Time will come: Patience proves to be a virtue for circuit court judge


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

If the third time’s the charm, then the fourth will be forever treasured by Judge David Allen of the Wayne County Circuit Court.

After spending 10 years in private practice, the University of Michigan alum and Detroit College of Law grad had earned a reputation as a skilled business litigator and someone with the smarts and temperament to serve with distinction as a member of the state judiciary.

But he would have to bide his time, four times to be exact.

“After declaring my interest in being considered for the circuit court bench, I missed on the first three openings, all of which went to outstanding candidates (Judge Leslie Smith, Judge David Groner and Judge Edward Ewell),” said Allen. “It was disappointing, but I was convinced that my time would come.”

And it did in late 2003, while he was waiting in line early one morning to make a deposit at a local bank.

“I was standing in line when I got a phone call from the governor’s office,” said Allen of the long-awaited call from Jennifer Granholm, who was completing her first year as the state’s top elected official. “It was a thrill to be selected, especially by someone I had so much respect and admiration for.”

The eventual two-term governor and Allen first crossed paths when she worked at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit and he was interning there during law school. She, he said, was impressed with his work there, setting the stage for further contact down the career road as Granholm became Michigan’s attorney general and then governor.

“Periodically we’d bump into each other and I worked on her campaign for attorney general and governor, while her husband Dan (Mulhern) served on the PAL (Police Athletic League) board with my brother Jim,” Allen said. “All these threads eventually became tied to each other. There was something serendipitous to how it all worked out.”

Somewhat suddenly, however, time would be of the essence, as Allen needed to wrap up his practice in less than two weeks before being sworn in to the circuit court bench, filling the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Kym Worthy, who would soon be appointed Wayne County prosecutor.

He then would be assigned to swim in the deep end of the circuit court pool, so to speak, by presiding over cases in the criminal division of the largest circuit court in Michigan.

“As has been said, it feels at times like you’re drinking from a fire hose when you become a judge,” Allen said. “The cases, especially at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, come at a fast and furious pace. You have to be a quick study as a new judge.”

The new jurist, who was sworn in by one of his legal mentors, the late Judge Kaye Tertzag, also had to gear up for another difficult assignment — running for “re-election” in a November 2004 race that was less than a year away.

“Fortunately, I did not have a challenger that year, which meant that I didn’t have to formally campaign and go to the great expense of running for office,” said Allen. “That was a real blessing.”

Which also has been the case in subsequent re-election bids for Allen in 2008, 2014, and 2020.

Allen, a lifelong Detroit resident, is one of five brothers, two of whom — Jim and John — he practiced law with as part of the Allen Brothers firm, now based in Greektown. He spent three years in partnership with his brothers before accepting his judicial appointment.

His first job after graduating from Detroit College of Law was with Kitch in Detroit, where he worked on the defense side of medical malpractice cases. He then joined a small firm for several years before starting his own practice, which eventually led to the partnership with his brothers.

“I mostly concentrated on business work and civil litigation, which gave me a lot of courtroom experience,” said Allen.

A career in the law didn’t appear to be on the horizon when Allen graduated from U-M and began work in a marketing role with The Ann Arbor News, then one of the flagship papers in the Booth Newspapers chain.       

“I enjoyed my time there, but I figured that if I was going to move up the ranks with Booth, I would do a lot of moving around to their other papers in the state,” Allen said of the chain that also operates dailies in Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Kalamazoo, Jackson, Flint, Saginaw, and Bay City. “With deep roots in Detroit, moving around the state would be a challenge.

“I’m still a bit of an old romantic in that I really enjoy actually holding a newspaper each day, reading it from front to back,” Allen added, noting that he regularly clips articles about attorneys or judges who have been featured in local legal publications, attaching a congratulatory note to them for good measure. “I’ve also saved all of (Judge) Mark Plawecki’s ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Condor’ columns that he has written over the years. They are a treasure.”

Allen grew up on Detroit’s west side, in a neighborhood populated with families of city policemen and firemen. His 92-year-old father, Francis, spent 42 years with the Detroit Police Department, rising to the rank of deputy chief before retiring. His mother, Mary Lou, who passed away in 2017, was a registered nurse, working at two area hospitals before raising a family of five boys.

As the father of three sons, Allen knows all about the joy of parenting, a role he shares with his wife, Colleen, who holds a bachelor’s degree from U-M, a master’s from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in speech language pathology from Wayne State. The couple has been blessed with three high-achieving sons, Thomas, Joseph and Francis.

A U-M alum, Tom also earned his law degree from Michigan and now works for Skadden, a litigation firm in New York City.

His brother, Joe, is a senior at Yale University with plans to attend medical school. The youngest of the three, 18-year-old Francis, is a senior at Roeper School in Birmingham and has applied to the business schools at U-M and the University of Pennsylvania.

“They’re all terrific young men, each raised, (like their father and mother), in the city of Detroit with the street smarts and toughness that comes with that,” said Allen.

Allen and his wife met as high school students in Detroit and continued their educational journey at the U-M.

“Her dad was a Detroit fireman and we ran in the same crowd in high school, but we really got to know each other in college,” Allen said of his wife, who is president and CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan. “She is incredibly sharp and has done a wonderful job leading a statewide nonprofit. I am very proud of her and all that she has accomplished over the course of her career.”

Allen, in turn, also has done his share of work on behalf of nonprofits, and currently serves on the board of directors for ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services) and is the incoming board chair of the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit.

“I’ve always derived great satisfaction out of my volunteer work and will continue to do my best to make a positive impact in the community,” Allen said.

Judge Edward Ewell, a U-M alum who earned his juris doctor from Wayne State University Law School, joined the Wayne County bench in August 2003, just a few months before Allen. Despite a 10-year age difference, the two new members of the Circuit Court became fast friends.

“I like to say that I am one of the ‘unofficial Allen Brothers,’” Ewell said of the bond he enjoys with his judicial colleague. “From the start, he has been a terrific colleague and friend and is someone I consider as a close confidant. He truly is brilliant.”

But brilliance can come at a price, Ewell acknowledged. Sometimes of the long-lasting variety.

“Early in his career, he interned for me when I was working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Ewell said of Allen. “He prepared a document for me and did a very nice job, and I gave him a ‘B-plus’ on it. Around the same time, he prepared something similar for Jennifer Granholm and she gave him an ‘A,’ which is what he was accustomed to getting in school. I enjoy teasing him about the grade I gave him, figuring that it’s my way of keeping him humble.”


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