Asked and Answered . . .

Charles Rutherford on the Michgan Supreme Court Historical Society

Nearly three decades after its founding, the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society has a new president, only the second in its history. It also elected new officers to its board. The organization was founded in 1988 by Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley, then chief of the high court. The Society collects and preserves court documents, records and memorabilia as well as sponsors events to educate attorneys and the public. Charles R. Rutherford of Grosse Pointe Park is the new president. An intellectual property and commercial attorney for more than 40 years, he has also been active in community affairs serving as an officer and board member of the Legal Aid and Defender Association, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, Detroit Rotary Club, and the Grosse Pointe Symphony Association.

Thorpe: Give us an overview of the mission of the Society.

Rutherford: The Society's mission is to collect, preserve, and display documents, records, and memorabilia relating to the Michigan Supreme Court and the other Courts of Michigan, promote the study of the history of Michigan's courts, and seek to increase public awareness of Michigan's legal heritage.

Thorpe: What were the beginnings of the organization?

Rutherford: The Society was formed to set the people and activities of the Michigan Supreme Court in a historical context; much of what had been written about the Court before that time had been done in the media. Our goal was to consolidate what was known. Our earliest activities centered on writing a published history of the Court, recording an oral history project, and locating and restoring the portrait collection. But, even from the beginning, the most important facet was building a solid membership base of lawyers and the public.

Thorpe: Tell us a little about yourself and your career.

Rutherford: I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, graduating from Waite High School in 1946. I joined the U.S. Army as the Second World War was ending. I served in Korea during the occupation of Japan. I was discharged and enrolled at the University of Detroit, School of Engineering in Sept. 1948, graduating in 1953 with a degree in Civil Engineering. At that time, I was commissioned as a 2nd the US Air Force.

I started working as a patent engineer for Houdaille Hersey Corporation at its Research & Engineering Facilities in Highland Park, Michigan. In Sept. 1953, I enrolled in the Afternoon Division, School of Law, University of Detroit where I completed my legal studies, graduating in June, 1957. I took a position as a Patent Attorney with Vickers Inc., a manufacturer of hydraulic systems and equipment.

In 1957 and 1958, I passed the Michigan Bar Exam, earned my license to practice before the U. S. Patent & Trademark Office and my license to practice as a Professional Engineer {Mechanical}. In June 1959, I went into private practice in Detroit with the Law Firm of Whittemore, Hulbert & Belknap, limiting my practice to intellectual property law. In 1976, I joined the law firm of Cullen, Sloman & Cantor, which later changed its name to Cullen, Sloman, Cantor, Grauer, Scott & Rutherford. The Cullen firm merged into Dykema Gossett, PC, in 1989 where I remained until my retirement in Oct. 2009.

Thorpe: Other officers were elected to the board. Who are they?

Rutherford: On the executive committee, Carl W. Herstein was elected vice president; Lawrence P. Nolan was elected secretary; and John P. Jacobs was elected treasurer. Mr. Herstein is a partner in the Detroit office of Honigman Miller Schartz & Cohn. He has served on the board of directors since 2004, and became secretary in 2006. Mr. Nolan is founder and president of Nolan, Thomsen and Villas P.C. He serves on the board of directors of Cooley Law School and is vice president of the State Bar of Michigan's Board of Commissioners. He has served the Society since 1996, becoming treasurer in 2001. Mr. Jacobs practices civil appellate law with his law firm Jacobs & Diemer P.C. He has served on the Society's board of directors since 2009.

Also elected to the Board at the April 2015 meeting was Susan E. Gillooly. She is employed with the U.S. Attorney's Office where she is the deputy chief of the General Crimes Unit.

Other distinguished members of the Society's 24-member board of directors include Saginaw County Chief Judge Fred Borchard, retired Berrien County judge Alfred Butzbaugh, federal judge Avern Cohn, former State Bar of Michigan president Bruce A. Courtade, Lansing attorney Peter H. Ellsworth, Assistant Attorney General John G. Fedynsky, former State Bar of Michigan president Julie Fershtman, retired Ingham County judge Michael G. Harrison, Troy attorney Matthew Herstein, former State Bar of Michigan president Ronald Keefe, retired Attorney General Frank J. Kelley, former Michigan Supreme Court justice Charles L. Levin, Detroit attorney Mary Massaron, Oakland County Judge Denise Langford Morris, former law school dean John W. Reed, Kalamazoo attorney Richard D. Reed, former Michigan Supreme Court and U.S. 6th Circuit judge James L. Ryan, Bloomfield Hills attorney Stephen K. Valentine Jr., and State Bar of Michigan executive director Janet K. Welch.

Thorpe: Why do you believe that educating citizens on the role of the Court is important?

Rutherford: To have an informed and engaged citizenry. To inspire people to have an understanding and respect for the Court in a historical context-who they were, what they did-in order to better comprehend what is happening now and how it may affect our future.

Thorpe: What's in the future for the organization? Any projects or initiatives on the horizon?

Rutherford: We just recently published a new book with MSU Press. "The Michigan Supreme Court Historical Reference Guide," 2nd edition, contains biographies of all of the justices of the Michigan Supreme Court with color images of the historic portrait collection. It also incorporates another big project we worked on, the Verdict of History, which summarizes 20 important Michigan Supreme Court opinions. We are working in partnership with the Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center to open a permanent exhibit about the first women on the Michigan Supreme Court that will resonate with the elementary-aged students who are the primary visitors to this space. To learn more about scheduling field trips, visit this link:

We continue to maintain the historic portrait collection. The tradition in Michigan is for a justice to dedicate his/her portrait once they have left the bench. Several justices have left the Michigan Supreme Court in recent years and will be dedicating their portraits soon. We also publish a quarterly newsletter, sponsor the Coleman internship, and host events for our membership such as the Annual Luncheon in April and the Advocates Guild Dinner in the fall. Our most important initiative, just as when we began in 1988, is to continue to build our membership base. To learn more about the Society or to start a membership, please visit our website at

Published: Mon, Jul 13, 2015

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