Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Jonathan Tukel dies

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Jonathan Tukel, a former national security unit chief for the Department of Justice, has died, the court announced Friday.

Chief Judge Christopher Murray said in a statement that the panel is "profoundly saddened" by the passing of Tukel and praised his "esteemed career" serving the public. 

"Tukel's devotion to the rule of law and the Constitution was only surpassed by his love and dedication to his family, his friends, and the University of Michigan, where he was an adjunct professor," Murray said Friday. 

“His laugh, sense of humor, and never-ending curiosity about the law will be missed by all at the Court of Appeals."

Details on Tukel's death were not immediately available Friday night.

Tukel was appointed to the appeals court's Second District by then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in 2017 to fill a vacancy created when Judge Henry Saad resigned.

His current term was set to expire Jan. 1, 2027.

Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Jonathan Tukel

During his tenure, Tukel he was involved in high-profile rulings such as on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's unilateral emergency actions to combat COVID-19.

In 2019, he dissented in an appeals court ruling that allowed four Warren council members to run for re-election. The Michigan Supreme Court later accepted Tukel's reasoning and ruled the four exceeded term limits, meaning they could not appear on the primary ballot that year.

Before the appeals court, Tukel worked for the United States Department of Justice in Detroit as an assistant U.S. attorney, where he handled cases including public corruption, narcotics, fraud and tax evasion, colleagues said.

He also supervised the national security unit, handling cases involving international and domestic terrorism as well as terrorist financing.

In 2017, he oversaw the case against an Ypsilanti man arrested by the FBI's counterterrorism team.

Tukel led the government's 1996 investigation into U.S. Rep. Barbara Rose Collins surrounding allegations of misuse of campaign contributions, The Detroit News reported.

He previously was an associate at the Honigman Miller Schwartz & Cohn law firm, focusing on issues related to antitrust, labor, employment discrimination and wrongful termination as well as white collar criminal defense, state officials said.

Tukel earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Michigan in 1982. He graduated magna cum laude from the UM Law School in 1988, according to his appeals court biography.

For years he taught at his alma mater, including on federal criminal prosecution and defense, colleagues said.

“I knew Professor Tukel before I knew Judge Tukel," Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said in a statement Friday. "In both roles, he was thoughtful, inquisitive, and dedicated to the law, setting an example for his students and colleagues. We also shared a love for the University of Michigan. Our school and state will miss him.”

In 2012, Tukel was voted a “Leader in the Law” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

The same year, he was among the authorities who received the Attorney General's Award for Excellence in Furthering the Interests of U.S. National Security from the DOJ. The honor related to investigating and prosecuting the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Tukel also had chaired the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board hearing panel and lectured at the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI Academy, the DOJ National Security Conference as well as the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, according to his biography.

His death is the second loss for the state appeals court in the last two months.

In August, Judge Karen Fort Hood died at 68.

"This is certainly another hard hit to our Court family," Murray said Friday.