Former federal chief judge to retire from bench


U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Rosen will officially retire from the judiciary next spring.

Photo by Robert Chase

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Next spring, U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Rosen will mark his 27th year on the federal bench, an anniversary that will serve a dual purpose when he officially retires from the judiciary.

Rosen’s impending retirement from the court has been in the works for several months and will cap an eventful and distinguished judicial career that most recently was highlighted by his work as the chief architect of the “Grand Bargain” during the Detroit bankruptcy case.

His departure from the bench is expected sometime this winter or early spring, while his portraiture is scheduled to be unveiled March 14 during a special ceremony in the federal courthouse in Detroit.
“It will be a bittersweet time because of my love for this job and my respect and admiration for those that I have worked with over the years,” Rosen said during a recent interview in his court chambers. “I consider myself very fortunate to have been part of such a distinguished court that is comprised of so many great legal minds.”

Chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for more than 7 years, Rosen was appointed to the federal bench in 1989 by then President George H.W. Bush. The Oak Park native remembers well when he received word that his appointment had been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

“I was dining with friends at a Chinese restaurant in Windsor when I received a call from U.S. Senator Robert Dole (Republican from Kansas), who relayed the news that my appointment had been approved,” Rosen recalled.

Rosen was understandably pleased when he returned to the table, happily sharing the news with his dining party. His delight was confirmed moments later when he opened his fortune cookie. The message: “You are faithful in the execution of any public trust.”

The good fortune certainly has been the case during his time on the bench, which during his tenure as chief judge was marked by a series of changes and improvements to the court operation. Among his accomplishments, according to his colleagues, is championing an effort to improve the diversity of the jury pool in the Eastern District that includes courthouses in the population centers of Detroit, Ann Arbor, Flint, Bay City, and Port Huron.

Rosen also earned wide praise for helping secure upward of $140 million in funds for the renovation of the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse in Detroit, an aging 770,000-square-foot structure that spans a city block on West Lafayette.

Several years ago, Rosen was credited with deftly utilizing his management skills to steer the court “through significant shortfalls in our appropriations without layoffs or furloughs of personnel,” according to U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn, a longtime admirer of his colleague. The challenge came to a head during the budget sequestration of 2013 when automatic spending cuts took place as part of a federal austerity program.

His leadership role was rooted in his legislative work for 5 years during the 1970s with U.S. Senator Robert Griffin of Michigan and then as a senior partner with Miller Canfield, where he specialized in commercial, employment, and constitutional litigation.

His reputation grew as the Republican candidate for Congress in the 17th District in 1982, broadening in legal circles even more later that decade when for 5 years he co-chaired the Judicial Evaluation Committee for the U.S. District Court based in Detroit.

As chief judge, Rosen took a global outlook on his judicial responsibilities, frequently lecturing at various international conferences around the globe while also participating in the U.S. State Department’s Rule of Law program in Moscow and the former Soviet republic of Georgia. In addition, he has lectured to high-ranking Chinese judges at the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing and Egyptian judges in Cairo, as well as at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He also has consulted with the judiciaries of Thailand and the Ukraine.

The oldest of three brothers, Rosen graduated from Oak Park High School in 1969. Among his classmates was Geoffrey Fieger, who even back then needed no introduction.

In high school, Rosen was a topflight tennis player, earning All-State honors at No. 1 singles for the Oak Park squad. He took his tennis talents to Kalamazoo College, a prestigious academic institution that also has a storied history as a tennis power. During his collegiate career, Kalamazoo won a conference title each year.

His success on the court would prove valuable as he considered a career in court. He enrolled in law school at George Washington University, where he attended classes at night after working grueling days as a legislative assistant to Senator Griffin.

“I remember telling Senator Griffin that I planned to go to law school and he was supportive, but he also expected me to continue working at the same pace while working for him,” Rosen related. “He wasn’t going to cut me any slack just because I was going to law school. I was working 50- to 60-hour weeks and going to law school at night. It was all a blur.”

But through it all, Rosen was mindful of a message that his father, Stan, had repeatedly imparted. It was a maxim that has stuck with Rosen to this day: “Once a task is begun, never leave it ‘til it’s done. Be of labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”

The time-honored truism came into play often during the Detroit bankruptcy case, which Rosen was forced to navigate as chief mediator over a 17-month period from July 2013 to December 2014. His pivotal role there has been well documented and has cemented his place in Detroit history as one of the saviors of the Detroit Institute of Arts and the city itself.

Now, as he prepares to leave the bench next spring, Rosen is planning the next step in his legal career. The plan, he noted, is not one that he can share publicly at this time because of the judicial code of ethics for members of the federal bench.

While Rosen currently can’t disclose his next career move, others involved haven’t been constrained from talking, revealing plans to open a mediation and arbitration practice in Detroit. The legal venture, according to published reports, will involve Rosen, retired U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, and Miller Canfield attorney Rocky Pozza.

The trio, Pozza confirmed, is mapping plans to open a downtown Detroit office of Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (JAMS) in the spring of 2017.

JAMS – which is headquartered nationally in Irvine, Calif. and internationally in London – has offices across North America, and offers arbitration, mediation, and alternative dispute resolution services.

Pozza, who recently announced his retirement from Miller Canfield, was on the recruiting committee that hired Rosen in 1979 following his graduation from law school. He said that he welcomes the opportunity to be reunited with Rosen and to partner with Rhodes, who has been serving as the transition manager for Detroit Public Schools.

“This is the perfect opportunity for me to transition at this point in my life,” Pozza said in a prepared statement. “I have been at a great law firm for 42 years, and have many wonderful friends and colleagues there. I am doing many mediations now and want to remain active in this area of practice.”

Meanwhile, Rosen will remain busy with his criminal and civil dockets, while also serving as a consultant to a television documentary that is being produced on the Detroit bankruptcy case.

“My decision to leave the bench has been difficult,” Rosen admitted. “The tug of the mother-ship is very strong. As a member of the federal judiciary, I have been a part of the finest governmental institution in the world. Truly, it has been the privilege of a lifetime.”