Hon Carroll Little - A fond farewell


by Suzanne Sonneborn and Colleen Mamelka   |   Michigan Bar Journal

Administrative law judge Hon. Carroll Little, Michigan’s longest serving state employee, passed away on August 12, 2021, at age 99. Little graduated from the University of Michigan and attended Wayne State University Law School at night while working at the Ford Willow Run plant during the day. He took a job with the state in 1957 and became an administrative law judge 47 years ago, adjudicating unemployment benefit cases up until his death. He served under nine different governors and was regarded as the dean of the administrative law judicial corps.

Here’s another way to frame Little’s longevity: according to a 2015 Detroit News column about him, the state computer system crashed while trying to calculate his service time.

“We had to roll it back to zero,” a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said at the time.

Little was a true subject matter expert in unemployment law, a tough but fair adjudicator, and a beloved colleague to everyone at the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules.

The following is a personal note from Hon. Colleen Mamelka, a former colleague:

I met Judge Carroll Little shortly after beginning my employment with the state of Michigan in 2007. I was hired as a limited-term administrative law judge with the then State Office of Administrative Hearings System (SOAHR). Although we both conducted unemployment hearings, our offices were on separate floors, so my encounters were limited to meetings or occasional social functions. Looking back, I don’t recall engaging in any conversations with Judge Little, truly a missed opportunity on my part. Eventually, I was offered a permanent position in a different area of SOAHR; at that point, I knew Judge Little, but did not know him.

Fortunately, that changed when I returned to the unemployment arena as the administrative law manager, now under the Michigan Administrative Hearing System (MAHS). It was during that time that I had that pleasure and honor of getting to know Judge Little. Throughout the years, he graciously shared his knowledge of unemployment law — not just the statutes themselves, but the background and historical perspective as to why they were written. His depth of understanding was unsurpassed.

During my time as administrative law manager, several major changes were implemented, including a move to electronic files. To put this in perspective, when Judge Little started his career, computers as we now know them did not exist! Naturally, there were some hiccups along the way, but he never complained. Instead, he continued to seek help when necessary and adapted accordingly. This ability to change and grow in his position served him well throughout his long and distinguished career with the state that spanned more than 60 years. Celebrating that milestone — Little’s six decades with the state — is yet another fond memory.

Finally, on a personal note, I loved talking with him. I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to have those conversations with him in his courtroom, surrounded by mementoes of accomplishments hanging on the walls. He was always so gracious and kind. He was truly an amazing individual with a rich history that I am so thankful to be a small part of.

Judge Little, I will miss you.