Honored to serve: Judge prepares to retire after 25-plus years on bench


By Christine L. Mobley
Legal News

The senior most sitting female judge in Oakland County is set to enjoy retirement after nearly  three decades on the bench.

Judge Susan Moiseev’s first courtroom experience as a lawyer was at the 46th District Court while it was still housed in the City Hall in Southfield. For the past 26 1/2 years, it’s where she has adjudicated a myriad of cases before her.  Now she’s hanging up her robe and heading into retirement.

Appointed to the bench by then-Gov. James Blanchard on May 13, 1986, Moiseev graduated from  the University of Michigan with a degree in teaching (Social Studies).

“When I graduated college I had no clue that I could be a lawyer,” she said. “We don’t have lawyers in our family and I really didn’t know any lawyers that were male let alone female.

She said she wasn’t having any lucn finding a job and a friend suggested the Institute for Paralegal Training in Philadelphia.

“I went there and came back here and got a job as a paralegal at a small white collar law firm,” he said.

During her experience with the firm — all the while taking graduate classes at the University of Michigan — Moiseev discovered the path she would take and after getting her LSATs under her belt in December of ‘72, she enrolled at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law the following August.

She was terminated from her first paralegal job upon getting into law school, but she was able to get through.

“I went to school at night and did politics and then got a job as a paralegal where I worked for three years until I passed the bar,” Moiseev says. “That’s how I got into law — I just kind of stumbled into it, but it seems to have been a pretty good fit.”

After graduating from law school, Moiseev first worked at a personal injury firm in downtown Detroit before going to work full-time on Sen. Carl Levin’s first campaign in ‘78.

She then began specializing in family law and moved onto being chief counsel of the Civil Division of the Legal Aid and Defender Association Inc. in Detroit before taking the bench.

“When I started there were two other female judges: Margaret Schaeffer, Jessica Cooper, and I,” Moiseev recalls noting that shortly thereafter Cooper left for the circuit bench and Schaeffer
retired  in ‘92.

Had it not been for the election of Marla Parker as judge of the 47th District Court, Moiseev would have been the only female district court judge in the county.

But times, they were a-changin’.

Female judges became more prevalent in Oakland County and now most districts have at least one female serving, the probate court is 3/4 female, and about half the circuit court bench is female.

As one of the forerunners of local women in the judiciary, Moiseev believes the change in dynamic with more women serving on the bench has been a progressive one.

“The diversity, the difference of opinion, the different ways of handling things (has changed the face of the law),” Moiseev said. “I know there’s a quote in the Eccentric from one of my campaigns that sometimes I feel like a mom: ‘It’s his turn to talk, you’ll get your turn. Sit and be quiet.’ That’s kind of a mom thing. Even though I’ve never been a mom, I get that.

“I’ve learned a lot and I hope I’ve taught a lot,” Moiseev says of her time on the bench.

An avid reader, her chambers once had mystery novels and law books lining its shelves but now is cluttered with boxes in preparation for moving what has been a substantive career.

Moiseev, who could have run for two more terms as judge, decided to retire from the bench because she wanted to enjoy her retirement.

“Life’s too short and that’s why I chose to do something different — and I didn’t want to go through another campaign.”

Campaigning, however, was one of the ways that she could tell she’d made an impact on people, Moiseev says.

“One of the downsides (of being a judge) is you see someone who’s in trouble...and you put them on probation and if they succeed, you never know – you just sign off on that,” Moiseev said. “So as much as I complain about the campaigning, often I would go door to door and I would run into someone: ‘Oh yeah, we were in front of you. Our son had something and he was put on Holmes
Youth Training Act and now he’s in college.’

“Those kinds of things — when I know that I’ve really made a difference ... those are the memorable things.”

Moiseev often shared her love of reading with school children.

She has a faded Venn diagram that hangs on the door to her chambers that one class made for comparing her and Judge Judy.

If one looks closely enough, some of the wording can still be made out.

“Invariably the kids would ask me about Judge Judy: ‘Do you know Judge Judy?’ ‘Are you like Judge Judy?’ I don’t know Judge Judy – I’m working when she’s on TV,” Moiseev laughs. “So one of the schools did this Venn diagram and it’s all faded now, but it said how we’re both alike — we’re both judges, but I’m younger and prettier and not on TV — that kind of stuff.

“That’s the stuff that makes all the bad stuff easier to handle, because you do look at those little faces and they’re so bright and smiley and sweet.”

 Moiseev still plans on volunteering in the community in her retirement along with acting as a visiting judge. She also has hopes of traveling and she may take up knitting and golf again.

“I think it’s been an honor and a privilege to serve all these years,” Moiseev said. “I think it says a lot about my career that I’ve heard from both prosecution and defense that they’re going to be sorry to see me go and the police are sorry to see me go.

“Both sides realize and appreciate that I’ve been fair to both sides — even when I’ve ruled against them, at least I gave them a chance, I think, and I hope that’s my legacy.”