By M.L. Elrick, Detroit Free Press
Patrick J. Duggan Jr. was a jurist, not a purist.
A Republican who raised Detroit's Democratic mayor, an Irishman who liked a good joke but not lawyers who didn't take the law seriously, and a community leader who still made it home in time for dinner, Duggan died early Wednesday. He was 86 and had been in failing health.
"The biggest impression I got was everybody said he played it right down the middle," said his son, Tim, whom Wikipedia describes as "his stated favorite son." (More on that later.) "You could not pin him down as a liberal or a conservative ... He didn't really care what the political persuasion or what the ideology of the issue was. He cared about the facts, he cared about the law."
Although chance piqued his interest in becoming a judge — someone sent him an application to be appointed to the bench — Duggan, a De La Salle alumnus from the Class of 1951, worked hard to make it happen after the notion took. It took three tries before Gov. William Milliken appointed him to the Wayne County Circuit Court in 1976, and two tries before President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan in 1986. Both chief executives were Republicans.
Duggan's death revealed two situations the public was largely unaware of: It turns out Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is the only Democrat in the family, and the mayor split time between managing the city's efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus with visits to the Angela Hospice in Livonia where his father spent his final days surrounded by family.
"It was very much like my dad, the way he did everything 100%," Tim said of Mike, his eldest brother. "I saw the bus (shutdown). He was 100% involved. And then he got in the car and drove 25 minutes and was fully engaged and helping make decisions" with his family.
The mayor was not available for comment, preferring to keep the focus on his father and family.
Patrick Duggan was raised in Morningside, a neighborhood on Detroit's east side. The son of an Irish immigrant, he was proud of his heritage and, fittingly, "dispensed wisdom and humor in equal doses (and often in the same breath)," Tim wrote in a tribute.
Tim told the Free Press he believed there was little coincidence in which day his father died.
"He would find a way to hang on for one more St. Patrick's Day, which he did," Tim said. St. Patrick's Day was Tuesday. "He definitely was the consummate Irishman."
Duggan met Joan Colosimo while attending all-male Xavier University in Cincinnati. She was attending a nearby all-female nursing school, and they met at a school dance. They married while Duggan was in what was then the University of Detroit law school. He specialized in personal injury and commercial cases before becoming a judge. While serving as a federal judge, Duggan sentenced Detroit Red Wing Bob Probert to six months in prison for trying to cross the Canadian border with cocaine tucked in his undies. He also sentenced former Detroit Tiger Denny McLain to eight years in prison for embezzling millions from a meatpacking company. Other noteworthy cases included upholding a statewide referendum imposing term limits on state lawmakers and upholding an affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Michigan.
Tim watched with his father as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the U-M case. The high court disagreed with Duggan on the facts of the case, but agreed there was a compelling government interest in a narrowly-tailored admissions policy.
Reflecting on cases that were reversed on appeal, Duggan once said: "Occasionally, when I looked at the opinion, I'd say: 'You know what, they were right, and I was wrong.' Or I'd say: 'They are still wrong.' But that's the way it is."
Judge Denise Page Hood, chief of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan, said: "Judge Duggan was a great judge and a valued colleague ... He was fair-minded and respected the law."
Senior Judge Avern Cohn of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan served for decades with Duggan, who retired in 2015.
"He was always calm, thoughtful and fair-minded," Cohen said. "Absent from his make-up was any prejudice or bias."
Duggan did not have many hobbies beyond coaching his sons in baseball and soccer, doing home repairs — "he would rather fix it himself than pay to have it fixed," Tim said — and taking family trips to a cottage on Crystal Lake and to the ancestral farm in Kilkenny, Ireland.
With five sons at home, Duggan laid down the law, but not often.
"If you did something stupid as a kid, you were gonna know it," Tim said, adding, "We didn't do that much stupid, because we didn't want the Wrath of the Irishman. So he didn't have to dispense justice in the home."
It is the judge's sense of humor that Tim remembers most. Which brings us to his status as "stated favorite son."
As eldest son Mike's reputation grew along with his political successes, Tim, the youngest son, said someone — he would not say who — added to the judge's Wikipedia page that Tim was his "stated favorite son." The judge found out and, depending who you ask, it became either a self-fulfilling prophecy or another joke the family shared.
In addition to his wife, Joan, and sons Tim and Mike, Duggan is survived by sons Dan and Jim, 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His son Bob died of a heart attack in 2011.
Due to restrictions on public gatherings brought on by the coronavirus crisis, the family says a public memorial will be held "when large gatherings are once again a normal part of life."