Paying Tribute: Purple Sport Coat honoree finds humor in all things reverential

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Sporting a purple shirt and matching tie, 20th District Court Judge Mark Plawecki was in his characteristic good humor last Thursday for the 11th annual Tertzag Tribute Dinner in Dearborn.

It was entirely fitting, of course, that Plawecki donned such a color as this year’s recipient of the Purple Sport Coat Award, an honor named in memory of Kaye Tertzag, a Wayne County Circuit Court judge who died of cancer in February 2009. The late jurist was known to make a fashion statement inside and outside the courtroom, hence the name of the annual dinner in his honor, according to his daughter, attorney Kara Tertzag Lividini.

Plawecki, chief judge of 20th District Court in Dearborn Heights, was a longtime admirer of Judge Tertzag.

“We first of all are honoring Judge Kaye Tertzag, who was loved and respected by virtually all who knew him,” Plawecki told a sold out audience at the February 27 event. “I once asked Kaye about his three P’s – be prompt, prepared, and polite – and said, ‘Why keep it so basic? Why not be profound, prolific, and precedential?’ He smiled and replied, ‘I needed to keep it simple, so that Jim Allen and the attorneys from Bishop Borgess would be able to follow along.’”

The light-hearted story was one of many shared by Plawecki, who couldn’t resist the opportunity to poke fun at one of his legal brethren, Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Michael Riordan.

“I’d like to thank the committee who voted me this award,” Plawecki said in his acceptance speech. “If I’m wrong here, Judge Riordan will correct me, because that’s basically what he’s been doing since he was in the second grade and I was in the first. He started acting like an appellate judge very early in life, with me at least.”

The honoree, who was first elected to the district bench in 1994, said he has long believed in the time-tested saying, “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” particularly when it came to his parents.

“All of us begin our lives by imitating those closest to us, in my case, my parents and siblings,” Plawecki remarked. “My late mom and dad were both children of Polish immigrants who sacrificed much so that their four surviving children could each receive a good education – which in my parents’ view meant a Catholic one.

“And incidentally, I am the only Plawecki of my generation, including first cousins, and of the following generation . . . to have set foot in a public elementary or secondary institution as a student. I only went for 10 years to Catholic schools. I like to think the experience of attending a public school broadened my overall perspective; my father thought it merely made me defective.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State, Plawecki attended Cooley Law School, where he “encountered two outstanding professors.”

Said Plawecki: “For Criminal Procedure, I had Phil Prygoski, a constitutional law scholar of the first rank, who was named the best teacher by Cooley graduating classes an incredible 35 times and twice more while on one year sabbaticals at the University of Tennessee and University of Wisconsin Law Schools.

“And for research and writing, my instructor was Joe Kimble, merely perhaps the world’s leading authority on plain English in the law.”

And plain talk is a specialty of Plawecki’s, who did indeed save the best for last in his acceptance speech.

“My last and greatest role model was my wife Julie, who taught at Catholic schools for 13 years, although she never attended them as a child, who was then easily elected to the legislature in 2014, in her first try for office,” Plawecki said of his late wife, who died of a heart defect in 2016 at age 54.

“Judge Riordan accurately labeled her at the time ‘the best of the Plaweckis.’ She left us too soon, but also left me with three wonderful daughters, who are here tonight and who nursed me back to health last year,” Plawecki added. “There’s my oldest, Rachel, and then there are the two who DIDN’T go to Yale. One (Lauren) became, at 22, the youngest female legislator in the history of this state; the other (Monica) gets embarrassed when I tell people she was salutatorian at Dearborn Divine Child High School. I would mention their names, but why let two more University of Michigan graduates get even bigger heads?”

 

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