Below is the list, in alphabetical order by last name, of the Past Presidents of the Referees Association of Michigan.
|Amanda Kole||Macomb County|
|Shelley R. Spivack||Genesee County|
|Paul H. Jacokes||Macomb County|
|Arthur R. Spears||Oakland County|
|Kathleen M. Oemke||Livingston County|
|Kenneth D. Randall||Midland County|
|Deborah L. McNabb||Kent County|
|Mark D. Sherbow||Oakland County|
|Zaira Maio||Macomb County|
|Philip Ingraham||Oakland County|
|Vincent Welicka||Livingston County|
|Karen Liwienski||Macomb County|
|Wendelyn Machnik||Branch County|
|Hon. Linda Hallmark||Oakland County|
|Marie Johnson||Kalamazoo County|
|Ronald Foon||Oakland County|
|Jon T. Ferrier||Kent County|
|Wayne Kristal||Oakland County|
As you read through the notes from the past presidents, you can see that we are all “family.” We work hard, we play hard, and at the end of the day we truly enjoy each others company. From my experience, our professional camaraderie is unmatched among bar associations. I’m sure many of my referee friends feel as I do, it is an honor to work in public service and a privilege to be associated with so many talented referees.
Kenneth D. Randall
RAM President, 2004-2006
No single event strikes me as memorable -- my accomplishments, if any, all surround the speakers for the annual meeting, and the fact that RAM was able to become more visible during my tenure.
Things were pretty slow and on an even keel... probably because I was not as creative as Zaira Maio or Deb McNabb (hasn't she been great!); therefore, my memories are cumulative, not specific.
I think some of the best memories are of sitting at dinner (or in the suite or during break) and talking to referees from all over -- many who vary in view and role -- and realizing that we are really blessed with smart and charming members. I really like the people I have met. As a practicing attorney in the early 1970's, I aggressively fought the onslaught of the referee system. However, having seen it develop into a very good system and, to my mind, seated with substantially more competence and knowledge than the average Family Court bench, I am quite proud to be considered a member of this group.
One of my funniest recollections was when I was conference chairperson of the annual RAM conference in 1996. This was my very first handling of the conference. Chief Justice Brickley was scheduled to be our opening speaker -- "The Role of a Referee in a Unified Family Court System." The weekend before he is scheduled to speak, Justice Brinkley calls me at home (how he obtained my telephone number I'll never know, as it was unlisted) and advises me that he cannot attend our conference. He matter-of-factly suggests that I find another speaker to cover for him. At this point I am so shocked, overwhelmed, and somewhat outraged that I reply, "Where the hell am I supposed to find somebody?! You're the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Why don't YOU find somebody?" I think he was somewhat surprised at my response and said, "OK -- I will." We ended our conversation, at which point I began to drink heavily (wine). I had visions of me doing a fan dance for the opening act of my first conference. He called later that evening to advise that Judge Sosnick would cover for him. Judge Sosnick arrived for our conference in sweat pants, and the rest is history. As President of the Referees' Association of Michigan, I overcame the trauma and chaired seven more training conferences (a total of eight) and attempted to raise the quality of the conferences with the invaluable assistance of Mark Sherbow.
During my presidency (July 1998 through June 2000) I reviewed, revised, and updated the By-Laws and Amendments. I relied on my Type A anal personality to gather the history of RAM vis-a-vis the minutes and was able to reconstruct our meetings from the inception, with the exception of less than five (I can't recall the exact number). Make no mistake about it, I was consumed with finding the missing minutes but, alas, I had to give it up. I did NOT give up on the quest to establish RAM's tax-exempt status with the IRS, however, so that I and future chief executive officers would be able to avoid bankruptcy and/or jail. (Talk about a crisis -- that cost me a few gray hairs!)
Last but not least, during my presidency, RAMblin' On, our official RAM newsletter, was born. Through the love and guidance of President McNabb, our newsletter matured and is quite impressive. But I must say -- the idea was mine.
Time is up. In short, during my humble presidency, I did what I do best: organize and plan. I had one original thought -- RAMblin' On. I have many fond memories of my leadership on the board. Most of all -- I had the privilege of working with a wonderful group of bright, funny, hardworking professionals. Thanks for taking the time to ask.
