Former chief judge returns to Oakland County court in a different capacity

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by Tom Kirvan
Legal News

A venture into the world of retirement didn’t last long for former Oakland County Probate Judge Elizabeth Pezzetti.

Less than 13 months after retiring from the bench, Pezzetti returned to the county workforce on Jan. 19 in a different capacity as interim register for the Probate Court, filling in for the recently-departed Jill Koney Daly, who had served as Probate Register since 2006.

“It’s good to be back and I’m very happy to help out,” said Pezzetti, who twice served as chief judge of the Oakland County Probate Court during her 16 years on the bench. “Chief Judge (Kathleen) Ryan reached out to me and it is an honor to be able to fill in until a permanent replacement is found.”

An upbeat attitude is one of Pezzetti’s endearing qualities, particularly in a profession that was slow to embrace the concept of gender equality. After graduating from Wayne State University in 1964 with a degree in biology and education, Pezzetti took on the major responsibility of raising three children with her husband, Tom.

Nearly 20 years after graduating from college, Pezzetti decided to attend law school at Wayne State “as a (somewhat) mature student,” she quipped. In 1986, she graduated with various honors and landed a plum job with Dickinson Wright, where she would spend the next 15 years practicing employment, school and media law, as well as commercial litigation.

Her decision to leave private practice for a seat on the bench was “made all the more difficult” by a series of legal triumphs that she enjoyed during her final year with Dickinson Wright.

“Within the span of a few months that year, I won cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, the state Court of Appeals, and MERC (Michigan Employment Relations Commission),” she related. “It certainly was good to leave on a high note, even though I began to wonder if leaving on such a streak was such a good idea.”

A native of Wilmington, N.C., where her father was stationed in the U.S. Army during World War II, Pezzetti grew up in South Dakota, the oldest of three children. She was a pre-med major at Drake University in Des Moines, Ia., before transferring to Wayne State for her senior year of studies.

Throughout her time on the bench, Pezzetti was a proponent of reforming the state’s mental health system, contending that for years it has fueled a “vicious cycle” of abuse and neglect. It was a point she made repeatedly during her “State of the Court” addresses as chief judge.

“We, in the probate courts, are seeing the same people month after month, year after year, without an end in sight,” she said during a 2009 address to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners. “I have tremendous compassion for those who suffer from mental illness and we need to find a better way to ensure that they receive the help they need.”

Now, as she returns to the Probate Court in a new role, Pezzetti remains just a committed to ensuring that justice is administered as “efficiently and effectively” as possible.

“The citizens of this county deserve a well-run court operation and I’m pleased to be among those assigned to make sure that it takes place each day,” Pezzetti said.