Retired senior judge Patrick J. Duggan, father of Detroit mayor, dies

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Retired senior U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan, the father of Detroit's mayor, has died, the city announced Wednesday.

Duggan, 86, passed away at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday at Angela Hospice in Livonia following a lengthy illness. He was surrounded in his final days by his wife, four sons, daughter-in-law and 13 grandchildren, the family said. 

Retired Senior Judge Patrick Duggan, at the 2014 swearing-in of his son, Mayor Mike Duggan, right, with former Mayor Dave Bing. The judge died Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

Duggan, who was nominated in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, retired as a federal judge in 2015 after three decades on the bench. His son, Mike Duggan, is serving his second term as Detroit's mayor. 

The judge was known for his relentless pursuit of dispensing justice equally regardless of status and his strong value for family, son Tim Duggan told The Detroit News. 

"I couldn't feel more blessed that I had him as an example as a dad," said Duggan, 53, of Ohio, his father's youngest son and "stated favorite." 

"Honestly, I don't know how he did it. He managed to be at home at dinner every night and coach Little League team when doing all the other things he was doing," he added. "As important as his legal career was, nothing ever came before the family."

Mike Duggan, the city said Wednesday, had spent the last few weeks splitting his time between work and Livonia, spending time with his father and other relatives, in some cases multiple times per day. 

Patrick J. Duggan

Patrick Duggan was a Wayne County judge for 10 years prior to moving to U.S. District Court beginning in 1977, following an appointment to the position in 1976 by Gov. William Milliken. 

He was officially appointed to the U.S. District Court in October 1986 and assumed judicial service in January 1987, according to the court's website. 

Retired U.S. District Chief Judge Gerald Rosen said his first brush with Duggan came while Rosen co-chaired the federal court's Judicial Selection Committee and Duggan, at the time, was serving on the bench inWayne County. 

"He impressed us tremendously. So much so that he got a very high recommendation from us," recalled Rosen, adding he often relied on Duggan's advice. "He was always a voice of reason, common sense and fairness."

Prior to his federal appointment and time serving as a judge for Wayne County, he'd been a senior partner at Brashear, Brashear, Mies and Duggan, a private law firm in Livonia.

Duggan was born Sept. 28, 1933. His father, Patrick J. Duggan Sr., left the family farm in Kilkenny, Ireland, at the age of 18 to come to Detroit.  His mother, Mabel Kelly, was the daughter of Irish and German immigrants who also made Detroit their home, according to an obituary prepared by the family.

Duggan grew up on Detroit's east side and attended St. Clare de Montefalco Elementary School, then De LaSalle High School. 

In 1951, he left to earn an undergraduate degree at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He worked his way through school, first as a loader at a nearby dairy and then for the U.S. Postal Service, his family said. He graduated in 1955 with a bachelor's degree in economics. 

He then returned to Detroit and completed his juris doctorate at the University of Detroit School of Law.

Among his federal cases, Duggan sent former Detroit Red Wings player Bob Probert and ex-Detroit Tiger pitching great Denny McLain to prison.

The judge in 1997 handed down a sentence of more than eight years to McLain for raiding raiding the pension fund of his former company and putting it out of business.

In deciding the sentence, Duggan had agreed with prosecutors that McLain should be held to a higher "public trust" standard.

As an owner of Peet Packing Co., McLain misused pension funds, driving the company into bankruptcy. He spent the pension money to pay personal debts and luxuries for himself that included a motorcycle and condominium in Puerto Rico."It was this abuse of trust that significantly facilitated the crime," Duggan said during McLain's sentencing.

Other cases he's known for, family noted, include a ruling against the Oakland University after a student with intellectual disabilities was denied the right to live in a student dorm there. The decision "allowed Micah Fialka-Feldman his rightful place — in school and in society," the family said. 

A 2000 ruling in favor of the University of Michigan’s use of affirmative action in its admissions process made its way to the United States Supreme Court.  Duggan ruled that diversity could be considered a compelling government interest — a principle that the Supreme Court eventually affirmed.

Senior U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn first met Patrick Duggan while he was city attorney for Livonia and Cohn was practicing law. 

“We developed a friendship that continued through his service on the Wayne County Circuit Court and his appointment as a judge of this court," Cohn said in a statement provided by the court. "He was always calm, thoughtful and fair minded. Absent from his makeup was any prejudice or bias. We will all miss him.”

Chief U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood added Duggan was "fair minded and respected the law."

"He had a good sense of judges as a group and I valued his opinion on issues facing our court and judges," she said. "He saw many changes in the law and society during his judicial tenure."

He was a past president of the Livonia Bar Association, a trustee of the board for Madonna University in Livonia and a teacher in its paralegal program. Earlier on, he held roles as a past president of the Michigan Jaycees and a chairman of the Livonia Family YMCA.

In retirement, Duggan enjoyed more time with family, as well as Joan, his wife of 63 years, whom he called "my best friend, my supporter through all things, and the most important person in my life.”

Duggan will be buried at Parkview Memorial Cemetery in Livonia in a private family service. A public memorial celebration of his life will be held later this year when the health risks associated with the coronavirus have eased, the city added in a statement.

He was preceded in death by parents Patrick and Mabel Duggan; sisters Margaret Duggan, Mary Cassabon and Kay Murray; and son Robert Duggan. He is survived by his wife Joan; son Michael; son Daniel and his spouse Sharlene; son James and his spouse Stephanie; and son Timothy and his spouse Albina; thirteen grandchildren; three great grandchildren.