Howell’s eternal optimist: Judge Latreille shines on the bench

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This piece was originally published on Wednesday, May 26, 1993, as part of the “Behind the Bench” series in the Livingston County Press.

Though Stanley Latreille was a good lawyer, most everyone agrees that it’s on the bench as a circuit court judge where Latreille shines.

“What strikes me most about Judge Latreille is how very well he grew into this job,” said Ken Burchfield, president of the Livingston County Bar Association. “I certainly know that when he first announced his candidacy for the bench, I had some concerns about whether he was ready.”

However, since first being elected in 1982, Latreille has shown a “pleasant development as a jurist,” Burchfield said, showing “great courage” in his approach to the law from the other side of the bench.

Former Livingston County prosecutor Tom Kizer agrees. “He was just another attorney to me,” Kizer said, “but he is far superior as a judge.”

The facts seem to agree: In 10 years, Latreille has never had a jury trial reversed. He has reduced the number of cases over two years old on his docker from 174 when he was first elected in 1982 to about 15 this year, and he has introduced mediation successfully to both the civil and divorce dockets.

And though he knows his stuff when it comes to running a courtroom, what many say makes Latreille so good is the kind of man he is: words like “apolitical, “civil,” “courageous,” “honest,” “intelligent,” “patient,” “hard-working,” and “decisive” are used to describe him, and it seems safe to say that the life and career of Circuit Court Judge Stanley J. Latreille has had as much to do with love as it has with law.

Just ask him about the greatest accomplishments of his life, and he’ll say that they are the five children he had with his wife, Barbara, whom he met on a blind date in 1960.

His modest home in Howell is a shrine to the Latreille family: Photographs of his children adorn each and every room, and one of the proudest moments of his life came earlier this month, when he swore in his oldest son, Dan, as a Lawyer.

Ask Latreille why he decided to study law after working as a journalist at two of the major daily newspapers in the country, and he will say that he simply “fell in love with the law.”

And he was willing to do whatever it took to pursue this new love, which meant attending the University of Detroit School of Law five nights a week while working as a reporter to support his wife and four children.

“I was always philosophically concerned with justice,” Latreille said, “and I thought studying it would be dry, but I found it to be just the opposite.”

After graduating cum laude from law school, Latreille “took the plunge” and relocated his family from the Detroit area to Howell, where he went into private practice.

Then in 1982, Latreille, along with now District Judge A. John Pikkarainen, did something that was “almost unheard of,” according to Burchfield: They beat a two-term incumbent, Circuit Court Judge Paul Mahinske, in the primary.

And from the primary to the general election, the campaign between Latreille, the top vote-getter, and Pikkarainen, who had placed second, heated up.

Howell attorney Paul DeCocq, a strong supporter of Pikkarainen in that election, said the campaign sometimes became “harsh.”

“But there was never an occasion where anyone would ever know that from Stan Latreille’s behavior,” DeCocq said. “That is a good mark of the man.”

DeCocq, who has appeared before Latreille “hundreds and hundreds of times” over the past 10 years, said that one criticism he has heard of the judge is that he is not “iron fisted” enough.

“But Stan does not believe justice comes from an iron fist,” DeCocq said. “His most remarkable trait is being incredibly patient and civil in circumstances that cry out for rudeness and exasperation.

“I sometimes wonder when he will lost his temper, when he will get fed up … but Stan believes that everyone is entitled to their say.”

A reported criticism from Livingston county’s defense bar is that Latreille is sometimes too willing to uphold confessions and searches tht might be challenged on constitutional grounds, but Livingston County Prosecutor
David Morse took issue with that observation.

“I don’t agree with that assessment, and neither does the court of appeals,” Morse said. “Latreille doesn’t get reversed.”

One of the Latreille’s strengths is in the way he runs his courtroom, described as “friendly” by Morse.

“Part of my philosophy of running a courtroom is that it is owned by the public,” Latreille said. “No one has the right to treat it like a club.

“I recognize that most people have never been in a courtroom, are afraid of the law and the judge, and feel intimidated. I try to put them at ease.”

Jack Jordan, Latreille’s former law clerk who has recently gone into private practice, said that he learned a lot from his former boss.

