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Michigan Legal Milestones

The Michigan Legal Milestone Program recognizes significant legal cases and personalities in Michigan’s history and uses bronze plaques, placed at featured sites, to relate the historical significance.

Michigan Legal Milestones to date:

1. Ossian Sweet Trial - In 1925 Dr. Sweet was arrested and charged with murder after a member of a white mob attacked his home was shot and killed. Clarence Darrow defended Dr. Sweet who was acquitted. Dedicated and placed inside the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit on May 2, 1986.

2. Baseball's Reserve Clause - A 1914 decision in a Grand Rapids courtroom "bound a player to his team for as long as the team chose to keep him." Dedicated and placed at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, 1986. Rededicated and placed outside on June 20, 1996 at Old Kent Park (West Michigan Whitecaps Minor League Baseball stadium), Grand Rapids.

3. Cooley Law Office - The career of Thomas M. Cooley is recalled in this milestone. Dedicated and placed inside at Thomas M. Cooley's first law office on Maumee Street in Adrian in 1986. Site is currently the home of WABJ-AM Radio.

4. Roosevelt-Newett Libel Trial - A much celebrated 1913 trial involving former President Theodore Roosevelt (he prevailed as plaintiff, but was awarded 10 cents in damages). Dedicated and placed at the Marquette County Courthouse in Marquette in May 1986.

5. Justice William Fletcher -The first chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Dedicated and placed outside on the University of Michigan campus. Placed in Felch Park (intersection of Fletcher and Washington streets) in front of the Power Center for the Performing Arts in Ann Arbor on September 9, 1987.

6. Sojourner Truth - Her life as a crusader for justice is recalled in the city she called home. Dedicated and placed at the Battle Creek Hall of Justice in 1987. Rededicated inside at the First United Methodist Church in Battle Creek. Placed at the Calhoun County Justice Center in Battle Creek on May 29, 1997.

7. Augustus Woodward - Brilliant but eccentric, the first chief justice of the Michigan territorial court is recalled at the site of his law office. Dedicated and placed inside in the Millender Center Atrium of the Omni Hotel (by the "up" escalator) at corner of Randolph and Jefferson streets in Detroit on May 3, 1988.

8. Public Access to Public Water - Legal affirmation of the public's right to the recreational use of rivers and streams began with a trout fishing trip on the Pine River in 1925. Dedicated and placed outside on June 7, 1988 at the Peterson Bridge Landing's canoe access (at the intersection of M-37 and M-55) along the Pine River west of Cadillac.

9. Ten Hours or No Sawdust - Michigan's largest labor strike of the 19th century, though unsuccessful, paved the way for later workers' rights legislation. Dedicated and placed outside in Morley Plaza in Saginaw on August 31, 1988.

10. 1961-62 Constitutional Convention - The Michigan Constitution we live under today was written at the Lansing Civic Arena. The Michigan Legal Milestone plaque was first dedicated in 1989 at the Arena at the corner of Walnut and Washtenaw streets. That building has since been demolished. The plaque will was rededicated June 15, 2007 at Constitution Hall in Lansing.

11. Eva Belles' Vote - An early but important victory for women's suffrage was won in Flint. Dedicated and placed at the Genesee County Courthouse in Flint on July 11, 1990.

12. One Person, One Vote - In one of the famous U.S. Supreme Court redistricting cases of the early 1960s, labor leader Gus Scholle assured that rapidly growing Oakland County would have proportional representation. Dedicated and placed outside the Oakland County Courthouse's South Plaza in Pontiac on August 29, 1990.

13. Improving Justice - The idea for the American Judicature Society was born in Manistee during a boat ride on Lake Michigan shared by founder Herbert Harley and benefactor Charles Ruggles on a hot summer day. Dedicated and placed on a boulder in a corner of the Manistee City Marina on River Street in downtown Manistee on May 30, 1991.

14. The King's Grant - One of the most celebrated cases of the 19th century involving a dispute over land granted by French King Louis XV in 1750. Dedicated and placed at Brady Park (along Water St.) at the site of Fort Brady and Fort Repentigny in Sault Ste. Marie on July 16, 1991.

15. The Uninvited Ear - Judge Damon Keith's decision in a 1971 case upheld the right of Americans to be free from unreasonable government intrusion. Dedicated and placed inside the Penobscot Building in Detroit on December 18, 1991.

16. Laughing Whitefish - The Michigan Supreme Court in 1889 recognized the legal validity of Native American tribal laws and customs. Dedicated and placed at Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee on August 25, 1992.

17. Protecting the Impaired - An act of the Michigan legislature providing for forced sterilization of the mentally impaired was held unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court. Dedicated and placed at the Old Lapeer County Courthouse on April 29, 1993.

18. Rose of Aberlone - The classic contracts case involving Hiram Walker & Sons, Rose the cow, and the principle of rescission based on mutual mistake. The original plaque, which was dedicated and placed outside in Kellogg Park in Plymouth in September 1993, was stolen. A replacement was unveiled at Kellogg Park on May 13, 2008.

19. Emelia Schaub - Michigan's first woman elected prosecutor, the first woman in the United States to successfully defend a murder trial, and the woman responsible to a great degree for protecting the rights and tribal existence of native Americans in northwest Michigan. Dedicated and placed outside at the Leelanau County Courthouse in Leland on May 26, 1994.

