Paternal pointers: Circuit Court judge shares pearls of wisdom from his father


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

When former Flint federal judge Stewart Newblatt died last December at age 95, decades of his “real wisdom” passed along with him, according to his son, Genesee County Circuit Judge David Newblatt.

The family patriarch, who served on the federal bench from 1979 until his retirement in 2004, also was a constant source of good humor, particularly just after his son was born 57 years ago.

“When I was born, in 1966, my dad wrote on the chalkboard in the courtroom that the case for the day was ‘David J. Newblatt v. The World,’” said the younger Newblatt with a smile, noting that the local newspaper, The Flint Journal, made special mention of the quip at the time.

Fittingly, the 7 lb., 4 oz. newborn was labeled as the “plaintiff” in the case, which “commenced at 4:00 a.m.” on February 9, 1966.

Heralding his son’s “official” arrival may have been one of the most important legal pronouncements that Stewart Newblatt made as a judge of the Genesee County Circuit Court, where he served from 1962-70 before later ascending to the U.S. District Court in Flint.

Now, some four months after his father’s passing, the younger Judge Newblatt felt it was time to share some gems about the former elder statesman of the family. He did so first in the March issue of “Bar Beat,” a publication of the Genesee County Bar Association.  

He generously agreed to a reprinting in this issue of The Legal News.


I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.  ~Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

Since Dad’s passing, there’s been an outpouring of appreciation and well-wishes from members of the bar and community, which is much appreciated by me and my family. Many have rightly praised him for his judicial wisdom. And if I had a nickel for every lawyer who told me about his Rule Eleven lecture, I’d have enough money to pay off Sidney Powell’s sanctions. Yes, Dad was a wise jurist. But as a father, he had another kind of wisdom that he imparted to me and my brothers. It wasn’t something he could write into a judicial opinion. Rather, it’s what he lived in word and deed as a loving father. This is the “real” wisdom of Stew Newblatt and I’d like to share some of it with you. 

* Dad pretended to be magic for me and my brothers and would materialize candy from behind our ears. I was so excited that I organized a magic show for the neighborhood kids, posting signs and arranging chairs in the backyard. When he got home from work and saw the kids waiting for him, he begged off, only explaining that he “didn’t feel magic.” Although this is when I realized he wasn’t really magic, I continued to play along because I wanted the candy. 

* When my parents took us to “The Bozo Show,” both of my brothers got chosen by the spotlight to be Bozo’s helpers, but not me. When I complained to Dad about it not being fair, he said, “Son, I hate to break it to you, but the world isn’t fair.” I was more upset about this than by not helping Bozo. 

* Dad was honored with the Key to the City at a banquet when he resigned his circuit judgeship. Of course, I understood this literally, believing that it allowed entry into every home and business in the city. Oh, how I was mesmerized by that shiny golden key! He let me hold it, but only for a moment. He said, “Son, this key is mine. If you want one, you’ll have to earn it for yourself.” 

* Any time I had a dispute that was hard to resolve, Dad always had the same advice: just be honest. It turns out that this is only wise in theory—it never worked as a kid and it got me in serious trouble when I started practicing law. 

* Another thing I remember Dad saying to me was, nobody likes a smart ass. It turns out that he was just flat out wrong about this one—I got plenty of attention for being a smart ass. 

* When I was bullied at school, Dad told me that although I shouldn’t look to fight, I shouldn’t back down either. Even if I lost, he said, the bully would then leave me alone knowing I would fight back. He taught me how to fight in the old school “put up your dukes” manner, wished me luck and sent me out the door. I got the worst ass beating of my life that day. 

* My two buddies were over and we were playing in the attic. When I got called to dinner, my friends had a sword fight with metal poles and poked dozens of holes in the walls. But Dad, who I knew was furious, merely told them he was disappointed in them; he never said a word to their parents. My friends have since told me as adults that this is what they feel most ashamed of in their lives. 

* Dad thought it would be a good idea to buy an old broken down VW bus and drive us all to see Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico; this despite having no knowledge about cars whatsoever. So when the van broke down multiple times in Missouri and Oklahoma, Dad and I would have to hitchhike to the nearest service station while my mom stayed back with my brothers. The reason I had to go with him was because the drivers wouldn’t pick up a man who looked like a disheveled maniac unless he had a kid with him who they felt sorry for. 

I chuckle as I think back on these “odd moments.” I realize that although some of what Dad told me may have been wrong as practical advice in the short term (sometimes disastrously so), as to how to live a happy and meaningful life, he was the wisest person I’ll ever know. He taught me that the world is a magical place, but don’t expect it to be fair. Find your own way to make it better. Face up to challenges and be honest when doing so. Be gentle with other people. Be smart, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes—sometimes it’s those mistakes that can lead to life’s most memorable moments. Like hitchhiking in Oklahoma with your grateful son. 

Subscribe to the Legal News!
Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more
Day Pass Only $4.95!
One-County $80/year
Three-County & Full Pass also available