November 09, 2012
Battle Creek Enquirer
Judge James Kingsley honored with judicial award
By: Trace Christenson
Carrying an armful of case files, Calhoun County Circuit Court Judge James Kingsley was about to begin another Friday morning of sentencings and motions.
He was prepared, that is, until he looked around and saw other judges, court staff, lawyers and some friends in the courtroom.
In September the Michigan Judge’s Association presented Kingsley with the Hilda Gage Award for Judicial Excellence.
Last Friday, members of the Calhoun County legal community gathered for an instant replay.
Tracie Tomak, president of the Calhoun County Bar Association, said the group decided to honor Kingsley in a brief surprise ceremony because of the award and for his 30 years on the bench.
“Attorney Virginia Cairns contacted us and said she was a member of the bar who wanted to do something for another member of the bar,” Tomak said. “So we are doing this because he is the chief judge and most experienced and he is our leader in Calhoun County and he is held in high standard.”
Several members read from an announcement from the Michigan Judge’s Association about the award and the decision to name Kingsley the 2012 recipient.
The award is named for the late Judge Hilda Gage, who served on the Court of Appeals and the Oakland County Circuit Court. The award recognizes current and former circuit court and Court of Appeals judges who have excelled in trial and docket management, legal scholarship and contributions to the profession and the community. The award also honors judges who serve their profession and their communities with integrity, skill and courage, the association said in September.
Kingsley is a faculty member for the Michigan Judicial Institute and lectures at Albion College. He has served as member and president of the both the Michigan Judges Association and the Michigan Tenure Commission.
He is a graduate of Albion College and Northwestern University School of Law and has served as a Calhoun County Circuit Court judge since 1982 and as the chief judge between 1984 and 1993. He was selected chief judge again in January.
“He is erudite, cerebral and learned,” Cairns told the group.
Kingsley was surprised as he sat down behind the bench and looked around and saw other judges and friends rather than just defendants and lawyers waiting for court to begin.
After he learned why they were there, he broke into a smile and later told them, “I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I am about this. This is more meaningful and overwhelming than from a room full of colleagues.
“I can’t thank you enough.”
“I was absolutely floored,” he said later. “I thought I was going in to do sentencings. I had my files.”
After sitting down and looking around, he said only when he saw an attorney and friend, Robert Tuck, and retired Probate Court Judge John Brundage, did he begin to understand it wasn’t a regular Friday morning and that the next few minutes would be meaningful to him.
“It was my colleagues and friends here,” he said.
After the remarks, Kingsley adjourned court and greeted people in a back hallway before again putting on his robe and resuming the day’s docket.
Later he reflected on 30 years on the bench.
“I went to Albion College and thought I would be a chemical engineer,” he said.
But after a year of math and science he switched to economics and in his senior year took the advice of a favorite professor and considered law school.
He met Brundage and the two men visited and enrolled in the Northwestern University School of Law.
“Not until my senior year was it something I had thought about,” he said. “It was the best decision I have ever made.”
Kingsley and Brundage practiced together in Albion for six years before Brundage was appointed to the Probate Court bench and, in 1982, Kingsley became a circuit court judge.
“He knows the law very well,” Brundage said. “and he is able to fit the law to the facts of a case and is diligent about managing a trial.
Kingsley said his goal as a lawyer and judge always is to be fair.
“If it’s a murder case, a medical malpractice case or a child custody case, I want to give each side an opportunity to seek a resolution they see as the best one,” he said. “That is what I try to do. I want to do my best, know what the case is about, give the best decision and move on.”
Nancy Mullett, a former assistant county prosecutor, practiced before Kingsley for years and said “he expects the same thing of himself as he expected of me – to be on time, to be organized, to be prepared and to get to the point.
“He is my favorite judge even when he is wrong, or I should say when we disagree. He’s great.”
Kingsley said the work remains fun and challenging and “I want to do a good job and enjoy the arena but if you choose to do it the stress in unavoidable. It goes with the territory. And if you can’t cope with that then you don’t run and if you choose it and can’t handle it you get out.”
Kingsley, 71, has two years remaining on his final term, and because he is over 70 is prohibited by state law from running again.
“When I am done, I am done,” he said. “And I can be done without any regrets.”