I count myself lucky to have known retired Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Stan Latreille.
Latreille, who lived in Howell, died Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020, at the age of 82, after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer.
A highly respected judge with a reputation for civility and fairness, Stan was a lot of other things, too: a novelist; a former newspaper reporter; a blogger on The Livingston Post; a traveller; a dog lover; a hunter; a Catholic; and a loving family man who raised five children with Barbara, the love of his life whom he met on a blind date in 1960.
Stan was also famous for presiding over the most-notorious criminal case in Livingston County history: the trial of Ronald Bailey for the 1985 kidnapping and murder of 13-year-old Shawn Moore of Brighton. (You can read Buddy Moorehouse’s piece on the case by clicking here.) The proceedings generated media attention from across the state and country, and Stan handled the pressures so well that one attorney said he “wrote the textbook on handling the high-profile trial” with the case.
Combining his two careers, Stan hosted a regular “Bench, Bar and Press” brown-bag lunch series in the courthouse. Local attorneys and local journalists got together with him to talk about the law and various issues; if nothing else, I think those lunches were a good attempt to bridge the divide that exists between the two professions.
My friendship with Stan began after I wrote a profile of him for the 1993 “Behind the Bench” series in The Livingston County Press. I hope you CLICK HERE and read the piece because it contains a lot of great information. At about the same time that series ran, I was also covering a big murder trial over which Stan was presiding.
I got a call from the judge one day and I worried that I had made a mistake in one of the stories. Instead, Stan paid me one of the highest compliments of my life: “I like what you wrote,” he said. “You really know how to use a semi-colon.”
Those few words made me feel like I had won a Pulitzer, and from that moment a friendship forged in semi-colons and a love of writing was born.
That friendship had some great perks. I had a good seat to the 1998 publication of “Perjury,” Stan’s well-received debut novel, a courtroom drama about lies, sexual abuse, and the conflict between law and justice. I got to see the galley proof of the novel over lunch one day, which was a thrill. And when it was released, “Perjury” was the most-read book in Livingston County, with eager readers trying to match the fictional characters to people in the community. I have my own copy of the novel in a special place on my bookshelf.
He retired and I was laid off from the newspaper at about the same time, and we continued our occasional semi-colon admiration society meetings over coffee. He then ventured into the digital age on The Livingston Post, writing on a wide range of topics, from stories in the news to traveling, to his beloved hunting dog and how much that very same dog loved Donald Trump.
Stan had been working on a second novel, and we talked about it when we got together over coffee a couple months ago. It was based loosely on a murder case in northern Michigan. I hope he got it finished.
While we were enjoying our coffee, Stan pulled out his new iPhone to show me some pictures on it; he fumbled about, trying to get it unlocked. The phone didn’t recognize his face or his password, and as he looked at it, trying to figure out what was going wrong, his wife, Barb, rushed into the coffeehouse.
“You took my phone when you left,” she said as she traded his for hers.
We all laughed.
Stan, who had stopped writing a lot for the LivPo I think about the time he was diagnosed, talked about writing something new for the site, and he said he was thinking about getting another dog. But as I replay our last conversation in my mind, I think Stan knew his time was limited. He had survived far longer than most who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he grew sentimental, talking about what a blessed life he had led, all that he was thankful for, and how he was at peace with whatever was to come.
I am so glad Stan got to spend one last holiday season with his family. And I am so, so grateful for our last coffee together.
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You can read Stan’s beautifully written obituary by clicking here.
Visitation will be held Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020 from 2-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at MacDonald’s Funeral Home, 315 N. Michigan Ave. in Howell. Stan was a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church, 440 E. Washington St., where mass of the resurrection will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, with a visitation from 10-11 a.m. at church. Private burial will follow at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Memorial contributions can be made to the Wounded Warrior Project. You can sign the guestbook at www.macdonaldsfuneralhome.com.
Here’s a campaign ad from the Oct. 27, 1982, issue of the Livingston County Press for Stan’s run for Circuit Court. He remains Livingston County’s longest-serving judge.