Hail To The Chief
Bernard Friedman named chief judge of federal court or eastern Michigan.
Special to the Jewish News
ernie Friedman, the kid who grew up
in the heavily Jewish Dexter-Davison
area of Detroit; the teenager who
went to Mumford High School; the young
man who didn't take school work seriously
until he entered law school; the award-win-
ning lawyer; the district judge who brought
the courtroom into schools — is now the
chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District of Michigan.
Judge Bernard A. Friedman, appointed to
the court by President Ronald Reagan in
1988, was sworn in June 18 by Judge Lawrence P.
Zatkoff, the man he succeeds. Judge Friedman became
the court's first Jewish chief federal judge since Judge
Theodore Levin's term in 1959-1967 — another sig-
nificant milestone for Jewish jurists in the district. Six
of the current 20 active and senior judges are Jewish.
"Given the proportion of Jewish people in the dis-
trict [about 100,000] to the total population, there's no
doubt we have more Jews on this bench" than in com-
parably sized cities, one judge said anonymously.
"I think the reason is, simply, that we may be more
qualified," observed Judge Friedman, 60, of West
Bloomfield, who reached his new post through having
the most seniority among judges younger than 65.
the U.S. District Court, which really began with Judge
"But the chances are excellent for something like this to
Theodore Levin and Judge Lawrence Gubow. The U.S.
happen because there are a great many Jewish judges in
Courthouse on Fort Street in downtown Detroit was
the United States."
names after Judge Levin in 1995. Appointed by
With the term for chief judge limited to seven years,
President Harry S. Truman in 1946, he served for 24
Judge Zatkoff, at 65, becomes a senior judge. All feder-
years until his death in 1970. The nationally known
al judges here are paid $158,100 a year and serve for
jurist was an innovator in the field of criminal sentenc-
ing as well as a prominent philanthropist in the Jewish
Judge Friedman also is the first Republican Jewish
chief judge in the Eastern District since Charles Simon,
who was appointed by President Warren G. Harding in Natural Camaraderie
1923. The six current Jewish judges are divided equally
"We discuss religion and politics in a normal way just
along political party lines. Judge Gerald Rosen of
like everyone else," said Judge Borman, "especially
Franklin was appointed in 1990 and Judge Nancy
when we get together for a brown bag lunch every few
Garlock Edmunds of Birmingham in 1992 by
weeks." He calls Judge Friedman "a great colleague"
Republican President George H. W. Bush; Judge Paul
and a "real mensch ... an excellent choice for chief
D. Borman of Birmingham was appointed in 1994
and Judge Arthur Tarnow of Detroit in 1998 by
Judge Edmunds said she "wouldn't read anything
Democratic President Bill Clinton. Judge Avern Cohn
into the fact that there are six Jewish judges" in the dis-
of Bloomfield Hills was appointed in 1979 by
trict, "other than we must make good candidates.
Democratic President Jimmy Carter.
Neither religion nor politics interferes with our le
"Even though we have different political proclivities,
work or our friendship," she added. "Judge Friedman is
we're a very congenial and collegial group," remarked
perfect for the chief judge position because he's a good
Judge Cohn, who has senior status, but still carries a
administrator, very accessible and is interested in every
full docket most of the time. "We get along beautifully.
aspect of court work."
And, of course, we're pretty independent on the bench
Five of the six judges are affiliated with local syna-
because we're masters of our own courtrooms."
gogues. Judge Friedman served on the board of trustees
He praised Judge Friedman as "very outgoing' and
at Temple Israel. "He's an outstanding member of our
, "people-oriented," and said he should do an "excellent
community and our synagogue," said Rabbi Harold
job" as chief judge.
Loss. "He's very accessible, and we can always turn to
Judge Cohn said he's proud of the Jewish tradition at
him for advice and counsel. We were thrilled when he
was appointed to the federal bench, and
now, as chief judge, Pm sure he will
continue to dispense justice in a pas-
sionate, intelligent and discerning way."
When Judge Friedman was sworn in,
his parents, Dr. David and Rae
Friedman, both 88, of Farmington
Hills, sat beaming proudly in the audi-
ence. They guided him through
McCullough Elementary School,
Hampton Middle School and Mumford
High, where he graduated in 1961. "I
really buckled down with my school
work when I entered the Detroit
College of Law [now Michigan State
University College of Law]," he said.
He even received the DCL Alumni Scholarship for
excellence in the study of law.
He began his legal career as a felony trial attorney in
the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, then became a
senior partner in a Southfield law firm, and served as
city attorney for several municipalities. In 1982, he
was appointed district judge in Oakland County's
48th Judicial District by Gov. William Milliken and
then won elected later that year to the position, serv-
ing for six years. He was the first judge in Michigan to
hear cases inside public schools, mainly taking a vari-
ety of drunk driving and larceny cases to West
Bloomfield High School and Andover High in
"I've always been committed to accessibility and serv-
ice to the people directly," he said, "and I wanted
youngsters to learn by seeing justice dispensed first-
hand. I always welcome groups from all levels of educa-
tion and anyone else to my courtroom to see the inner
workings of the judicial bench."
He also wrote a column in a suburban weekly news-
paper, tided "It's Your Court."
Judge Friedman's most famous case so far as U.S.
District Court judge was the controversial University of
Michigan affirmative action dispute in which he ruled
that the school's affirmative action policy was unconsti-
tutional. The decision was overturned by a split U.S.
Supreme Court in June 2003 in a compromise ruling.
As chief judge, he will continue to hear a full case-
load in addition to handling the administrative over-
sight for the court's eastern district. Besides being hon-
ored by DCL as a distinguished alumnus, Judge
Friedman has received many awards and honors,
including recognition from the State Bar of Michigan,
the Oakland County Bar Association and Michigan
In 1990, he received the State of Israel Eleanor
Roosevelt Humanities Award. He and his wife,
Rozanne, have two children and two grandchildren.
'As chief judge," Judge Friedman said, "I will rein-
force the message I have brought to the bench
throughout my career — this court belongs to the peo-
ple of the United States."