By Brian Cox
Former law clerks describe U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul J. Komives as an incredible legal mind who demonstrated the “penultimate” judicial temperament and personified the “gentleman lawyer.”
Komives died Monday at his home in Bloomfield Hills at the age of 86.
At the time of his retirement in 2015, after almost 44 years on the bench, Komives was the longest serving magistrate judge in the history of the country, according to the Federal Bar Association.
The son of Hungarian immigrants who came to the United States in the 1920s, Komives was born in 1932 and described himself as a “real Depression baby” in an oral history he provided the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan.
After concluding that a graduate program in English literature at the University of Cincinnati wasn’t an interest he wanted to pursue, Komives turned his attention to law, graduating from the University of Michigan with his law degree in 1958.
Komives began his legal career with the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant U.S. attorney in 1961, interacting with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, before becoming a special prosecutor in Wayne County Circuit Court for a year and then entering private practice. In 1971, he was appointed as the first United States Magistrate in Detroit, where he would serve for more than four decades.
“He was a faithful student of the law,” recalls Christina Farinola, who clerked for Komives for 16 years. “He was the best boss I could have asked for.” She describes the judge as kind, understanding, classy and reassuring.
“He gave his law clerks autonomy,”?she says, “and his autonomy was returned with respect.”
On the bench he was fair, patient, respectful and reserved.
“He was one of the most unflappable people I’ve ever met,” Farinola says.
“I never saw him once get impatient or frustrated,” says Bryan Schneider, whose 2-year clerking position with Komives turned out to last 19 years. “I never heard him utter a harsh word about anyone.”
Schneider says Komives always demonstrated respect for those appearing before him.
“He believed in the law itself,” says Schneider, adding that Komives believed people had the right for a judge to hear their case and wanted to be sure they knew he had listened.
“If I could give a class on what it means to practice civility in law,” says Schneider, “I would just show films of him.”
In addition to his judicial temperament and prolific writing skills, Komives was known for his prodigious memory.
“His recall was unreal,” says Farinola, recounting his ability to identify cases by volume and page number.
Though composed on the bench, Komives also had a sense of humor that he shared in private, according to Schneider, who says the judge enjoyed talking about high school football, but took particular pleasure in talking about his family.
“He was gaga for his grandchildren,” says Schneider.
“If you wanted to get a laugh out of him, you would ask a question about the latest Supreme Court case or about his grandchildren,” says Farinola.
Komives and his wife Martha were married in 1965 and have three daughters and a son.
His law clerks describe Komives as a professional and personal mentor.
“He was brilliant,” says criminal defense attorney Martin Crandall, who clerked for Komives from early 1975 to mid 1978. “He was a wonderful mentor and jurist who was respected by the bench and bar. He was a friend for life.”
Funeral services will take place on Monday, Dec. 17, at St. Regis Catholic Parish, 3695 Lincoln Road, in Bloomfield Hills (https://stregis.org), with visitation to begin at 10:30 a.m. and mass to begin at 11 a.m.
A luncheon will follow at The Heathers Club, 900 Upper Scotsborough Way in Bloomfield Hills, (www.heathersclub.com).
Memorial contributions may be made to the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit (www.iimd.org).
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