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Three Wayne County judges will be hanging up their robes at the end of December, court administrators announced Friday, taking with them decades of legal experience. 

Chief Judge Robert Colombo Jr. and judges Virgil Smith and Richard Halloran will be retiring at the end of the year.

Court officials touted the jurists' imprint on the county's justice system.

"The legal community has had the benefit of these three judicial icons on a local, state, and national level," the Third Judicial Circuit of Michigan said in a press release. "Judge Halloran, Judge Smith and Judge Colombo may no longer be sitting on the bench, but they have made a lasting imprint on the local, state, and national legal community; and they have left the legal community better from their wisdom and their works."

Judge Richard Halloran

Halloran, appointed to the Wayne County bench in 1998 by Gov. John Engler, has served all of his 20 years on the bench in the Family Division.

He helped create the first domestic violence docket in 36th District Court and actively campaigned to make stalking a crime.

As a Circuit Court judge, he created a personal protection order docket and was part of creating the LGBTQA section of the State Bar and served as its chair from 2017-18, according to his biography.

Halloran, from Buffalo, New York, graduated from the University of Detroit School of Law in 1975. Before his appointment as a circuit judge, he worked as a civilian attorney with the Department of the Army; was regional vice president of several national real estate firms; served as a magistrate in 36th District Court in Detroit; and, was an administrative law judge for the Michigan Liquor Control Board.

Halloran said he is proudest of receiving the Marilyn J. Kelly Award for outstanding service as a family division judge from the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan in 2017.

In January 2016, a judicial misconduct complaint was dismissed against Halloran, who was accused of not following rules in divorce proceedings. 

Halloran was under investigation for a year by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission on complaints he “granted judgments of divorce without taking the statutory proofs establishing the court’s jurisdiction and/or establishing that there has been a breakdown in the marriage relationship.”

In its formal complaint against Halloran, the commission found his actions could have affected 400 divorce cases between June 2013 and Jan. 14, 2015. 

Judge Virgil Smith

Smith, the first African-American chief circuit court judge in Michigan, was appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm to Wayne County Circuit Court in 2004. Before his appointment, he served in the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate.

Smith, from the Conant Gardens community of Detroit, graduated from Wayne State University Law School in 1972. 

As a legislator, he chaired the Economic Development and Energy Committee and served on the 21st Century Commission on the Courts, and Law Revision Commission. Smith's list of awards includes Legislator of the Year by both the Michigan Judges Association and the Police Officers Association of Michigan, according to his biography.
 
On the bench, Smith served in the Family Division-Juvenile Section and presides over the division from 2004-06. In 2009, Smith was unanimously voted by the Michigan Supreme Court as the Chief Judge of Wayne County Circuit Court.

In that role, he secured funding for court operations, managed finances, implemented a new case management system and child support bench warrant amnesty, officials said.

Smith also presided over the case of Calvin Stephens, the teen charged as a juvenile in connection with the shooting at the Noel Night festivities last year. Smith set a high bond for the teen.

Smith's son, former Democratic state lawmaker Virgil Kai Smith, drew headlines in November when he was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea in a case involving a confrontation with his ex-wife. He faces charges of malicious destruction of property, felonious assault and felony firearm, as well as a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence and will go to trial on March 4.

Judge Robert J. Colombo Jr.

Colombo, a graduate of the University of Miami and the Detroit College of Law, was elected to the Wayne County Circuit Court bench in 1982.

Prior to his election, Colombo served as the law clerk for the Hon. George N. Bashara Jr. on the Michigan Court of Appeals. For the next six years, he was an associate at the law firm of Riley & Roumell handling civil, criminal, and domestic relations cases at the trial and appellate levels. 

During his judicial tenure, Colombo handled civil, criminal, and domestic relations cases. In 1992, he became the asbestos judge for Wayne County Circuit Court.

A year later, he was appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court to handle all of the breast implant cases in Michigan. In 2000 the Michigan Supreme Court appointed him to handle all class action lawsuits brought under the Michigan Antitrust Law against Microsoft.

In October 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court appointed Colombo as chief judge of  Wayne County Circuit Court.

Among the most notable cases he presided over was a public records lawsuit brought by The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press that led to the release of the secret settlement agreement in the whistleblower lawsuit brought against the city and then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

In 1990, he oversaw the case of Lawrence DeLisle, who was charged with intentionally driving his car into the Detroit River, killing his four children.

Colombo handled all asbestos litigation in Wayne County for 25 years, and in the 1990s managed and tried Dow Corning’s breast implant insurance coverage case, Supreme Court officials said. In the latter matter, the Court of Appeals noted “the remarkable skill and patience exhibited by Judge Colombo in the face of some of the most expansive and complex litigation in the history of the state.”

In February, Colombo — son of the late Robert Colombo Sr., a longtime judge in the Detroit Recorder’s Court and Wayne County Circuit Court — overturned a medical marijuana initiative Detroit voters approved last year that would have changed city zoning rules.

“I’ve always tried to be a really good circuit court judge and put the work into making the right decision,” Colombo recently told the state Supreme Court for a retrospective ahead of his retirement. “I hope I’m remembered for just being a good judge, and the work that I’ve done in this court.”

srahal@detroitnews.com
Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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