Federal bar memorializes the late Judge Feikens

By John Minnis

Legal News

The Detroit federal bar reconvened in Grosse Pointe on Thursday, May 19, to remember U.S. District Senior Judge John Feikens, who died Sunday, May 15, at the age of 93.

He had served on the federal bench in Detroit for more than 40 years.

Nearly everyone in the Detroit federal bar and the legal community turned out to join family and friends to remember the late judge at a packed memorial service at The Grosse Pointe Memorial Church.

Those attending, just to name a handful, included Senior Judge Damon J. Keith, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; U.S. District Chief Judge Gerald Rosen, Eastern District of Michigan; Bankruptcy Judge Walter Shapero; federal Court Administrator David Weaver; U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade; and Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Gillooly.

"You, the family, friends and colleagues of John Feikens, are all welcome to Grosse Pointe Memorial Church today," said the Rev. Peter Henry, pastor.

Rosen spoke for Feikens' colleagues and friends at the federal courthouse.

"Judge Feikens was a man of family and of institutions," Rosen said. "When John Feikens became part of something, he did so completely and fully."

Rosen said Feikens had a "larger than life" presence.

"John was truly the beating heart of the life of the court," he said. "He shaped the court's future. Every day he asked himself, 'What can I do to make the court better?'"

The chief judge said Feikens was instrumental in getting the downtown Detroit federal courthouse renamed after his old friend and colleague, Chief Judge Theodore Levin. In turn, a room at the courthouse is named after Feikens.

Much to the delight and affirmation of those present who knew Feikens, Rosen described the late judge as "stubborn, obstinate and certainly difficult to sway from his decided course of action."

"It was precisely this single-minded focus that allowed him to accomplish so much," Rosen said.

He said Feikens was not just concerned about the rule of law but also the larger issues in society and the role judges could play.

"I think it would be safe to say the doctrine of judicial restraint did not find a warm embrace in John Feikens," Rosen said, again to the knowing appreciation of those present.

Feikens' four-decade-long "unorthodox and creative" approach to ending combined sewage outfalls into Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River and forging a working relationship between the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the suburbs were examples of the judge's unwavering focus and judicial involvement.

"Even those who opposed the man's creativity in this case," Rosen said, "commend the results: a better and safer water and sewage system. John worked tirelessly to bring together the city of Detroit and the suburbs. Who would say that John did not work miracles? John was dead center in using his judicial authority to make a better community. But beyond that was his compassion for people."

Rosen said that when he was a young judge with the federal court, Feikens could not have been more friendly and welcoming. He remembered Feikens as a great storyteller.

"Perhaps no one in the history of the court was a better teller of the stories of our court than was John Feikens," said Rosen, his voice cracking at the remembrance.

He then quoted Winston Churchill upon Franklin Roosevelt's death:

"I have lost a dear and cherished friendship which was forged in the fire of war. I trust you may find consolation in the magnitude of his work and the glory of his name."

"And so it was with John," Rosen said. "All institutions are shaped by men and individuals, and that is certainly true of John Feikens."

Rosen then quoted a poem by W.H. Auden:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

"He was our North, our South, our East and West," Rosen continued, paraphrasing Auden. "I thought John would go on forever.

"Speaking on behalf of your court family, goodbye John, and Godspeed on your next project."

Published: Thu, Jun 2, 2011