2016-09-22 / Local News

After 26 years Judge Rodgers hangs up robe, reflects on career

Message also for ‘liars, haters...’
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

CIRCUIT COURT Judge Philip E. Rodgers, Jr., is retiring next month after nearly 26 years on the bench. His replacement will be appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder. CIRCUIT COURT Judge Philip E. Rodgers, Jr., is retiring next month after nearly 26 years on the bench. His replacement will be appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder. The longest-serving judge in 13th Circuit Court has announced plans to retire effective Oct. 28.

Judge Philip E. Rodgers, Jr., a jurist in the Circuit Court for 26 years, made the announcement Tuesday in a memorandum addressed to “friends, colleagues, elected officials and members of the media.”

“The goal was to leave things better than what you found it,” Rodgers said. “I think, with the support of administrators and commissioners in Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Antrim counties, I’ve done that.”

Rodgers, a native of Cadillac, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the University of Michigan and his law degree from U of M in 1978.

He worked in private practice in Traverse City before his election to the Circuit Court bench in November 1990.

A lot has changed in the 26 years since. The most significant changes, Rodgers said, include case management, mediation and creation of the state’s only fully-electronic court.

“When I began working as a judge, there were three separate sets of software in use (in the Circuit) and the staff was scheduling out of a three-ring binder,” Rodgers said. “We brought it into the 21st century.”

In addition to technological and administrative changes, Rodgers and fellow Circuit Court Judge Thomas G. Power, witnessed Leelanau’s historical vote in 2006 to move the county seat from Leland to Suttons Bay Township.

He remembers the former county courthouse, which dated back to the 1960s.

“I don’t think there was a piece of drywall that went into that building. It was all painted cinder block,” Rodgers said. “The windows had been permanently shut in the 70s during the energy crisis and there was no air conditioning.

“The jury room was like a sweatbox.”

With the move, the opinion of county facilities went from worst to first in Michigan.

“Leelanau went from being perhaps the single worst government center in the state to the best in the state of Michigan, “ Rodgers said. “It’s similar to a courthouse built in Holland, but the magnificent setting combined with the jail make for a great government campus.”

Rodgers said his children jokingly call the new courthouse “Chateau Leelanau.”

“And of course, because it is Leelanau County, it was paid for with cash,” he said.

Two trials, both conducted at the former courthouse, are among what Rodgers’ called his most memorable cases on the bench: the O’Non double-murder trial in 2005 and a 2001 civil suit over water levels on Glen Lake.

Two drug dealers from Texas were shot and buried in shallow graves near the Suttons Bay/Leelanau Township line. Matthew O’Non from Suttons Bay was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murders.

In 2001, Glen Lake and Crystal River watershed riparians filed suit against the Glen Lake Association and Leelanau County over water levels in the river.

Rodgers’ 2003 judgment named Glen Lake Association as the party responsible for manipulating its dam on the Crystal River. The court order requires that a sufficient amount of water continue flowing through the river to protect fish and wildlife while water levels in Glen Lake be maintained high enough for recreational boating.

“This case is my all-time favorite because of the way it was resolved,” Rodgers said. “Some amazingly successful and intelligent people stepped up (and) donated their time to solve a problem.”

An algorithm is part of the court order, and the association continues to collect data and post quarterly and annual reports on their website, the judge said.

In his farewell memo, Rodgers expressed gratitude to those who have thanked him after their release from prison.

“Unless you have done so, it is hard to describe how difficult sentencing is and why prison, at times, is a proper remedy,” he wrote.

Rodgers also said goodbye to “liars, haters, manipulators, takers and other evil doers.”

“I enjoyed showing you community justice and will miss the opportunities to do so,” he wrote. “Ditto for those in government who would run rough shod over the public.”

In retirement Rodgers said he and his wife, Susan, will have more freedom to travel and spend time with their four grown children and two grandchildren living in Texas, Atlanta, Detroit and Petoskey.

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