Special occasion: Investiture was a defining moment for appellate judge

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Judge Sima Patel in a keepsake photo with her brother Shyam and parents Vibha and Girish. 
 
Photo courtesy of Judge Sima Patel

 

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

It seems only fitting that the June 6 investiture ceremony for Judge Sima Patel was held at the Detroit Institute of Arts, a cultural jewel that will always conjure fond memories for the recent appointee to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

“The DIA holds a special place in my heart,” said Judge Patel, a longtime resident of nearby Royal Oak. “I have spent many weekends there, enjoying the exhibits and listening to music, activities that continue to enrich me. It is such a treasure to have a world-class art institute for the community to enjoy.”

Her investiture, four months after the 43-year-old Patel was appointed to the state appellate court, featured a familial theme while also including two of the most prominent members of the state judiciary.

Bridget McCormack, chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, administered the oath of office to Patel, while Chief Judge Elizabeth Gleicher of the state Court of Appeals delivered opening and closing remarks. 

The honoree’s father, Girish Patel, gave the invocation, offering a traditional Hindu Ganesh prayer that helped signify the importance of her becoming the first woman of South Asian descent to serve on the Michigan appellate court.

During the administration of oath, Judge Patel’s mother, Vibha, held a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the holy scriptures of Hinduism. The copy has been passed down by Patel’s grandparents.

Her sisters – Dr. Swati Patel and Dr. Sangeeta Patel along with her brother Dr. Shyam Patel – also took part in the ceremony, presenting her robe and gavel.

 “I come from a family of doctors and engineers, so I broke ground when I became a lawyer,” said Patel, the oldest of four children of Indian immigrants. “My family has been incredibly supportive of my dreams to become a lawyer and now a judge. I couldn’t have done it without their belief in me.”

A native of Colorado, Patel earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she initially planned to pursue a degree in engineering. But then a heavy diet of advanced math courses got in the way, she acknowledged with a smile. 

“Math and I didn’t actually hit it off,” said Patel, who then opted for a pre-law curriculum after a college counselor advised her to take a test to gauge her academic strengths.

Upon her college graduation, Patel decided to enroll at Cooley Law School in Lansing, excelling as a student there, quickly landing a job as a clerk for then Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver.

She spent three years in the clerkship role, “learning how the appellate sausage was made” before moving back to Colorado.

“My move coincided with the Great Recession, which made it doubly tough to find a job,” Patel indicated. 

But Diane Hathaway’s surprising win over Chief Justice Cliff Taylor in the November 2008 Supreme Court race paved the way for Patel to return to Michigan as a clerk for the incoming justice. She worked in that capacity until the spring of 2011 when she was hired as an appellate attorney for Fieger Law in Southfield.

“I worked at Fieger Law from 2011 to early 2022, handling hundreds of appellate cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, the state Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. It was a fascinating and rewarding experience to write briefs and argue cases before such courts, and to have developed a niche appellate practice in the areas of personal injury and civil rights litigation.”

Despite the success she enjoyed as an appellate lawyer, Patel said she began to reassess her career trajectory during the pandemic. 

“I think that all of us, to a certain degree, began to look at life differently because of how isolated we were during the pandemic,” Patel said. “The thought of becoming a member of the judiciary certainly entered my mind and when the opening on the Court of Appeals happened (following the death of Judge Jonathan Tukel), I decided to apply for it.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Patel’s appointment to the court on February 3, lauding her for bringing an “essential perspective and impressive record of experience to the bench.”

Patel, in turn, offered a tip of the hat to the Governor.

“How the law is interpreted has a profound impact on every Michigander’s life and is a weighty responsibility,” Patel said upon her appointment. “I am humbled and honored that 

Governor Whitmer has entrusted me with this work, and I look forward to serving the people of Michigan.”

Patel said that while the “learning curve has been steep” as a new member of the Court of Appeals bench, she has found that the challenge has only deepened her “profound respect for my colleagues and the roles we are assigned” as members of the state judiciary.

“We are by nature a deliberative body with different voices in the room, sharing our opinions in a collegial manner,” Patel observed. “When there is disagreement, we disagree respectfully, keeping in mind the higher purpose of faithfully serving the citizens of this state.”

Patel is running for the 4-year remainder of Judge Tukel’s term in the November election, and will square off against Oakland County Circuit Judge Michael Warren in the race for the District 2 seat on the appellate court. District 2 encompasses the counties of Oakland, Macomb, and Genesee. 

“Running a campaign while serving on the court is a challenge – two jobs in one,” said Patel. “But anything in life that is worth obtaining requires all the energy it deserves, which is how I’m approaching the campaign ahead.”


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