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Alumna takes the bench as Michigan appellate judge

Thursday, September 28, 2006
Alumna takes the bench as Michigan appellate judge
By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer

While Deborah Servitto, CAS ’78, is known primarily for her service to Macomb County as circuit court judge, her drug treatment program and her appointment to the Michigan Court of Appeals last spring, she is also known for her rapping ability.

In October 2003, Servitto issued a 14-page brief in the case of Deangelo Bailey vs. Eminem, with some of it written in rap format. Bailey accused Detroit-based rapper Eminem over his 2001 song “Brain Damage,” in which Eminem mentions Bailey.

Mr. Bailey complains that his rep is trash/So he's seeking compensation in the form of cash/Bailey thinks he's entitled to some monetary gain/Because Eminem used his name in vain,” Servitto wrote.
After providing more of the story, Servitto concluded with, “It is therefore this Court’s ultimate position/That Eminem is entitled to summary disposition.” 

"It just cried out for it,” said Servitto from her new office in Troy overlooking the busy roads and office buildings.

Shortly after her ruling was issued, Sharon Osborne, wife of singer Ozzy Osborne, mentioned Servitto and her ruling during her nationally syndicated talk show.

Servitto’s career includes more than just writing raps. The 50-year-old judge always had aspirations of going to law school. After starting her undergraduate career at the University of Michigan, Servitto realized she needed a more affordable option for school if she was going to pay for it herself. So she moved to an apartment in Warren and started attending Oakland University.

“It’s just a great place. The campus is small and cozy and the classes are intimate,” said Servitto, who majored in political science. “I really got to know my professors and felt like I was receiving a quality education.”

Servitto went on to the Detroit College of Law and was very active in her community. After college she served as the assistant city attorney for Warren and then as 37th District Court Judge beginning in 1986.

“I was shocked to be elected. I had been beaten 2-1 in the primary and never expected to win,” said Servitto, who spent a short time as a lawyer before running for judge.

After 16 years, she was appointed by former Michigan Governor Jim Blanchard to the Macomb County Circuit Court.

In 2005, Appellate Court Judge Hilda Gage stepped down from the Michigan Court of Appeals. Servitto toyed with the idea of throwing her hat into the ring.

“I wasn’t going to put my name in because I heard the job was going to someone from Oakland County and the application process was so extensive,” Servitto said. “But things changed, I applied and I garnered support from key Democratic officials in Macomb County, the UAW, Teamsters and other building and trades organizations and suddenly I was a contender. It all happened so quickly.”

So quickly in fact, that Servitto interviewed for the job while on vacation in St. Thomas celebrating her 50th birthday with family.

“The governor told me she wanted someone who was involved in the community and remembered where they came from,” Servitto said.

Since her days of serving Warren, Servitto has been involved in many community service projects, including the S.M.I.L.E. program, a seminar for divorcing parents aimed at helping children cope; Care House, a child-friendly haven for young victims of sexual and physical abuse; and the Solid Ground homeless shelter.

Servitto’s biggest achievement is helping to establish Macomb County’s Felony Drug Treatment Court, a program for non-violent, drug-addicted adult offenders who need drug treatment and a rehabilitation program.

“As a judge, I would see the same people over and over again for the same offense,” Servitto said. “The jails are overcrowded and this program rehabilitates the person and makes them a viable member of society.”

Through a federal grant, Servitto traveled the country visiting other programs to use as a model. Servitto started and operated the program for two years, providing intensive supervision and drug testing to a number of non-violent offenders. She now serves as a drug court team member.

Servitto was appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in March 2006 to fulfill Gage’s term, which expires in January 2007. Servitto is currently running unopposed for reelection to the position.

Servitto never considered that she would make it this far in her political career but is happy with where things are going. Will she consider a bid for Michigan Supreme Court?

“I’m pretty darn happy right now,” said Servitto. “But I suppose anything is possible.”