally it has been, ‘How is Pat going to vote?’ that carries the day.”
A 1955 graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, Duggan obtained his law degree, cum laude, from the University of Detroit in 1958. He practiced law in Livonia from 1959-76 with the firm of Brashear, Brashear, Mies and Duggan before accepting an appointment from then-Governor William Milliken to the Wayne County Circuit Court. He served 10 years on the Circuit Court bench, twice winning election.

Concurrent with his legal career, Duggan has carved out an impressive record of community service, serving as president of the Michigan Jaycees (1967-68), the Livonia Chamber of Commerce (1974), and the Livonia Bar Association (1975-76).

He also chaired the Livonia Family YMCA (1970-71) and was a member of the Board of Trustees of Madonna University from 1970-79. In addition, Duggan served on the board of the Northwestern Wayne County Guidance Clinic for six years and was an adjunct professor in the Madonna University Legal Assistant Program from 1975-92. He is a past president of the American Inn of Court at the UDM School of Law.

But above all else, Duggan personifies the term “special,” according to U.S. District Judge Sean Cox, who also practiced law in Livonia before accepting appointments to the Wayne County Circuit and federal benches.

“He has a very dry, wicked sense of humor,” Cox said of Duggan. “Pat is definitely one of the leaders of our bench. He is always there for any member of our bench who needs help. Pat is an incredibly hard working judge and is always well prepared.”

Along with admiration and respect for Duggan, Cox also shares a point of pride in their Irish heritage.

“Pat’s dad immigrated from Ireland and, of course, my parents did as well,” said Cox, a Detroit Catholic Central classmate of Duggan’s son, Mike, the 75th mayor of Detroit.  “We both have cousins in Ireland and we both have/had cousins who are priests in Ireland. In fact, Pat’s cousin is Father Patrick Duggan of Kilkenny.”

Miriam Siefer, chief federal defender with the Federal Defender Office in Detroit, praised Duggan for his fairness, calling him “one terrific judge.”

Said Siefer: “He was very even-handed. Whether you were the prosecutor or the defense attorney, you always left his courtroom knowing that you had a fair hearing. This was true regardless of the outcome of the judge’s ruling. Our staff will miss him very much.”

One of his former law clerks, Janet Allen, now a 46th Circuit Court judge in the northern Michigan counties of Otsego, Crawford and Kalkaska, said she is indebted to Duggan for his legal mentorship.
“He was a new judge (in Wayne County) when I clerked for him, and it became very clear that he was an intellectually gifted person, open and eager to learn,” said Allen, a University of Michigan graduate and a past president of the Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan. “He was very hard working and expected the same out of his staff. Although he was demanding, he always made work enjoyable and was a great mentor to me.”

He also taught Allen, whose grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland, the risk of making “assumptions” in life.

“Since he also was of Irish descent, I figured he must be a Democrat,” Allen related. “Of course, if I had done my homework back then and had discovered that he had been appointed to the bench by Governor Milliken, a Republican, I might have thought differently. He liked to tease me about that. It was a good lesson to learn.”

Retirement will afford Duggan the opportunity to spend more time with his wife, Joan, and their four sons and 13 grandchildren. His wife, whom he met while she was a nursing student at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, said the decision to retire was reached earlier this year.

“One day he came home and just said that he was going to retire,” said Mrs. Duggan, a former registered nurse who was a longtime executive assistant to Ed McNamara when he was mayor of Livonia.

The couple has been married for “58 wonderful years,” said Mrs. Duggan, and counts their family as a “daily blessing in our lives.” Their sons include Mike, Dan, Jim, Tim, and Robert, who died several years ago of a heart attack at age 46.

“Our family means the world to us and the joy they bring will help keep us young,” she said with a smile.