Goodman retires as circuit court judge
Had held position since 2009 as part of 47-year law career
HOUGHTON — 12th Circuit Court Judge Charles Goodman always wanted to be a lawyer.
“I always thought the law was an excellent way to serve the public, and I still do,” he said. “And I think the courts are a mechanism to bring fairness and justice to the public. And I’ve always prided myself on trying to do that.”
He carried that mentality through 27 years of private practice, before sitting on the bench as probate court judge in 2003. Six years later, he was appointed to sit on the 12th circuit court, which covers Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties.
After a legal career stretching almost 50 years, Goodman decided it was time to step down. He announced his retirement earlier this month; Friday was his last day in office.
“I felt that if I wanted to do other things, now’s the time,” he said. “So if I want to travel, if I want to involve myself in other types of activities, now’s the time to do it.”
After graduating from Cooley Law School in 1976, he returned to the Copper Country, where he was sworn into the bar that November.
He primarily did criminal defense and personal injury litigation — first for Wisti & Jaaskelainen, and then as a partner with Michael Makinen, who later became Houghton County prosecutor. When John Mikkola decided to step down as probate court judge, Goodman applied and was appointed in 2003.
While probate court isn’t as high-profile as others, it’s just as important to the people involved to handle them fairly, he said.
“As a judge, you can bring about justice and fairness to those situations, as you can as an attorney,” he said. “I’ve always felt no matter what area of the law I was involved with, that I could bring about a fair result. That’s what the profession is all about.”
When Garfield Hood retired from the circuit court in 2009, Goodman decided to take on a new role. He was already familiar with the court from his time as a defense attorney. Being on the other side of the bench wasn’t a difficult transition, he said.
“I understood the role of the court as compared to the role of an attorney, the role of an advocate versus that of a judge,” he said. “…I have enjoyed, been humbled actually, by serving the people of Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties in this capacity.”
Goodman’s legal career started in an age of carbon paper and dictaphones and is ending in new terrain of online databases and Zoom hearings. That computerization has been the biggest change he’s seen in his career.
“It took me some time to learn how to research and those kinds of things, because I used to research just using the books,” he said, indicating the many volumes lined up behind him in his office. “And now nobody even subscribes to those … Our courts are keeping up with the times, and so they should.”
More cases also get resolved through means other than a judge’s verdict, with many going to a facilitated resolution through an independent attorney. Mediation is often faster and less expensive, and is more likely to satisfy both parties, he said.
Judges also have less latitude in deciding sentences than when Goodman began his legal career. At first, judges had a wide latitude, granting anywhere up to the maximum penalty. Later, sentencing guidelines set parameters for how long the minimum sentence could be.
Although those are only advisory now, they still carry weight, Goodman said.
“I would always set forth what the sentencing range was (in court), because it was important,” he said.
He’ll remember some cases, though he declined to single any out. His main memories will be of his staff and fellow judges, some of whom he talks with every day.
“We all strive, first of all, to be faithful to the law, to listen, and be fair, and that’s what a judge is supposed to do,” he said. “And treat people with dignity and respect.”
Whoever the next judge is will share those traits, Goodman said. As when Goodman became a judge, his replacement will be chosen by the governor.
“I’m sure whoever is appointed to replace me will perform the duties of this position with diligence and with fairness,” he said. “And I think anybody who is appointed is going to be exceedingly well qualified, and will certainly know how to involve themselves in the responsibilities of this position.”
“I have no doubt that whoever replaces me will do a wonderful job,” he said.
Over his last couple of days in office, Goodman packed up his stuff from the judge’s chambers, including photos on the walls and a number of plants, some of which he’d had in his offices since he became probate court judge.
Goodman will figure out his plans for retirement as he goes.
“Living here and being here is a blessing,” he said. “So I have no intention of leaving. Just working in the garden a little bit more.”