Justice honored with Purple Sport Coat Award


– Photo by John Meiu

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

Friends, colleagues and family of the late Judge Kaye Tertzag recentl hosted the Fourth Annual Tertzag Tribute Dinner at the Park Place Banquet Hall in Dearborn.

Tertzag died Feb. 4, 2009 at the age of 70 after a short battle with cancer.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget Mary McCormack was the 2013 recipient of the Purple Sport Coat Award. It was presented to her by last year’s recipient, Wayne County Circuit
Court Judge David J. Allen. She is the first woman to receive the award.

“I didn’t know Judge Tertzag, but I wish I did. Reading about him has been a lot of fun for me,” said McCormack before the ceremony.

Upon receiving the award. McCormack joked about her short tenure on the bench.

“I think eight weeks into my judicial career is the perfect moment for receiving awards,” she said. “I haven’t had the time to make any enormous blunders yet.“

She also talked about how proud she was to be associated with Tertzag’s legacy.

“I am humbled to receive the Purple Sport Coat Award and to be honored in the name of Kaye Tertzag. I didn’t know him, but I believe I understand the spirit of Kaye Tertzag. That spirit will live only if we nurture it.”

McCormack also said we she was grateful to be spending the evening somewhere with heat and lights.

“We’re without power at my house and have been basically ‘camping’ for the last 48 hours,” she said.

State Supreme Court Justice Brian Zahra was the keynote speaker at the event. 

He and Judge Tertzag served together on the Wayne County Circuit Court. Zahra also served twelve years on the Michigan Court of Appeals before Gov. Rick Snyder appointed him to the Supreme Court in 2011.

Zahra appeared as an attorney before Tertzag many times and they eventually became friends.

Zahra said he was always struck by the judge’s courtesy and kindness.

“When you encounter someone like Kaye Tertzag, it’s not only a breath of fresh air in an abusive and calloused culture, it’s a revelation of true human discourse and its possibilities,” Zahra said in his remarks. “Kaye was famous for his civility. The archaic definition of the word was ‘the state of being civilized’ and that was certainly true of Kaye.”

Zahra said he strongly believes that the choice of McCormack for the Purple Sport Coat Award would please the late judge.

“I’ve been to a number of judicial investitures and (McCormack’s) was the first where a jurist made a promise to her colleagues,” Zahra said. “She said, and I quote, ‘Even when we inevitably
disagree, I will not be disagreeable.’ I think that statement makes Justice McCormack very much in the tradition of Judge Tertzag.”

In addition to Zahra and McCormack, Justice Mary Beth Kelly and Justice David Viviano, appointed last week by Gov. Rick Snyder, were in attendance.

“I’m here to honor Judge Tertzag and spend time with my new colleagues,” said Viviano. “I’m excited and looking forward to my new job.”

Tertzag was a firm believer in education and his love of the institution is shared by McCormack.

Once a Yale professor, she served as the clinical director for the University of Michigan Law School’s Innocence Project before her election to the Michigan Supreme Court in November.

Tertzag attended Southwestern High School in Detroit before earning his bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University in 1961.

He earned his college money working as a janitor at the Ford Motor Co., then taught for 10 years at River Rouge High School after graduation. He went to law school at night and received his juris doctor degree from Detroit College of Law in 1969.

Active in the Democratic Party, he was city attorney for River Rouge and Melvindale and served on the Wayne County Charter Commission and the Wayne County Community College Board of Trustees before being appointed by Gov. James Blanchard to the Wayne County Circuit Court bench.

The Tertzag family was instrumental in creating the award in his name and his daughter, Kara Tertzag Lividini, is one of the main organizers.