Former Supreme Court justice Weaver dies

Gary Heinlein and Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver, who served 15 years on the state's high court, died Tuesday night at her home in Glen Arbor.

Weaver's death at the age of 74 was confirmed Wednesday by Reynolds Jonkhoff Funeral Home of Traverse City, which is handling arrangements. The cause of death wasn't immediately available.

Weaver's time on the court included a two-year term as chief justice. She also served as a judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals from January 1987 through January 1995.

"Betty was one of those who opened the door wide for women to engage in the legal profession," Attorney General and fellow Republican Bill Schuette said in a statement. "Certainly, she was known to speak her mind."

"Justice Weaver served the people on our highest court for 15 years, tackling Michigan's toughest issues and safeguarding justice during a period of great change in our state," House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, said in a statement. "We will always remember and appreciate her service and her dedication."

She served during a stormy period on the state's highest court and later became an advocate for reforms. Weaver split with other Republican-nominated justices, especially ex-Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, over procedures and rulings.

Her advocacy for more transparency also led to clashes with colleagues. Fellow justices rebuked Weaver for secretly recording a 2006 internal discussion in which she participated by telephone.

"The court notes and mourns the passing of two of our former members, Justices Griffin and Weaver, and sends its condolences to their families," Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. said in a Wednesday statement, also noting the death of former state justice and U.S. Sen. Robert Griffin.

Griffin retired at the end of 1994, and Weaver was elected to fill his seat.

Weaver, a former GOP nominee on the technically nonpartisan bench, and a co-author contended in a 2013 book that the state Supreme Court was corrupted by ideology, secrecy and special interest groups that bankroll justices' election campaigns.

She argued campaign donations from Democratic and Republican party interests compromise judicial neutrality.

Bruce Babiarz, a Bloomfield Hills public relations professional, helped Weaver promote the book, "Judicial Deceit," about her tumultuous service on the high court.

"She was a real champion for court reform and eliminating dark money and making the justice process apolitical," Babiarz said. "She talked about how politics and money are influencing justice. It was a real eye-opener for me. She was a very classy lady. Some people thought she was a bit eccentric, but she cared about the law and cared about justice."

David B. Schock, her co-author, said Weaver's life "was a brilliant demonstration of her faith. She knew that all matters were, at root, spiritual. She lived by the precept of 'Do Right and Fear Not.'

"I found her intelligent, perceptive, trustworthy and absolutely truthful, even when it didn't show her in the best light," Schock added. "She didn't make excuses for herself or for others. And, nothing less than the whole truth would do."

Schock said there was no personal animus in Weaver's criticism of her colleagues, merely a desire to "amend their behavior to comport with the law and ethics."

Weaver, who earned her law degree from Tulane University in New Orleans, was an attorney in private practices in Louisiana and Michigan from 1965 through 1987, also serving two years as a part-time probate judge in Leelanau County.

She was elected to the state's appeals court in November 1986 and the Supreme Court in November 1994. She left the Supreme Court in August 2010, which allowed Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm to appoint her replacement.