As you can tell the new president, Zaira, is more compulsive than I. She has already sent out her hello message and I am just now sending out my goodbye message.
I certainly enjoyed serving as RAM President for the last two years and four months. There were many firsts during that time. Vince Welicka, the prior president had to resign his position in mid-term resulting in me serving as president for more than two years. Referee McNabb, Kent County was featured in the October 1997 issue of Ladies' Home Journal. RAM had two speakers at its conference which cost a lot of money, Dr. Anne Walker, Forensic Linguist in 1997 and Dr. Donna Rosenberg, Forensic Pediatrician in 1998. Through the efforts of Mark Sherbow, RAM received grant funding from the State Court Administrative Office which helped pay for Dr. Rosenberg's presentation. Mark also received funding from the Detroit law firm of Butzel Long. Of course during this period we also saw the creation of a family division of the circuit court which is making use of both domestic relations referees and juvenile referees. We also, successfully I believe, opposed the Supreme Court's proposal to prohibit referees from wearing robes. We submitted a proposed court rule to the Supreme Court which was a working draft for the Joint Court Rule Committee although our proposal will probably not be accepted in full. I believe we have had an influence on whatever the final product will be.
The following were a few ways referees are being utilized in various family divisions.
Oakland juvenile referees pre-screen PPO petitions. I have been informed that the Michigan Judge's Association has passed a resolution suggesting that stalking orders be handled in the district court so if that happens there will be less work for referees to contend with.
In Wayne County each referee is now assigned to a family division judge and hears all the cases assigned to that particular judge. The new Friend of the Court in Wayne County, Kim Bateman, wants 14 referees (twice as many as present).
In St. Clair County a proposed temporary order is served with a complaint for divorce. If there are objections to the proposed temporary order a referee hearing is scheduled to resolve the objections.
In Washtenaw County, the Friend of the Court referees are in rotation with juvenile court referees and now handle weekend arraignments of juveniles. In Kent County, there are now six referees and five judges. The referees just came out of the Friend of the Court budget and have been placed directly under the circuit judges. The referees there hear objections to personal protection orders, they take proofs in all pro confesso divorces and hear all motions except for the first motion in a divorce case filed for a temporary order.
This is what we have done and what we do. There is much yet to be done. Keep up the good work.
When I was president of RAM, one interesting occurrence which stands out in my mind that I have thought about over the years was as follows:
We were in our, I believe, second year at the Waterfront Inn for our annual conference when I took over. The year prior to moving the conference to the Waterfront Inn we were at Schuss Mountain. I have a membership at Shanty Creek/Schuss Mountain and wanted to move the conference back to that location. There was a certain vocal uprising at my suggestion of going back to a resort, as I was told, with limited recreational activities close at hand. Two years later when Phil Ingraham succeeded me as president, I asked him if he was going to change the site of the conference. He promptly replied, "NO way, Vince! Didn't you learn a thing about getting Zaira upset?!" Yes, Phil, I did!
Thank you, Zaira, for being a wonderful conference chairperson for so many years.
I was among those brave few who gathered one day in some meeting room somewhere (who remembers where anymore) to talk about establishing the great organization now known as RAM (ignore that period of infamy when we were briefly transformed to CRAM). Frankly, my recollection was that nobody there thought we could actually accomplish anything, but it seemed like a good way to get out of the office for an occasional festive lunch. However, one stalwart, our own Wayne P. Kristall was insistent that we could make a difference for referees everywhere and, despite the group's desire to leave and get home early, he revealed his master plan for the organization complete with charts, glossy photos, and 3 x 5 cards. We tried to break out (except for Dave Elias, who was asleep), but Wayne told us that no one was leaving the room until we knew the direction in which the organization was heading. Lagging from fatigue and boredom, I said, "I don't know about you Wayne, but my direction is about to be east and on I-94." And I left.
That's why I've never understood how I later became President. (I have to assume that I fell asleep.)
And that, my friends, is how RAM came to be -- one persistent man with a dream, an overhead projector, and a great head of hair. Ecce homo!
