Interview with former Wayne Law Dean Charles Joiner, 100

Judge Charles Joiner, who served as dean of Wayne Law from 1968 to 1972 and then as judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, celebrated his 100th birthday Feb. 14. Wayne Law Dean Jocelyn Benson and Sean Mulligan, senior major gifts officer, visited with Joiner on Feb. 16 at his home in Naples. Fla. Following are excerpts from their conversation.

Photo of Dean Jocelyn Benson and Judge Charles JoinerBenson: How was your birthday?

Joiner: We had a good time; we had people from all over the country travel here. My children arranged it, and on Saturday we had a party involving all my current friends from around the area. On Sunday, we had a party for just the family, the whole family from around the country. Everyone was here except one. We had a good time. Some of my former law clerks were here at that time.

Mulligan: Which court were you in?

Joiner: Eastern District Court in Ann Arbor. I've retired from judging a long time ago. I decided that there were other people whose minds were better now, and they could be found. And I didn't resign, but I retired from active judging.

Benson: Do you miss it?

Joiner: Of course, you miss it; it was a good thing. That part of my profession and activity was a happy one. You divide your life up as you go along. When I was a youngster, I was a young college student, then I became a trial lawyer, teacher at Michigan, dean at Wayne, appointed to federal bench.

Benson: When was the last time you visited the Law School?

Joiner: Oh, maybe it was 20 years ago. I don't get north much, and, right now, I don't get out at all.

Joiner: I will tell you the story of how I became a judge. I had been dean for four to five years, and I got a call from a man who I taught at Michigan. He was a successful man; he was now a senator from Michigan. Oh I taught him, and we had become friends. He said, "Charlie, have you heard?"

Benson: What was his name?

Joiner: Griffin, Robert Griffin.

Benson: Of course, Senator Griffin.

Joiner: He said, "Charlie, have you heard that Talbot Smith is retiring from the bench?" No, I hadn't, and he said, "Well, I as the senior senator am the one who nominates the person, and I wonder if you would like to have your name put in nomination?" And I said, well I'll talk to my wife. Being a wife of a judge is completely different than being that of a law teacher or a dean. It is very social, being part of a university, but being the wife of a judge, there is no social element involved in it at all. Ann was a good person and said, "No, go ahead, do your thing." And so I said yes, and he nominated me. And I became a federal judge. I wasn't looking forward to it; it wasn't something I desired particularly, except having that kind of a feeling, it made me want to do it. I was grateful to Bob. I saw him a few times after that.

Benson: What were some of your most memorable cases?

Joiner: I'd have to sit down and think about it. I had a case, a criminal case, which took the longest time to try. The man was convicted and was sentenced, and then six months later, he tried to break out of confinement with a helicopter. Another time, there was a large, major marijuana conspiracy going on across the United States, and it was broken mainly by some lawyers in my district. My district became a focal point of this trial, and this conspiracy, and it took a long time. I liked patent cases, had a bunch of them. The criminal cases didn't amount to very much. They were, in general, not very big cases, but they were important to the government's prosecutors.

Benson: It's delightful to meet you, and thank you for everything you did for our Law School.

Joiner: Well, I liked Wayne. I thought it was a great law school. I thought it was being improved while I was there. I thought I raised the value of the Law Review and other things they were doing. And, of course, it is located right in the center of thinking people in Detroit.

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