Passing the gavel

Federal Judge Greeley set to retire

MARQUETTE — After serving the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Michigan for over 30 years, U.S. Federal Magistrate Judge Timothy P. Greeley will be retiring in March, court officials said.

“To say that we will miss Judge Greeley is an understatement. He has served with distinction in a role that requires the keen intellect, long hours and practical common sense we look for in all Magistrate Judges,” Chief Judge Robert J. Jonker said in a statement. “But because our Marquette location is over 400 miles from any other courthouse in our district, Judge Greeley also had the unique added responsibility of serving as an ambassador of the Court in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula. His retirement is well-deserved, but a huge loss for the court.”

As a federal magistrate judge and the sole active duty judicial officer in the court’s northern division, Greeley took on many administrative responsibilities in addition to presiding over court proceedings in non-felony matters, court officials said.

He was “pivotal in the difficult task of coordinating full dockets for the Article III judges cycling in and out of the Marquette courthouse,” and was also a “key player in managing district-wide administrative issues,” during his career, a statement from the court reads.

Greeley, who was appointed to the position in 1988, grew up in Kalamazoo and graduated with honors from Western Michigan University and graduated magna cum laude from Wayne State University.

Before Greeley’s career on the bench, he served as a law clerk to the Hon. Phillip Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. He then worked at the Lansing-based law firm of Foster, Swift, Collins & Coey before applying for the position of the magistrate judge, he said.

“I thought I was a longshot because I was so young, I was 33,” Greeley said. “But I did get it and was at the time the youngest federal judge in the United States.”

When he arrived in the Upper Peninsula at age 33, he was the first resident federal judge in the U.P., as his appointment to the magistrate judge position in Marquette “was part of the court’s decision that they were going to have a greater presence in the Upper Peninsula,” he said.

This was uncharted territory for both Greeley and the court, he added.

“The challenge was, we were starting almost from ground zero and we had to set up a system that would allow this court to become a fully-functioning satellite court,” Greeley said.

When Greeley started, there was very little going on in terms of a criminal docket at the court, and the U.P. did not have a U.S. Attorney’s Office, a federal grand jury, or offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“It wasn’t that there wasn’t federal crime going on in the Upper Peninsula before I got up here, it was just that there wasn’t a great enough presence to go after it,” Greeley said.

Still, Greeley had his work cut out for him when he started, facing 300 to 400 backlogged civil cases, he said.

However, things would begin to shift a few months later as federal court proceedings regarding a mass murder case began, Greeley said.

“A mass murder was committed my first year — in June of 1988 — by an individual by the name of Loonsfoot and that was the first felony I ever worked on,” Greeley said.

As a magistrate federal judge, Greeley handled the pretrial matters for the case because presidentially-appointed federal judges are responsible for trying and sentencing felony cases, he said.

This trial — which required personnel from the U.S. Attorney’s Office to frequently travel to the U.P. from the Lower Peninsula — was likely part of the impetus for the establishment of a U.S. Attorney’s Office in Marquette, Greeley said, noting that the presence of an active judicial officer in the area also allowed the office to “commit to having a greater presence up here.”

The establishment of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the early 1990s would make a big impact in the area, particularly in regards to the methcathinone epidemic that was happening at the time, Greeley said.

“From my perspective, just on the criminal side, it has made a difference for the Upper Peninsula, because the U.S. Attorney’s Office aggressively took on the methcathinone cases … and it has always been my opinion, that as a result of the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, that epidemic got shut down,” Greeley said.

Another major event for the court occurred in the early 2000s, Greeley said, when the Hon. R. Allan Edgar came to the area to serve for about a decade as a senior U.S. district judge.

“He did a tremendous service for the court up here, for the U.P. and was just a true pleasure to work for as a magistrate judge,” Greeley said.

Beyond being a major part of the court’s growing presence in the U.P. over the past three decades, Greeley has handled many significant cases as a magistrate judge, including the pretrial proceedings for the John Stamos extortion case, which was notable for attracting national media attention and packing the federal courtroom.

Overall, Greeley said his career on the bench has been “everything I had hoped for and more.”

While Greeley’s official retirement date is set for March, he will continue to serve the court in a limited capacity for a year or so after his retirement, Greeley said, as his replacement, Maarten Vermaat, won’t be able to hear cases he was involved in as assistant U.S. attorney.

“Because (Vermaat) has been appointed and he’s with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he’s conflicted out of any criminal matters that he worked on, so I have agreed to a limited recall to come back and help the court on those criminal matters that he’s conflicted out on,” Greeley said.

A retirement party and a portrait unveiling ceremony for Greeley was originally scheduled for March 8, but Greeley said the event has been rescheduled for the spring or summer in light of the ongoing government shutdown, noting that he “wouldn’t have felt right” holding the ceremony knowing that his colleagues would be going unpaid.

Greeley’s retirement plans are open-ended. While he doesn’t know what exactly lies ahead for him, he looks forward to staying in Marquette, doing more charitable work and continuing to teach in Northern Michigan University’s Criminal Justice Department.

It is certain, however, that Greeley will be missed by many, court officials said.

“Judge Greeley has been the face of the federal courts in the Upper Peninsula for many years. He has done a magnificent job of handling many complex judicial and administrative matters,” the Hon. R. Allan Edgar said. “His competence and good humor will be missed by all who have worked with him.”

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.