Judge played fair

To the Journal editor:

As a retired corrections officer who had to deal with the irrational decision by the Michigan Department of Corrections in the 1990s, I offer my respects to the family and friends of the late judge Edward Quinnell. Judge Quinnell refused to be bullied by bureaucrats to try to force a policy requiring everyone in the MDOC to be clean shaven. Some of us had skin conditions, facial disfigurations or religious objections to being clean shaven but the MDOC refused to allow any exceptions to their draconian policy. We sued in circuit court under the ADA and relevant statutes that allow exceptions for medical or other legitimate objections. Judge Quinnell refused to be bullied by the arrogant attorneys that came to buffalo us backwoods hicks into compliance. Judge Quinnell saved our jobs for us and told the corrections department it had to obey the law like everyone else. I will be forever grateful for his fair approach to the issue and for his avid protection of fairness and the rule of law. When the MDOC tried to ignore and boycott our discovery process, he threatened to send the state police to escort the director to Marquette to deal with the issue. His demeanor off the bench was kindly but he showed he could be tough and it didn’t matter who was powerful – in his court they were just another plaintiff or defendant.

He didn’t always rule in favor of corrections and he angered many officers with his ruling about assaultive prisoners in the 1970s, but it was not a decision against corrections officers – it was an interpretation of the law. This may be hard for many who had to work segregation units back then to grasp but I understand the reasoning behind this unpopular decision. Not all legal decisions made by the courts create a good outcome, but Judge Quinnell decided on the rule of law, as judges should.

This was a man beyond reproach who ruled on the letter and spirit of the law, not by political posturing. May he rest in peace, knowing he did the right thing for a small group of us when we were in a minority and being bullied by arrogant bureaucrats.

Jim Nelson,


Dave Aho,