So it turns out that Theresa Brennan was not the first Livingston County jurist ever thrown out of office. It happened before, way back in 1930, and it’s a story that involves a young traffic cop, an old judge and the governor’s chauffeur threatening to beat the hell out of someone in downtown Brighton.
Sit back and relax. This story is a good one.
It starts back in May of 1930, when Brighton was a sleepy little town that sat along U.S. Route 16, which is now called Grand River Avenue.
The first automobiles had come to Michigan in about 1903, and by 1930, they were pretty much everywhere in the state. This was long before the days of interstate highways, so if you wanted to get from Detroit to Lansing or Grand Rapids, you pretty much had to take U.S. 16 through Brighton.
The traffic through Brighton had gotten so heavy that the town decided at some point that it needed its own traffic officer. That guy’s one and only job would be to police the traffic along U.S. 16.
It’s also worth noting that there was also one stoplight in Brighton, at the intersection of Main Street and U.S. 16.
In May of 1930, the Brighton town council appointed a 21-year-old guy named Robert Cord as Brighton’s traffic officer. He had no formal police training whatsoever. He was working at the General Motors Proving Ground and just applied for the job and got hired.
The other main character in this story is a fellow named Caleb K. Collett, who was Brighton’s 70-year-old justice of the peace.
Back in those days, each town had its own justice of the peace, and that guy was essentially the local judge. His main job was to arraign people when they were charged with a crime and act as judge, jury and sentencer every time someone was given a traffic ticket. That last part is the important thing to remember for this story.
At some point before 1930 – I don’t know when – Caleb Collett was appointed as Brighton’s justice of the peace. And it’s important to note that just like in Robert Cord’s case, Caleb Collett had no training, education or experience whatsoever before he took the job. He had never been to law school, never passed the bar, never learned anything legal.
Got all that? It’s 1930 in Brighton and we have a cop with no experience and a judge with no training.
Robert Cord was the local traffic cop, and he wrote the tickets. Caleb Collett was the justice of the peace, and he decided whether or not those people were guilty.
And according to all accounts from the day, when it came to doing those jobs, they went crazy.
Officer Cord, the 21-year-old traffic cop, wrote tickets to everybody. Literally everybody. He would stop one car and write a ticket, and as soon as he was done, he would stop the next car and write a ticket, no matter what they were doing. And so on and so on, all day long.
And then when they went before the Justice of the Peace, good old Caleb Collett, he would find them guilty every single time. Didn’t listen to what they had to say, just found them guilty and fined them five or ten dollars. Every single time.
It was quite a racket they had going.
Well, in late May of 1930 – just a few weeks after he had taken the job – Robert Cord pulled over a car on U.S. 16 that was driven by a chauffeur. In the back seat of the car was a man by the name of Fred W. Green, who just so happened to be the governor of Michigan.
We’re about to get to the part of the story where the chauffeur threatens to kick the cop’s ass, but before we do, let’s learn a little more about Governor Fred W. Green.
Until I happened upon this story (which happened while perusing the archives on newspapers.com), I had never heard of Fred W. Green. But now that I’ve looked into his story a little bit, he’s pretty much my favorite Michigan governor ever.
Why? Because he’s the only Michigan governor I know of who was once the head football coach at a major university. How cool is that?
It’s true. In 1895, Fred Green was the head football coach at Eastern Michigan University (which was called Michigan Normal College back then). He coached the team to a 4-1 record and then retired.
He was also a newspaper reporter, the city attorney in Ypsilanti, the owner of a furniture company and the mayor of Ionia. And then in 1926, he was elected as a Republican to be the governor of Michigan. Coolest background ever.
On that day in late May of 1930, though, Gov. Green was just the passenger in a car being driven his chauffeur along U.S. 16 in Brighton. And so, of course, Officer Robert Cord pulled them over. He had no idea that the governor of Michigan was inside this particular car, but it was the next car in line, so it was their turn to get pulled over.
Officer Cord told the chauffeur he was doing 60 and had run the red light in town. The chauffeur called B.S. on that. The case went before Justice of the Peace Collett and – shocker! – the chauffeur was found guilty.
Here’s where it gets interesting. In the next few months, Officer Robert Cord pulled the governor’s car over THREE MORE TIMES!
That’s right. In the space of just six months or so, Gov. Fred Green’s car was pulled over four times in Brighton for speeding, and every single time, Caleb Collett found them guilty.
Now we get to the ass-kicking part of the story.
According to a newspaper account at the time, during one such traffic stop, the chauffeur got so ticked off that Robert Cord kept pulling him over that he “threatened to crowd the officer into the ditch if he did it again.”
Wow. That’s one of the greatest threats I’ve ever heard. “I’m going to crowd you into the ditch!”
Way to go, Mr. Chauffeur.
Well, as it turns out, Gov. Fred Green’s chauffeur is not the only one who was getting sick and tired of Robert Cord and Caleb Collett. Back in those days, members of the Detroit Automobile Club were constantly taking drives along U.S. 16 in Brighton, as well. And so, of course, they were constantly getting pulled over by Officer Cord and fined by Justice Collett.
They showed up at a Brighton Town Council meeting, demanding that Cord and Collett be fired. Then Henry Ford himself got involved, because some of his test drivers were also getting pulled over. Here’s the story from August of 1930:
Well, by late 1930, Gov. Fred Green had seen enough. He didn’t have any authority over Officer Cord, but he did have authority over Justice Collett, so he threw him out of office. The official reason was because Collett didn’t have any legal training, but nobody really bought that story. Everybody knew that Gov. Green was pissed off because his own damn car kept getting pulled over so many times.
And when Caleb Collett was thrown out of office, the newspapers had a field day with it:
And even though the town fathers in Brighton were greatly upset that the governor had thrown their justice of the peace out of office, usurping their authority, they followed suit in early January by firing Robert Cord. He went back to his old job at the Brighton Proving Ground.
And there you have it. The story of the cop, the justice and the gubernatorial chauffeur who wanted to crowd both of them into a ditch.