A Fond Memory of Michigan Chief Justice and Governor G. Mennen (“Soapy”) Williams

In May of 1971 I was the director of a project funded by a federal grant for management improvements in the Cleveland courts.  The Cleveland Bar Association (CBA) furnished an office and a secretary in the city’s famous Terminal Tower.

I had developed a strong interest in court management while driving several hours each way across the State of Washington three times, from Seattle to Spokane and back, to deliver fifteen minutes of testimony as an FBI agent in a bank robbery conspiracy case.

When I returned to the office late that spring day in 1971, Pete Roper, the personable and very helpful director of the CBA, was in my doorway offering a message slip before I could hang up my suit coat.

“From Justice Williams of the Michigan Supreme Court,” he said, handing me the message slip with the return phone number.

I thanked him and asked why he was delivering the message.  Not that I had calls from supreme court justices every day, but I confess I didn’t connect “Justice Williams” with the guy who was Governor of Michigan when I was a high school student at Mt. Carmel in Chicago.

“I’d call him right away,” Pete said, “he used to be the Governor of Michigan.”

That got my attention.  Soon as Pete left I called.  In a raspy baritone I later imitated fairly well, Michigan Supreme Court Justice and former Governor Williams asked me to come to Michigan to describe the programs I was trying to get going in Cleveland, especially the computerized court systems.

I agreed to meet with him and, as he put it, “a few of our local business people who have some experience with computer systems.”

A week or so later, having planned to meet with a few Detroit and Wayne County court judges and staff in addition to meeting with Justice Williams, I drove to Detroit early for a breakfast meeting.  The “local business people,” he had at the meeting turned out to be the CEO’s and Information Technology Directors of a few local businesses commonly known as Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors.

How I managed not to exhibit my quickly frazzled bundle of nerves and a completely outclassed self I’ll never know, but I guess I managed to say a few fairly intelligent things about computers in the courts.  A few hours later Justice Williams tracked me down on the phone at Detroit’s Recorder’s Court and asked me to meet with him and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas M. Kavanagh to discuss coming to work as their Director of Systems.

I agreed to return to Michigan, and before I had that second meeting I read a biography of G. Mennen (“Soapy”) Williams and discovered he had been elected Governor of Michigan six times, was on President Kennedy’s short list for Vice President, and had served as an Ambassador in the Kennedy Administration.  The biography also mentioned that Williams had been on the cover of TIME Magazine as Governor.

I also learned the nickname “Soapy” was given to him by his brothers, who also had nicknames related to the family’s products under the Mennen brand (think after shave lotions, bath soap, etc.).

A few months later I was the only Director of Systems on the staff of a state supreme court in the entire country; such was the infant stage of the use of computers in the courts in 1972.

A year later I was promoted to the job of State Court Administrator when Bill Hart, who had supported my efforts and was a genuinely good guy, had to take a disability retirement.

When Williams died in February of 1988, I was privileged to attend his funeral in a warm church while thousands of mourners lined Woodward Avenue in subfreezing weather.

He was benefactor, inspiration, example and friend.

Today we can use a search engine on a portable computer to look up his history and accomplishments, and even see his TIME Magazine cover;  simple steps with modern technology that he would have been delighted to see.

For more about G. Mennen (“Soapy”) Williams, see:



Elmore Leonard: Author Extraordinary!

Elmore “Dutch” Leonard has written 45 books, beginning with Westerns and moving on to crime and mystery novels.

I have them all – most of them at least twice.

When I’m stuck at the keyboard, I often just grab one of his books and start typing a page or so.  His style quickly gets me into a rhythm so I can delete his words and get started on my own.

A few of the movies made from his books include “Hombre” (Paul Newman, Frederick March, Richard Boone), “Out of Sight” (Jennifer Lopez, George Clooney), and “Get Shorty” (John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito).  Russell Crowe and Christian Bale starred in the remake of Lenard’s “3:10 to Yuma,” a remake of the original 1957 movie starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin.  Tom Selleck played the lead role in a TV movie of “Last Stand at Saber River.”  “Life of Crime,” from his novel “The Switch,” is due out in September.

I had the pleasure of meeting Elmore Leonard twice at book signings.  The last one was at Olson’s in Washington, DC, and I caught a break.  I went early and got to visit with him for a few minutes before the crowds showed up.  He patiently signed a few of my books and included my sons David and Ted with his best wishes.

If you like to escape reality in a work of outstanding fiction, read Elmore Leonard and rent his movies.

Known among authors as “The King of Dialog,” the 87 year-old Leonard recently suffered a stroke.  I’m going to try to find out how to send him a card wishing him well and thanking him for the inspiration and his gift of a few thousand hours of enjoyment I have spent reading his books and watching the movies made from them.

NSA Overloaded!

Anybody know how many technicians/analysts at NSA are listening to all our phone calls and reading all our emails?

What’s our population number now?  300 million plus?

Let’s see.  If there are 5,000 NSA types doing the listening and reading, and 300 million of us make 5 calls a day and write 5 emails a day, that comes to 10 calls and emails to be reviewed for each of us, which comes to a total of 300 million times 10, which I think is 3 billion calls and emails each day.

Which means the 5,000 NSA types are each reviewing, on average, 3 billion divided by 5,000, which I think comes to 600,000.

Let’s cut the number of people making those 10 calls and emails a day in half.  After all, some of our 300 million are children, mental patients, allergic, and technologically incompetent, which means of course the 5,000 NSA types only have 300,000 calls and emails to review each day.

Does anyone believe an NSA type can review 300,000 phone calls and emails a day?

The NSA computers probably do a lot of the reviewing by looking for key words and such.  Where do you think the IRS learned how to track the Tea Party?  So cut out another 200,000 phone calls and emails.  I’m sure a good analyst can handle 100,000 a day.  Doesn’t everybody analyze that many messages a day?

But what if there are fewer NSA types and more phone calls and emails?  And what if the key words aren’t quite getting the job done?

I can’t be comfortable if some of the calls and emails aren’t being reviewed because those NSA types and NSA computers aren’t getting the job done.

I’m open to proposed solutions as well as arithmetic correction.  After all, as everybody know, I majored in math, not arithmetic.