In tripping down memory lane, I recall the pleasant lunches and fun restaurants where many of our meetings were held. And I remember a great variety of discussion topics. Like the issue of exactly what or who is a referee was a frequently discussed topic. I recall talking about duties -- What precisely does or should a referee do? How do (regular) RAM-type referees differ from Friend of the Court (appointed, and not necessarily law school graduate) referees? What legal problems did this raise? What conflicts and potential conflicts arise if a referee is also performing managerial functions in his or her office? Defining a "record" -- transcripts, how and when to tape; are the referee's notes a sufficient record? AND money disparity -- why did a referee in a large county (with perhaps a lesser caseload per referee) make LOTS more money than a small county referee with all of that county's cases in his or her docket? IMPORTANTLY, what sort of uniform, if any, should a referee wear on the bench? Does wearing a robe on the bench in any way assure more salary?
I do not recall feeling weighted down with necessarily establishing precedent for future years by these discussions and determinations; they were just issues we felt would be important to clarify as we went along. Of course, many times there were no unilateral solutions due to the extreme differences in the judges who appointed us and the vast diversity in Michigan's many counties/jurisdictions.
Primarily, I recall the camaraderie -- the "club" was comprised of other hard-working attorneys dedicated to public service, blessed with a variety of judges, and strapped by ever-increasing caseload demands. Knowing there were other professionals with similar challenges and frustrations was, for me, like knowing your boat had an anchor.
RAM friendships were paramount. The annual conferences were the best. I remember your faces fondly; RAM was a very special organization during the years I was a member and served on the Board. You have achieved many special accomplishments in successive years as well. I think your RAM newsletter is a wonderful tool to bond the Association, providing valuable information and invaluable humor.
I wish you all every success as you ramble into the future.
My best recollection was our first RAM conference. (20 years ago?) Referee (now Judge) Laura Barnard and I were tapped to plan the conference. We had no budget and were charged with making it affordable for the underpaid referees.
It was suggested that we hold it at Gull Lake conference center (MSU extension facility) in Kazoo. Laura came happily down to tell me one day that it was very inexpensive and would be perfect for us. She said there were plenty of dorm rooms and a cafeteria that served MSU dorm food. However, she said, Gull Lake was the site of the old Kellogg mansion. The "mansion" had been converted to an office facility, but there were still a couple of guest rooms on the top floor. Laura booked everyone into the dorms except she and I and our colleagues Martha Anderson and Kittie Fairbrother.
We arrived at Gull Lake on a cold winter day. We had packed lots of wool clothing and our flannel jammies. We checked into the "mansion." We noticed the steam heat in the building was rather warm. In fact, it was about 98 degrees the whole time we were there. The office workers (who wore shorts) told us there was no way to regulate it since the system was ancient. We climbed up the stairs to our room. The Sister Mary Francis suite was about 9 by 9 square and in it were 4 cotlike beds. There wasn't enough room to fit our suitcases. The heat was unrelenting. We ended up sleeping with an open window. Between the heat in the room and the frigid air from outside, we all ended up with colds. The next morning I was selected to take the first shower in the miniscule bathroom we shared. You guessed it, the water was frigid. I threw on my bathrobe and went down to the unfriendly office workers to complain that I wasn't getting any hot water. They looked at me like I was from Mars and said "there isn't any hot water in this building." It was a long three days for us mansion dwellers with no sleep, no showers and dorm food. We found a hotel the following year and the conferences have been great ever since.
"Marie, did you remember to bring your clothes?" For years after I was President this question was my standard greeting. This is the rest of the story.
The Annual Meeting of the Referees' Association of Michigan was to be held at the Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island. Rod Budka, Michelle Gentell and I shared a ride "up North." I had carefully chosen my outfits and hung them in a garment bag in the front closet the night before the trip. When it was time to leave, I grabbed my suitcase, but completely forgot my hanging clothes in the closet. I didn't realize I had neglected to bring my garment bag until after I had arrived on the island.
Dinner that evening was to be then Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Dennis Archer. I was to be at his table. The Grand Hotel had a strict dress code for dinner in the dining room. What to do? David Elias generously offered me one of his wife's outfits -- we were about the same size.
Always a believer in "when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping," I headed out and found a nice navy/floral print skirt and matching sweater at one of the island boutiques. The decision to purchase was sealed when I saw how cute the outfit looked on another shopper who had tried it on. "I hope we aren't going to the same dinner," I murmured to the checkout girl. "Not to worry," she advised. The other shopper was from Tennessee.
