Remembering Michigan Supreme Court Justice “Betty” Weaver

From staff reports

Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice, and longtime Glen Arbor resident Elizabeth “Betty” Weaver has passed on. She was 74.

Weaver served on the Supreme Court for nearly 16 years, from 1994 until 2010, and was Chief Justice from 1999 until 2001. She was nominated to the bench by Republicans but was seen as a pragmatist who sometimes sided with Democrats. Her friends, and biggest admirers, in Glen Arbor, included voters from both sides of the political aisle.

Weaver’s book Judicial Deceit: Tyranny & Unnecessary Secrecy at the Michigan Supreme Court (Peninsula Press, 2013) was an expose that criticized how political the state’s highest court has become. The book offered a detailed plan to overhaul the election process for justices.

While a polarizing political figure to some in Lansing, Betty Weaver was an adored and respected member of the Glen Arbor community. She lived on the banks of the Crystal River, just east of town.

Prior to serving in Lansing, she was the Court of Appeals Judge in Traverse City from 1987 until 1995. Prior to that she served as a trial judge on the Leelanau County Probate/Juvenile Court from 1975 until 1987.

Here’s how fellow Glen Arbor residents remember Weaver:

“Betty and I met in the Glen Lake teachers’ lounge in the early 1970s,” said Mary Sutherland. “She came up here to ski and decided to stay. She substitute taught at Glen Lake, got her teacher certification, then took the Michigan Bar. She was a great teacher, she taught first grade at Glen Lake. Then Mollie Weeks and I ran her first campaign for Probate Judge, and got she elected.”

“The thing about her was that there was no compromise. No grey area. What was right was right. She did what she believed was right. Politically they didn’t love her in the end, because she voted with Democrats, too. Her book, Judicial Deceit, was very long. So I mentioned to my son (Foreword Magazine publisher) Matt Sutherland that he read it and suggest edits. Matt read it and said that not one word should be cut out. That book is worth reading!”

“She should be known for her honesty. She did the right thing, whether it was expedient or not. I have had to tell my Democratic friends that, even though she was nominated by Republicans, her heart was always in the right place. She stood up and did great things for women and children. It bothered her that she had to be nominated by a political party. She turned off some people, but she turned on a lot of people too.”

“Our community has lost a great champion,” said Betsy Fisher. “I worked for her until she moved on to the Court of Appeals. To this day, once you were part of her family, you were always one of her people. If I needed something, I knew I could call on her. If she needed information about the community, she’d call me. She’s been a personal champion, a champion for Leelanau County, for Michigan, for children and families. I miss her already.”

“She was a fighter, she was feisty. It was really exciting working for her. We so often faced battles. She was absolutely firm in her convictions. So supportive of families. Her whole theme as judge was to always teach respect, respect for yourself, for your family, for your community. Always taking responsibility for yourself and your actions. Her biggest lesson was being responsible.”

“I first encountered Betty in 1977 when I moved back here to practice law,” said Judge Larry Nelson, who currently sits on the Probate Court. “She was serving as Probate Judge. I was appointed to do court work. I appeared in her court quite frequently, and gained respect for her. She used no-nonsense approach. She also felt that accountability was an issue, whether it was juveniles or adults, people should be held responsible for their actions. She had a distinguished legal career. Getting elected to Court of Appeals in 1986 and the State Supreme Court in ’94. I think she took her work very seriously. When I refer to a common-sense approach to the law, that’s what stands out.”