Higher calling: New appellate judge believes in the 'value of public service'

By Linda Laderman
Legal News

Sitting on the Michigan Court of Appeals was not part of Judge Thomas Cameron’s long-range plan when he became a public servant more than a dozen years ago. But now that he’s there, he finds it “an honor and a privilege.”

“Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever be on the Michigan Court of Appeals,” said Cameron, a former prosecutor. “What I always thought strongly about was public service, fighting for others. As a judge on the Court of Appeals, I have the potential to impact hundreds of cases. I feel humbled by that opportunity.”

A career public servant, Cameron was the Criminal Justice Bureau Chief for the Michigan Department of the Attorney General, and served on Michigan’s 3rd Circuit Court before he was chosen by Governor Rick Snyder to replace Justice Kurtis Wilder on the Court of Appeals. Wilder recently was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Appointed to the Wayne County Circuit Court bench in 2014, Cameron played a lead role in reforming the indigent defense appointments process in Wayne County. Cameron is active in a number of professional organizations including the Michigan Judges Association where he serves as the co-chair of the Criminal Committee, the Michigan Domestic & Sexual Violence Prevention & Treatment Board, the Federalist Society, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Incorporated Society of Irish American Lawyers. He is a graduate of the Michigan Political Leadership Program and previously served as both vice chair and chair of the Michigan Commission of Law Enforcement Standards and as a board member of the Prosecution Attorneys Coordinating Counsel.

“I charged and convicted (former Detroit Mayor) Kwame Kilpatrick of assaulting a police officer who was attempting to serve a subpoena related to an ongoing state prosecution filed by (Wayne County) Prosecutor Kym Worthy,” Cameron said. “It was after Kilpatrick pled to the assault case and other state charges, that he agreed to resign from office, which allowed Detroit to move forward.”

Cameron said the years he spent in the Attorney General’s Office gave him the opportunity to observe an array of judicial styles, leaving him with impressions that continue to affect the way he runs his courtroom.

“While I was a litigator for the Attorney General’s Office, I traveled across the state, appearing before hundreds of different judges, and in the course of that, you see very different approaches in how cases are handled,” Cameron said. “My experience was, when the process is consistent and predictable and the litigants are treated with respect, people can walk away knowing their cases were handled in a fair manner.”

After graduating from Wayne State University Law School, Cameron worked as a defense attorney for an insurance law firm. Soon he discovered that job wasn’t his calling and switched tracks to become a prosecutor, a choice that Cameron said he has never regretted making.

“My first job in law was at Vandeveer Garzia, an insurance defense firm.  The job just wasn’t for me,” he said.  “I understand that a career in public service isn’t everyone.  It’s a decision that we all have to make for ourselves. What I can tell you is that I have found my time serving the public to be personally and professionally rewarding. It’s been an exciting and humbling experience to serve and I have no regrets about the course I’ve chosen.”

Outside of the courtroom, Cameron continues to act on his long held belief that he has a responsibility to make a difference, through volunteer endeavors, in communities that need his help.

“I grew up in a middle class, blue collar family in Trenton where we knew we had a responsibility to give back,” Cameron said.

“When I was 12 my father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, so we went from being a two-parent, two-income family to a single parent, single income family. I was responsible for caring for him for a year before he died. It had a profound effect on me.”

That experience is the driving force behind much of Cameron’s personal and professional philosophy, a belief system that is driven by a sense of fairness and a willingness to pitch in where he can.

“I just took some vacation time with a group from my church to build wheelchair ramps in Appalachia. People are really hurting there. It falls in line with my belief in the value of public service,” Cameron said, recalling one incident in particular.

“We built a ramp for a woman who had no mobility because of strokes that occurred two years ago. For all intents and purposes, she was trapped in her home. Her obstacle was just two steps leading from her small mobile home to the ground. In one day, we were able to give her a level of independence she hadn’t had. (Due to her stroke,) she couldn’t talk but we could see the appreciation in her eyes. It was immensely rewarding.”

Other than a run for a full term seat on the state Court of Appeals in the fall of 2018, Cameron said his future is focused on his wife, a family practice physician, and their three children, all under the age of 14.

“Right now, my only plan is to work as hard as I can every day,” Cameron said. “For me, the most important things are my faith and my family, and of course being the best judge I can be.”

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