Servaas looks back at decades on bench

GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — When Steven Servaas first put on his judicial robe, he was just 27 years old.

That was 42 years ago, and one day after he announced he wouldn’t run for re-election, Servaas said the job hasn’t disappointed him.

Servaas cited his ability to work out differences in civil cases as one reason. And he said sentencing people who commit crimes is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

“I don’t know if a lot of judges would admit that,” Servaas said. “But it’s one of those things where somebody really hurt somebody that steals something or does something that just disrupts somebody’s life.”

Judges are human. And Servaas told 24 Hour News 8 that has been one of the difficult parts of the job.

“Some of the tough parts were, where you don’t know the answer, which is a lot,” he said. “You try to come out of it with something they both can live with… not necessarily that you know is right.”

Servaas said he always did the best job he could with the information that was available.

Most of the four decades he spent on the bench were in Rockford, where for years, his small courtroom served northern Kent County.

Servaas said that’s always been the place he wanted to be.

“Rockford’s as good as it gets,” he said. “Northern Kent County, they’ve been tremendous to me.”

It was that love for the Rockford bench that led to the biggest controversy of Servaas’ career.

In 2008, county officials wanted to build a new courthouse to the south that would combine the two courts that served the 63rd District.

Servaas wanted to stay in Rockford.

And not long after, Servaas was accused by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission of judicial misconduct.

The claims that were made included that Servaas didn’t live in his district, that he made sexual comments to female court workers, and that he drew inappropriate “doodles” on court documents.

To this day, Servaas said he believes it was all in retaliation for refusal to move to the new courthouse.

But the attacks were personal, and officials with the tenure commission offered him a deal to resign.

Did he ever think of walking away?

“Well, no. Not when they did it,” Servaas said. “I mean, at that point, you said, ‘This is… this is, you know, crap.’ And, ‘They’re going to have to throw me out.’”

The Michigan Supreme Court eventually rejected the tenure commission’s request to remove Servaas from the bench, and Servaas eventually did move his courtroom to Grand Rapids Township.

Judges can’t run for office after they turn 70, and while Servaas will still fall under that cutoff when he turns 69 in April, he said it’s time to walk away, saying he’s not sure how he’ll feel, physically, years into the term.

And he said he’s not sure what will happen next.

“I’d be lying if I said I felt steady about what I was going to do. And how it was going to work,” Servaas said. “I don’t know. I’ll miss this.”

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