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Longtime judge’s knowledge, manner ‘extraordinary’

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Charles Farmer was a judge who commanded respect with his approach.

“He had a calm and even-handed demeanor and was never condescending,” said Elliott Hall, a former Ford Motor Co. executive who appeared before him as a young lawyer.

“No matter how strong or weak your case or argument, you departed from his courtroom feeling fairly treated, even if he ruled against you. His knowledge of the law and judicial temperament were extraordinary.”

Mr. Farmer died Tuesday, March 10, 2015, from a sudden illness, relatives said. He was 94.

Elected to the Wayne County Circuit bench in 1965, Mr. Farmer spent a quarter-century there.

He pursued court rule modifications and criminal sentencing guideline reform through the State Bar of Michigan and the Institute of Continuing Legal Education, relatives said.

During his tenure, Mr. Farmer accepted U.S. Department of State assignments to lecture on American laws to judges, attorneys and students in emerging African countries, his family said. He also was a visiting professor at the Cooley Law School in Lansing and joined the board of a group dedicated to addressing sickle cell disease, relatives said

Born in 1920, Mr. Farmer graduated from Tennessee State University in Nashville.

Seeking more opportunities beyond his home state, he migrated north to Michigan.

While attending the University of Detroit law school during the day, he waited tables at night, friends and family said.

“He came up kind of hard, but just got where he wanted to go successfully,” said Amyre Makupson, a longtime family friend. “It wasn’t handed to him. He worked hard. He had ideas and dreams but was very realistic about pursuing them.”

After graduating from law school, Mr. Farmer became an assistant Wayne County prosecutor, an assistant state attorney general and director of the Detroit office, relatives said.

When associates formed a law firm in the mid-1950s, he joined them. Once known as Taylor, Patrick, Bailer, Farmer and Lee, it became one of the most prestigious black law firms in the country, according to his family.

In 1961, Mr. Farmer was appointed to the Detroit Common Pleas Court bench.

After retiring, he was of counsel to the Sommers Schwartz law firm, relatives said.

In his free time, Mr. Farmer was an avid golfer, even playing rounds with celebrities.

“If he had a minute, he was on a golf course somewhere,” Makupson said. “He just loved it.”

Mr. Farmer also delighted in his family — including his daughter, Nancy, who became a jurist, Makupson said. “He was extremely proud of her — that she continued his legacy.”

Besides his daughter, other survivors include a son, Charles Jr.; a son-in-law, Alexander Luvall; six grandsons; four great-grandsons; two sisters-in-law; and nieces and nephews. His wife, Ruth Irene, died in 1997.

Visitation is 4-6 p.m. March 27 at Plymouth United Church of Christ, 600 E. Warren, Detroit. A memorial service follows at 6 p.m.