A Wayne County judge planning to retire later this year suffered a fatal heart attack at work Monday.
Circuit Judge Richard Skutt, 70, was walking to a neighboring courtroom when he collapsed, said court officials. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Skutt, who became a judge in 2004, was preparing to retire and move to Arizona at the end of the year, court officials said.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Alex Baker said he had handled cases in front of Skutt an hour before his cardiac arrest, and he seemed fine.
“I’m very shocked,” he said.
A Skutt staffer was having a birthday lunch Monday and Skutt went to the chambers of Circuit Judge Gregory Bill to invite his workers to the celebration when he collapsed, said Bill.
Bill, whose courtroom sat next to Skutt’s, described his colleague as a mentor and ally.
“He was truly about collegiality,” he said. “He helped the people he served, his fellow judges, everybody.”
Skutt, who handled criminal cases, also was popular with prosecutors who practiced before him.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Christina Bertrand Hines said on Facebook that, no matter how crazy lawyers or witnesses got in Stutt’s courtroom, the judge remained calm.
“I wish we could get more judges like him,” she wrote.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Chris Petrick, who tried his first murder case before Skutt, said he’ll never forget all the advice the judge gave him during the young attorney’s 12 months in his courtroom.
Petrick said the judge was invariably kind, fair and compassionate.
“We lost one incredible man today,” he wrote on Facebook.
Natalie DeBoer was a law student at the University of Detroit Mercy when she assisted an attorney on a case before Skutt. She said the judge’s compliments after the trial made her determined to retake the bar exam.
“I was determined to be in front of him again one day soon,” she wrote on Facebook.
Skutt received his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University in 1969 and his law degree three years later from Wayne State University, according to Ballotpedia.
After he was appointed to the bench by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2004, he was elected in 2006, 2008 and 2014. He was currently serving a six-year term.
Before he became a judge, he was director of Michigan Legal Services from 1978 to 1982, and was a partner at Glotta Skutt & Associates from 1985 to 2004, according to Ballotpedia. He specialized in workers compensation and social security disability law.