Retired Federal Michigan Judge Wendell A. Miles Dies at 97

Judge Miles
By Allan Lengel

Retired U.S. District Judge Wendell A. Miles of the Western District of Michigan died last Wednesday. He was 97.

Miles was appointed to the bench in 1974 by President Richard Nixon. Twelve years later, he took senior status and continued to hear cases until the end of 2008 when he took inactive status, according to an obituary posted at the funeral home of Metcalf &Jonkhoff.

In 1989, he was appointed by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist to serve on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a seven year term.

His full obituary is included below. It was posted on the website of Metcalf & Jonkhoff Funeral Service.

MILES, WENDELL The Honorable Wendell A. Miles, retired United States District Judge for the Western District of Michigan, age 97, of Grand Rapids, passed away on July 31, 2013. He was preceded in death by his wife, Mariette B. Miles in 2009.

He is survived by his three children, Lorraine Miles (John Petrovich) a retired French teacher at Forest Hills Northern High School, Michele Miles Kopinski (Michael Kopinski) a teacher at Stepping Stones Montessori, and son, Thomas Paul Miles, a CPA in Denver, CO; seven grandchildren, Chad Rector (Sarah Bromeland), Kelly Rector-Engstrom (Lars Engstrom), Brian Kopinski, David Kopinski, Sara Miles, Christopher Miles and John Miles; six great-grandchildren, Petra Engstrom, Soren Engstrom, Annike Engstrom, Tova Engstrom, Milo Rector, and Aldis Mariette Bromeland; and three nephews, George Miles of Holland, Cap Miles of Rockford and Steve Miles from Loch Lomond, CA.

He was born in Holland, MI on April 17, 1916. He received a B.A. from Hope College in 1938, an M.A. from the University of Wyoming in 1939, and his Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan in 1942. He proudly served his country in the United States Army during WWII, completing his service as Captain of the 493rd Military Police Escort Guard, which was involved in transporting and interrogating German prisoners of war. After the war, he remained in Europe and tried black marketeering cases as an officer of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps officer in Marseille, France.

While serving in Strasbourg, France, as the JAG Director of Claims, he met Mariette Bruckert, a Frenchwoman who assisted him with translating. Mariette became his wife in 1946. They moved to Heidelberg, Germany where he became a Law Officer in the Third Army’s General Court. Upon his return to Holland, MI, his father Fred T. Miles, the Circuit Judge of Allegan and Ottawa counties, resigned from the bench and they formed the law firm of Miles and Miles. He was elected the Prosecuting Attorney of Ottawa County in 1948, 1950 and 1952. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him to be the United States District Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, a position in which he served as an active trial attorney. A life-long Republican, he was the party’s nominee for Michigan Attorney General in the 1960 election, losing to Democrat Frank Kelley. In 1961, he joined the law firm of Miles, Mika, Meyers, Beckett and Jones where he practiced law until 1970.

This period of his practice included serving as the counsel for Oil and Gas Public Utilities, from 1962-1968, as well as the Special City Attorney for the City of Grand Rapids in all the urban renewal cases. He assisted in the condemnation of many buildings in the city’s downtown to allow for the construction of the Federal Building, State Building, City and County Buildings and the surrounding area. From 1963 to 1969, he also served as Special Counsel for the Grand Rapids School Board and, in this capacity, he argued before the United States Supreme Court in the case of Sailors v. Board of Education of Kent County, which presented a constitutional challenge to the Michigan statute addressing the election of county school boards.

From 1965 to 1970, he also served as the First College Counsel for Ferris State College, handling all litigation for the college and acting as general counsel to the Board of Trustees. In May 1970, Governor William Milliken appointed him Circuit Judge for the 20th Judicial Circuit, which was composed of Ottawa and Allegan counties.

On April 17, 1974, he was appointed United States District Judge for the Western District of Michigan by President Richard M. Nixon, assuming the bench on May 9, 1974. On May 9, 1986, he took Senior Status with a reduced case load and continued hearing cases until December 31, 2008. In 1989, he was appointed by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist to serve on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a seven year term. As a Senior District Judge, he was able to accept temporary assignments in other federal courts having backlogs of cases, enabling him to travel to and serve in Tampa and Fort Myers, FL; Houston and Corpus Christi, TX; Las Vegas, NV; Washington, D.C., and St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands.

Although he took inactive status and resigned from the bench at the end of 2008, he continued to maintain regular office hours each week until the week before his death, at age 97. He had a great interest in history and enjoyed serving as the Court Historian. In addition to his lifelong love for the law, Judge Miles had a keen interest in news, politics and sports, particularly anything involving the University of Michigan, his favorite school.

He read constantly, including four newspapers a day for many years. He also loved music and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Grand Rapids Symphony. In his earlier years, he enjoyed playing tennis and golf, and skiing. He was a longtime member of the Macatawa Bay Yacht Club. He was a lifetime member of the First Methodist Church of Holland, and served as a Sunday School instructor.

He also was greatly interested in education, serving as a member of the Holland Board of Education from 1952-63, and as its President in 1961-1963. He also participated in many other service organizations. He was a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of History at Hope College in 1947, 1981 and 1983-1996. T

he college granted him an honorary L.L.M. (Doctor of Laws) in 1980. He was also granted an honorary L.L.M. from Detroit College of Law in 1979. In honor of his father, Judge Miles took part of his earnings from teaching at Hope and established the Miles Award in Law, awarded each year to a student of the college.

He also was appointed by Governor Milliken and proudly served on the Michigan Higher Education Facilities Commission twice, for two four-year terms. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to either Hope College, Advancement Services, P.O. Box 9000, Holland, MI 49422-9904, with a notation that the gift is in memory of Wendell Miles, or to the First United Methodist Church of Holland, 57 W. Tenth St., Holland, MI 49423. A memorial service will be held Monday, August 12, 2013 at 7:00 PM at the Porter Hills Meeting House, 3600 E. Fulton, Grand Rapids, MI. The family will receive friends an hour before and an hour after the service.

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