“I learned from how he behaved and treated other people,” Jordan said. “I learned that you could be a good litigator and lawyer without having to berate or destroy people.

Latreille also takes a persona interest in those who work for him, Jordan said, and celebratory lunches for special occasions in their lives are standard.

“He is always encouraging, always trying to build you up,” Jordan said. “And he loves being a judge.”

And though he loves his job, Latreille seems to be unaffected by the power.

“Away from the courthouse, you’d never know what Latreille does for a living,” DeCocq said. “The easiest thing in the world to do is to throw your weight around when they give you one of those black robes.

“Stan does not need to do that. He understands the arsenal he has, but he does not think he has to fire every arrow on Monday morning.”

Latreille is also described as being “eternally optimistic about the human soul.”

“He sometimes has more faith in the ability of a defendant to be rehabilitated than I do,” said Prosecutor Morse. “Latreille looks for the good in everyone, and he will not see this as a weakness.

“I am also not as patient as Latreille is, but everyone who comes into his courtroom gets a fair hearing.”

One thing Morse declined to discuss was the controversial 1986 appointment of Tom Hallin as prosecutor — one of the few controversies in Latreille’s judicial career.

Latreille and fellow Circuit Court Judge Daniel Burress appointed Hallin, who had been an assistant attorney general, to replace newly elected district judge Frank Del Vero as prosecutor.

In doing so, Latreille and Burress bypassed Morse, whom many felt was the right person for the job. Morse was the chief assistant prosecutor under Del Vero at the time, and was fresh from his high-profile prosecution of murderer Ronald Bailey.

And though Morse went on to win the prosecutor’s job two years later in the 1988 election, many still consider Hallin’s appointment a slap in the face to Livingston County’s legal community.

“Judge Latreille disappointment me when he ignored what I thought should have been the appointment of David Morse as the next prosecutor in Livingston,” said Burchfield, the bar association president. “But let’s face it, I got the benefit of his incorrect decision.”

After Hallin’s appointment, Morse left the prosecutor’s office to join Burchfield’s practice until he “earned the prosector’s job on his own merits,” Burchfield said.

Latreille aid that he would rather not “rake up old coals” about the Hallin appointment, but did say that he, “as a circuit judge, participated ina decision.”

“Then the people decided in the subsequent election that David Morse was the right man for the job,” Latreille said. “That is the wonder of democracy, and I have no criticism of the current prosecutor.”

While some speculate that Latreille simply followed Burress’ lead in filling the prosecutor’s spot with Hallin, Burchfield said that the reasons for the decision will probably never be known.

“I did not agree then and I have not found any reason to understand it now,” Burchfield said. “It was not that they passed over David Morse, but it was that they ignored his contributions to Livingston County’s legal system as the chief assistant prosecutor.

And in his role as chief assistant prosecutor, David Morse spent a month before Judge Latreille prosecuting one of the most highly publicized trials in Livingston County’s history: The murder trial of Ronald Bailey for the 1985 murder of 13-year-old Shawn Moore of Brighton.

The case generated considerable media attention from across the state and country, and everyone agrees that Latreille handled the pressures well.

Burchfield said that Latreille “wrote the textbook on handling the high-profile trial” during the Bailey case.

“He was sensitive to the public’s need and right to know,” Burchfield said, “and he was sensitive to his official duties of office to provide a fair and impartial trial.

“This man (Ronald Bailey) was accused of committing one of the most heinous acts in this community. Latreille saw that justice was done in a courageous and commendable way.”

Latreille said that the trial was difficult for him, “more perhaps for the publicity than for the case itself,” adding that it was the kind of case he wants to be involved with only once in his lifetime.

And for whatever criticism is made of Latreille, he remains one of the most popular of Livingston County judges.

DeCocq said that one of the reasons Latreille is so well-liked is that there is something about him that affects people strongly.

“It’s like he has this rather substantial clarity about how he goes about things,” DeCocq said. “There is no guile in how he approaches the bench.”

Burchfield said that he feels Latreille’s decision to become a judge had to have been a spiritual one.

“It is like being a judge is a calling for him,” Burchfield said. “I simply can’t imagine Judge Latreille not being a judge.”

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About Maria Stuart 243 Articles
Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. These days, she runs The Livingston Post, and is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse.

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