Corbin Davis Will Receive Frank J. Kelley Distinguished Public Service Award Sept. 17 in Grand Rapids


Recently retired Michigan Supreme Court Clerk Corbin R. Davis was more than just a loyal public servant.

As his nominator, appellate lawyer John P. Jacobs put it, Davis presented for the bench, bar, and public "an indefatigable sense of dedication punctuated by his brilliance, honesty, integrity, and understated evenhandedness, all while retaining his inherent 'niceness' and demonstrating a puckish sense of humor so dry he would make the British appear to be rollicking comedians."

Well said.

During Davis's nearly 40 years as clerk, he was many things to many people.

To the bench he was the "good steward" who was always there when you needed him. The voice of reason. The peacemaker. And, according to Jacobs, "the omniscient guide to the arcane matters of Supreme Court review."

Jacobs recalled one event he says typifies Davis's "Twin Towers of goodness and competency."

Jacobs represented a group of Canadian law students in U of D's Canadian-American Education Program who had been told that, due to a then-prevailing Michigan statute, they could not practice law in Michigan upon graduation as they had been promised.

As Jacobs girded for a long legal battle, Davis, as secretary of the Board of Law Examiners, helped author a rule change that would allow the students membership in the Bar.

"The sheer humanity and decency of this man in successfully negotiating this difficult legal problem with the law examiners—on the ground that it was the right and honorific thing to do—was, simply put, the central mark of a public servant who knows how to increase the respect of law by following it and to avoid allowing hyper-technicalities to get in the way of common sense, put aside heartbreak," Jacobs said.

Davis is equally loved and admired by the bench.

In supporting his nomination, Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. referred to Davis' dedication to the court as "legendary," noting that Davis would walk to work in snow that made the roads impassable, and commenting on their unwavering trust in him.

"The decisions of tens of thousands of cases have been discussed in his presence; the justices could not do so unless we had complete confidence in his discretion and integrity, which are absolute," he wrote.

Whoever follows him, the chief justice added, will have very big shoes to fill.

Jacobs agreed.

"I predict that the Michigan Supreme Court and the members of the Bar who adore him will miss him deeply."

Story by Lynn Ingram


Corbin R. Davis

Click the caption below Corbin Davis' photo to download a high resolution version. Read about all SBM Award winners. More information about the Annual Meeting can be found in the SBM Annual Meeting Media Kit.