20. Mount Clemens Pottery - Michigan's Justice Frank Murphy in 1946 authored an important labor law decision of the United States Supreme Court interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act arising out of a case involving employee working time. Dedicated on September 1, 1994 at the Riverfront Gazebo by the Municipal Building in Mt. Clemens. Placed at the Macomb County courthouse in Mt. Clemens (Along the wall by the statue of General Clemens).

21. Pond's Defense - Michigan Supreme Court Justice James Campbell authored an important decision about self-defense and defense of others in 1860 in Pond v. People, and overturned a lower court decision finding Augustus Pond, an Upper Peninsula fisherman, guilty of manslaughter. Dedicated and placed outside City Hall on Mackinac Island on June 10, 1995.

22. Ending Jim Crow - Keith's Theatre in Grand Rapids discriminated against patrons on the basis of race (Jim Crow), but that practice was found to violate Michigan's Constitution by the Michigan Supreme Court in a major civil rights decision. Dedicated outside on September 8, 1995 in the Old Kent Bank Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids. Placed in the wall along the street beneath the Old Kent Bank clock tower in Grand Rapids.

23. Conveying Michigan - Much of the land in southwest Michigan was conveyed out of the White Pigeon Land Office, built in 1831 and still standing. Dedicated on April 30, 1996 and placed at the land office (on south side of US-12) in downtown White Pigeon. The building is now a museum operated by the St. Joseph County Historical Society.

24. Murphy's Dissent - Michigan's U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy wrote an impassioned dissent in Korematsu, protesting the decision to uphold exclusion orders imposed upon persons of Japanese descent during World War II. Dedicated and placed in front of the Frank Murphy home in Harbor Beach on August 16, 1996.

25. Striking Racial Covenants - The United States Supreme Court rejected racial restrictive covenants that would have prevented Orsel and Minnie McGhee and their family from living where they chose to in Detroit. Dedicated inside on August 12, 1997 and placed outside the Museum of African American History in Detroit.

26. Milo Radulovich and the Fall of McCarthyism - In 1953, two Michigan attorneys, the Hon. Kenneth N. Sanborn and Charles C. Lockwood assisted Milo Radulovich, a resident of Dexter Michigan at the time, in his fight against the United States Air Force. The Air Force attempted to strip Mr. Radulovich of his treasured commission for associating with his allegedly subversive father and sister. Taking the case pro bono, his attorneys prevailed and the Air Force reinstated Mr. Radulovich's commission. Dedicated and placed outside the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University Building in East Lansing on September 2, 1998.

27. Committee of One - Judge Henry Hart of Midland, led a "one-man campaign" for the uniform placement of yellow "No Passing Zone" signs on the left side of Michigan Roads. The signs, shaped in the form of a pennant, have served to decrease the number of traffic accidents in no passing zones and is credited with saving thousands of lives in Michigan.  Dedicated and placed at the Midland County Courthouse on May 24, 1999.

28. Pioneer, Advocate, Woman Mary Coleman, the first female Michigan Supreme Court Justice and Chief Justice, made a lasting impact on Michigan’s judicial system. Her success in the profession, her devotion to juvenile justice issues, and her work on the advancement of court reorganization are just a few examples of this remarkable woman’s accomplishments. Dedicated October 20, 2000 at the McCamly Plaza Hotel in Battle Creek, MI. The permanent plaque is displayed at the Battle Creek courthouse.

29. President Gerald R. Ford - The 38th President of the United States. Before becoming the country's 38th President, Gerald R. Ford, Jr. was a Michigan lawyer practicing in Grand Rapids. Throughout his years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ford was a member of the Grand Rapids Bar Association and maintained close ties to the Grand Rapids legal community. He took the oath of office as the 38th President on August 9, 1974, shortly after President Nixon resigned. Dedicated September 20, 2004 at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids.

30. Freedom Road - The ceremony in Dowagiac on August 16, 2005, focused on how the white and free black residents of Cass County rallied to protect runaway slaves in the Kentucky Raid of 1847 and the implications for society and race relations today. A bronze marker was installed on the south side of the 1899 courthouse in Cassopolis.

31. Otis Milton Smith - Mr. Smith (1922-1994) was an outstanding leader, lawyer, and dedicated public servant who overcame poverty and prejudice to serve in various prominent positions including chair of the Michigan Public Service Commission, justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, regent of the University of Michigan, and a vice president and general counsel of the General Motors Corporation. Dedicated June 21, 2006 at the University of Michigan-Flint.

32. Prentiss Marsh Brown, a St. Ignace lawyer, is best remembered as the "father of the Mackinac Bridge." He was appointed chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority in 1950 and remained so until his death in 1973. Through his leadership, financing and building plans began to take shape. The bridge was completed in 1957 at a cost of just under $100 million. Unveiled September 28, 2007 at the 2007 SBM Annual Meeting. Permanently placed Nov. 1, 2007 at Bridge View Park in St. Ignace as part of the Mackinac Bridge's 50th anniversary celebration.

33. In an effort to bolster Detroit's crumbling economic base, a working-class neighborhood known as Poletown was demolished to make way for a new General Motors plant. This action was challenged by homeowners and small businesses in the area, but was rebuffed by the Michigan Supreme Court in a landmark 1981 decision. The ruling had national ramifications and set a new standard by expanding the power of eminent domain and allowing the definition of public use to include economic development. In 2004, the Court reversed itself. Poletown and Eminent Domain was commemorated on Dec. 2, 2008, at the Polish National Alliance Council in Hamtramck. The plaque will be permanently installed at Zussman Park outside Hamtramck City Hall.