That evening I proudly wore my new skirt down to the Geranium Lobby of the Grand Hotel. All of a sudden I heard someone yelling across the lobby. "Yuu Hoo, Yuu, Hoo." Someone from across the lobby was trying to get my attention. It was the same shopper who I had seen earlier in the boutique. She came over and dragged/led me across the lobby to show me to her fellow travelers. She was the tour director for a busload of senior citizens from Tennessee. "See, this is the outfit I bought today," she announced to everyone.
Word got around. For years afterward I was asked at every conference (usually by David Elias), "Did you remember your clothes, Marie?" I still have the outfit. It's a favorite, and I enjoy telling the story every time I wear it. It brings a new meaning to the term "judge shopping."
I was president so long ago that I forgot my most memorable moments. I remember Marie Johnson leading a "caucus" to elect Doug Dok as president instead of me when that election came up, and miraculously, I prevailed. That was the last political crisis that I remember occurring in RAM's storied history.* By the way, I think it's about time that Dok runs for president. I'm sure that I followed Jon Ferrier and preceded Linda Hallmark. In seriousness, I think the camaraderie that I shared with my fellow board members, the beginning of training conferences in places like Gull Lake, and the fact that RAM survived my two years as prez, are my most memorable recollections of my tenure. I was awed at where we are now through the incredible work of our current and recent leaders, and their boards.
*Despite the politics of yore, Marie, Doug and I have remained friends. I actually think Marie's move was a good thing due to the overpopulation of Oakland Ref's on RAM's board at the time. As noted above, Linda Hallmark was elected two years later when my term expired, but non-Oakland Ref's ascended to President for a number of years thereafter.
When I was President of RAM, from 1985-7, we started out with "Morning in America, again," and ended with Ollie North and Iran/Contra-Gate. In between, the Governor of California and the past-Governor of Minnesota starred in "Predator," which Doug Dok and I saw in Toronto, playing hooky from a Family Law Section summer seminar. The space shuttle, Challenger, blew up 73 seconds after liftoff, the fault of frozen o-rings, as discovered by "Genius," Richard Feynman. And we were all forced to listen to some of the worst popular music in our lifetimes. In sports highlights, Mike Aulby, Walter Ray Williams, Jr., and Pete Weber were the leading Professional Bowlers Association money winners in 1985, 1986 and 1987, respectively.
Closer to home, the Legislature passed what they called the Family Equity Package, the Court of Appeals missed the target with Marshall v. Beal, and a young lawyer at the University of Michigan Child Advocacy Law Clinic named Scott Bassett wrote in asking to be an associate member of RAM. Then, as now, there were efforts to create uniform standards of review for Juvenile and Domestic Relations Referees, and an effort to do away with the pernicious holding in Marshall. Plus ca change, n'est-ce pas? And a primitive ancestor of the current, robust RAMblin' On, "Referential Notice," began clogging up the mailboxes of Referees.
We are still having problems with space shuttles, politics and law, foreign intrigue and Marshall v. Beal. And our pay and working conditions have not adequately improved, while the only press we get is bad.
But like Sisyphus, we keep pushing the rock back up the hill, not because we are cursed, but because we care. Not because we are crazy, but because we are committed (or should be). Not because we wear robes, but because we strive to do what is right. We belong to the connective tissue that hold the law together. We make sense of chaos, keep people from killing each other, and at the end of the day, society is a little better for our having punched in. Our thanks comes from within and from our peers. It is enough. I am proud to be a member of RAM for these twenty years.
As President of RAM I was privileged to attend a legislative committee hearing where I recommended that referees be given the opportunity to make decisions on the record rather than having to provide findings of facts in writing for every decision they make. I was fortunate to serve at a time when input of referees was welcomed by the Legislature and the State Court Administrative Office.
It was a time when children's issues were focused on and judges were not required as much to count their statistics. Resources, never plentiful, were more abundant than currently. Referees were closer to the clients than currently, ethics now reducing direct access of clients to referees.
Things were different, yet the quality of refereeing seems to be as high or higher than previously. It is good to see the referee system has, for the most part, held its own in difficult circumstances. I hope the referees still have fun when they meet.
Good luck to Family Court Referees!