Hon. Hilda Gage, remembered as trailblazer, leader in legal profession

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

Judge Hilda R. Gage, who served on both the Michigan Court of Appeals and Oakland County Circuit Court, is remembered "for her courage and her legal scholarship, both of which she had in large measure," said Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly. "On behalf of the Michigan Supreme Court, I extend my deepest sympathies to Judge Gage's daughter Julie Gage Palmer, to Judge Gage's grandchildren, to her brother Harvey Rosenberg, and to all her family and friends."

Court of Appeals Chief Judge William B. Murphy said that Gage will be remembered as a trailblazer. "She was a leader in the legal profession at a time when the law was very much dominated by men," said Murphy. "She was a great judge and a great lady. The Court of Appeals is in mourning for one of its most distinguished members."

Gage, who died on September 13 at age 71, stepped down from the Michigan Court of Appeals in 2006, citing health problems. She suffered from multiple sclerosis.

Gage earned a bachelor's degree with distinction from Michigan in 1960, majoring in constitutional history. Two years later, she was awarded a master's in elementary education and history from U-M, also with distinction. Her former husband, Noel, was in law school at the time and "I loved helping him brief cases," she said, setting the stage for her own law studies at Wayne State some six years later.

"I decided to go to Wayne State because they had a night school and I had two children at the time," Judge Gage explained in the 2007 interview. "I did well there and stayed on to teach legal research for a couple of years."

She then became part of a "rainbow law firm" in Detroit, joining legal forces with Ed Bell, Sam Gardner, and John McSorley, serving such clients as Detroit Edison and the Detroit Board of Education.

After spending four years in private practice, Gage returned to Wayne State in 1977 as a part-time instructor teaching "Contemporary Issues Affecting Consumers: The Family and the Law." A year later, she was elected to Oakland County Circuit Court, twice earning re-election to six-year terms in office. She served as chief judge for two years, eventually receiving an appointment to the Michigan Court of Appeals in 1997. Gage was twice elected to the Court of Appeals, resigning in January of 2006 for health reasons. At the time of her departure, she was widely praised by her court colleagues, including Chief Judge William Whitbeck.

"She is both a great judge and a great lady," Whitbeck said upon her resignation. "Uncompromising legal scholarship, amazing grace, tremendous strength of character, and enormous courage - that is Judge Hilda Gage. Her standards are high, but never more so than when she applies them to herself."

Judge Gage was the first woman to serve as chairperson of the National Conference of State Trial Judges of the American Bar Association. She also was the first woman president of the Michigan Judges Association and first female chairperson of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission. In addition, she has served on the executive boards of Michigan Children's Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and co-founded the Dysautonomia Foundation chapter in Michigan.

Her pioneering work in the legal profession and her longstanding record of community service made Gage a magnet for a series of coveted honors and awards over the years. In 1995, she was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame and a year later was chosen by The Detroit News as "Michiganian of the Year" in recognition of "excellence and dedication" to charitable work. In 1999, she received "Public Official of the Year" honors from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in Michigan, while also receiving the Q2 Award presented by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson for "Meritorious Community Service."

Judge Gage is survived by her daughter, Julie (John) Gage Palmer; her brother, Harvey (Judy) Rosenberg; and three grandchildren, David, Joseph and Benjamin Palmer. She was preceded in death by her parents, Mildred and Jacob Rosenberg; her children, Jackie and Robert; and her sister, Susan Goldfarb.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, 30 W. 26th Street, New York, NY 10010.

Published: Mon, Sep 27, 2010