Court adjourned

Reporter takes memories of 27 years into retirement

Written by
Darrell Clem

Observer Staff Writer

She watched the old 35th District Court burn, kept meticulous records of heart-wrenching crimes, taught fledgling colleagues the ropes and spent most of her career working for a judge who seemed like a father after she lost her own.

Memories abound and emotions are running high as Canton resident Carol Richardson prepares to retire Tuesday and end a 27-year career as the longest-serving court reporter ever for Plymouth-based 35th District Court.

“I love my job,” Richardson, 58, said as she sat in her third-floor office. “I love the people I work with. Every day is a different challenge. Every day is a different reward. I’ve grown from a child to a woman here. My lessons in life came from working in this court.”

Her departure as chief court reporter and secretary to Judge James Plakas has saddened her friends and colleagues.

“This is a sad, sad day in my life,” said Kay Jasin, a decade-long court reporter for Judge Michael Gerou. “I came here from a law office with no court experience. Carol taught me everything I know. She is my best friend.”

Followed a judge

Richardson, daughter of Lorraine Paterson and the late Thomas Paterson, grew up in Redford and was a 1971 graduate of Bishop Borgess High School. She spent four years attending Henry Ford Community College and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, earning her legal assistant degree.

Richardson worked seven years for then-attorney John MacDonald and served with him during his 24 years as a 35th District Court judge before he retired three years ago.

“Carol is a very competent individual. She’s loyal and reliable,” MacDonald said. “She’s a fine person.”

Plakas recalled how Richardson helped him when he succeeded MacDonald. Plakas had times he would have forgotten to impose court fines if she hadn’t reminded him.

“She was crucial to my transition from attorney to the bench,” he said.

Richardson’s duties have involved keeping a verbatim record of court proceedings, providing transcripts such as when cases are appealed, working as the judge’s secretary and helping attorneys who are trying to reach settlements. She spent almost her entire career with MacDonald.

“He was like a father to me,” she said. “He was my rock. He took over when my dad died (15 years ago).”

Helping others

Divorced with no children, Richardson has cherished her ability to help people who found themselves thrust into the court system, and she has gained a wealth of knowledge from her job.

“I love law,” she said.

One of the most challenging aspects of her job has been complying with a 28-day deadline for providing a verbatim transcript when a case is appealed.

“I’ve worked many evenings and weekends on transcripts,” she said, calling herself “a perfectionist” when it came to grammar and punctuation.

While listening to emotional cases involving child abuse, rape and other violent crimes, Richardson also had the difficulty of making a record of highly technical information. “Some of the medical terminology is really challenging,” she said.

She has never forgotten the time she lost all of her court records when an accidental fire destroyed the former 35th District Court in Plymouth in July 1997.

“We stood outside and watched the building burn,” she said. “We had to start from scratch with our records.”

Richardson and others worked out of the trunks of their cars, in office space provided by nearby Unisys, in other district courts and, finally, in mobile housing on Plymouth Road, across from where the new court opened three years later.

She vividly remembers entering the new court. “It was so beautiful.”

Richardson proudly speaks of 35th District Court. Long before court consolidation became a buzzword, it handled cases from Plymouth, Northville and the townships of Plymouth, Canton and Northville. It was on the forefront of video-arraignment technology and same-day sentencing.

Court officer Dave Fendelet has known Richardson since his days as a Northville police officer.

“She is extremely pleasant and at the top level of efficiency,” he said. “She makes my job easier. “She’s a good person, and it’s going to be a loss when she leaves.”

Yet, leave she will come Tuesday. She plans to spend some winter months in Nevada visiting relatives such as her brother, Michael Nawrot, and his three children. She plans to return to her favorite vacation spot, Maui, and she intends to travel to places such as Brazil and Bali.

“I’ve got the travel bug,” she said with a smile.

No matter how far she travels, however, 35th District Court and its employees will remain in her heart.

“It has been a great career,” she said. “It’s going to be very, very sad to leave.”

dclem@hometownlife.com | (313) 222-2238

Source: Observer & Eccentric