District Court Judge Jamie L. Wittenberg remembered for courage, conviction, kindness

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

By all accounts, Judge Jamie L. ­Wittenberg was a most amazing man, particularly in the eyes of two judicial colleagues who served with him on the 44th District Court bench in Royal Oak.

Wittenberg, who died November 20 at the age of 48 after a courageous 3-1/2-year battle with brain cancer, was widely admired on a host of levels, according to longtime friend Derek Meinecke, chief judge of the court.

As a judge and former prosecutor.

As the consummate family man.

And in recent years, as a fighter against the deadly designs of glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer.

“Combining traditional medicine with a disciplined Keto diet and intermittent fasting, Judge Wittenberg was able to survive three times longer than his initial diagnosis suggested,” said Chief Judge Derek Meinecke in a memorial tribute. 

“Amazingly, despite multiple brain surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, he was able to continue to serve and handle his full docket,” Meinecke noted. “Judge W, as he was known at the court, would often remark that he believed he was a better judge having gone through his trials, because he gained even greater perspective and found an even greater connection with those that appeared before him who may have had hard times and challenges of their own.”

A longtime resident of Berkley, ­Wittenberg earned a bachelor’s degree in public affairs from Indiana University in 1996 and his juris doctor from Wayne State University, where he was the recipient of the coveted Leonard Gilman Scholarship and the Bronze Key Scholarship. 

“After a distinguished career as an assistant prosecutor for both Wayne and Macomb counties, Judge Wittenberg was elected in 2008 to serve as the 45-A District Court judge for the City of Berkley,” Meinecke said. “He was re-elected in 2014. In 2015, after state legislation merged the 45-A District Court with 44th District Court serving Royal Oak, he became a judge of the newly created 44th District Court, serving Berkley and Royal Oak. His positive impact was felt immediately, both in the way he endeared himself to staff and community members with his kindness and friendly nature, and in the way he spearheaded the expansion of our highly successful Sobriety Court program and his introduction of a Teen Court that was aimed at supporting at-risk youth.”

At various times during Wittenberg’s illness, retired 46th District Court Judge Bill Richards served as a visiting judge. While presiding over Wittenberg’s busy docket in the downtown Royal Oak court, Richards was regularly reminded that he was subbing for a man with a devoted wife and four daughters, whose pictures lined his chambers.

Wittenberg’s office also contained a special piece of sports memorabilia, according to Richards.

“Jamie was an avid Indiana University grad and fan,” said Richards, an alum of the University of Michigan and its law school. “In his office, in which I work, there is an autographed basketball by a fellow named Bob Knight. Jamie had it enclosed in a vinyl case. 

“Jamie’s dad also went to IU as did his brother and sister,” said Richards. “His daughter Arielle is a senior in high school. She applied to IU and several other Big Ten universities. As Jamie’s days were winding down 10 days ago, Chief Judge Meinecke came up with a fabulous idea. He called the Indiana University admissions department and without asking for a favor, he told them the situation. As I understand it, he asked them whether they could move up the timeline a bit for the decision. They agreed and called him back and said absolutely that Arielle was worthy of admission and that she was in.

“At this point, Jamie could not even talk,” Richards indicated. “But Arielle told him the (good) news while she was holding his hand, and he understood enough to squeeze her hand back.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel was among those mourning the loss this week.

“Jamie was a true public servant and a dear friend,” said Nessel in a public statement. “He was dedicated to the community and determined to use his position to help improve the lives of others. He exceeded his commitment to the bench in his personal life as a devoted husband and father.”

Survivors include his wife, Staci; his four daughters, Arielle, Talia, Brooke, and Maya; his mother, Mollie, and father, Howard; his brother, Robert; and sister, Jodie.

“Along with so many other family members and dear friends, we here at the 44th District Court are in mourning at our great loss, comforted only by the knowledge that simply by having Judge Wittenberg in our lives, we have been forever changed for the better, and will therefore be in a better position to deal with our tremendous grief,” said Chief Judge Meinecke. “Judge Jamie Wittenberg was simply the best of us.”

A service was held November 22 at the Dorfman Chapel in Farmington Hills. Interment took place at Clover Hill Park in Birmingham.

Charitable contributions may be made to the Fetal Care Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital or to Camp Tamarack.




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