I've been thinking about the proper words to say about Judge Jamie Wittenberg since his passing. I've been thinking a lot about his impact, the loss to our community, and what he's done and meant to the bench in Royal Oak and Berkley. But I want to describe what it's like as a young lawyer, first starting to handle cases on my own, and filing most of them in front of Judge Jamie. There were many afternoons with motion call there, and after checking in I'd sit there and listen to Judge do motions with people who were locked up. Giving them chance after chance, far after anyone with a regular human's sense of patience would give them.
Then I'd get called up, and probably self-righteously argue that this insurer or that insurer deserves sanction or whatever. He'd give a wry smile and say "Well I don't know about that, Mr. Acker." You could feel his eyes rolling but his sense of professionalism never did. Sometimes (when I deserved it) he'd grant my motion; sometimes he wouldn't. Afterward, he'd say something like "Mr. Acker, can you approach on another matter?" And he'd call me up, and we'd talk for a few minutes about whatever was on his mind.
I got to do this for month after month, year after year. Everyone in that courtroom felt as I do: Because I was able to hone my craft in front of Judge Jamie, it made me a far better lawyer. I owe a lot of people for being a lawyer. One of the people who made me a far better lawyer was my friend Robert's older brother — the smarter, wiser Judge Wittenberg.
I'm gutted for the entire Wittenberg family, for whom the loss of Jamie loss is incalculable. I'm saddened for our entire community, who's lost a leader, a wise man, a mensch. As someone who litigated in front of him, I'm sad for the profession of law. It's terribly and wildly unfair that someone with his skills, his intellect — his fairness and faith in our system — is just gone, in the prime of his working life.
I got to spend some time with Jamie over the last few years outside of the courtroom. I was thrilled to take Robert and Jamie to a Michigan-Indiana Basketball game days before the pandemic shut everything down. He had been diagnosed for almost a year at that point, and I had to ask what kept him so upbeat. He just smiled and said you have to keep going. Live healthier, but keep going. Indiana lost by 20 but neither Wittenberg could have been happier to be there.
I don't know how to end this, because there's nothing that you can possibly say in such a time. But one thing I wish I had said to him, is when I went up there, made my (sometimes overdramatic, I was a young lawyer after all!) arguments, that Jamie corrected me, never looked down on me, and was a judge that I always felt helped me learn more just by doing. I never said thank you. It never felt appropriate, but I wish I had.
Well, here it is. Thank you, Judge Jamie, for everything. Your memory will absolutely be for a blessing.