2017-02-26 / Insight

Holowka thrives on making difference

Judge relishes times on bench, has spent career helping Lapeer County
810-452-2609 • kmoralee@mihomepaper.com

Chief Judge Nick Holowka came to Lapeer County 38 years ago to serve as assistant prosecutor, now he’s enjoying his last term as judge. 
Photo by Krystal Moralee Chief Judge Nick Holowka came to Lapeer County 38 years ago to serve as assistant prosecutor, now he’s enjoying his last term as judge. Photo by Krystal Moralee LAPEER — Thirty-eight years ago, a 30-year-old Nick Holowka moved to Lapeer County to take a position as assistant prosecutor under then-prosecuting attorney Earl Morgan. In this county, he’s always been associated with the law.

However, what some might not know is that Holowka got his start as an educator. He grew up in Detroit, attended college and became a teacher. He taught social studies and American history in private Catholic schools for about three years, obtained his master’s degree and became a principal at St. Lawrence Elementary in Utica for four years.

Teaching, he said, is rewarding in that it has the biggest impact on children, aside from their immediate family. In addition, he said, “kids are genuine.”

“I think teaching has to be one of the most satisfying jobs that you can do,” he said.

But he was also interested in government and law, so Holowka decided to go to law school.

“It was something that I thought I had an affinity for, and I thought I could make some changes,” he said.

He went into private practice, but trial experience is something all new attorneys strive for, so when the opportunity came up to be an assistant prosecutor, he went for it. He moved to Lapeer County in 1978 to take the job. He and his wife Kathleen now live on 12 acres in Imlay Township.

“When you’re an attorney, going in front if the jury is the glamorous part of the job,” he said.

In those days, the prosecutor’s office and Friend of the Court were in the building where Blondie’s and Dagwood’s are now located. There was a bakery and coffee shop below the offices, and they went to the old courthouse for hearings. Holowka’s office looked out at the PIX Theatre across Nepessing Street.

Two years later, he became chief assistant prosecutor, and then in late 1981, Morgan pulled Holowka aside and told him he was resigning as prosecutor. Holowka was acting prosecutor until February 1982, when the judges officially appointed him as prosecuting attorney. He ran for the position unopposed in 1982, ’84 and ’88. In 1992, Judge Norm Bagley retired, and Holowka ran for the spot and was elected. These days, he’s Circuit Judge Nick O. Holowka, and he’s also the chief judge in Lapeer County. That’s a position that is appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court for two-year terms. The chief judge is in charge of setting the dockets for circuit, district and probate courts, making sure the work is spread out equally, setting the hours for the court and more.

“It’s a lot of administration, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Holowka has heard many cases over the years, and listening to him talk, it’s evident that cases that involve domestic relations, such as divorces and custody cases, have made an impact on him. It’s far better in those cases, he said, for the parties involved to come to a settlement amongst themselves, because putting lives on paper doesn’t take into account all the nuances that those involved have experienced.

“Domestic relations are very, very, very difficult,” he said. “If you become a judge you have to make tough decisions.”

Those decisions, he said, are based on the information they are given, and they just have to hope they’ve made the correct judgment.

Now, Holowka primarily deals with all felonies and all lawsuits in excess of $25,000. He describes them as the “Sam Bernstein, Call Lee Free” kinds of cases. He also handles things like boundary line disputes and blight ordinances.

At 68, he said he still feels good and thinks he is still making a difference, and he believes his experience and background give him the tools necessary to do a good job.

“I hope people appreciate it,” he said. “I think I’ve made a difference here in the county. I think every judge strives to be fair, and that’s all I try to do. I love Lapeer and the people. You’re only as good as the people around you. I feel that here in Lapeer County, based upon the attorneys in criminal court and civil court, that justice is being served. Everybody has their fair day in court.”

In his spare time, he said he works at keeping up with the ever-changing law, which he likens to a living creature.

“Sometimes it takes the law a while to catch up with the latest idiocy people are doing,” he said.

Holowka’s term is up in 2022, and he said he can’t run again after that, based on law, because of his age.

Lest anyone think he’s too serious, there’s a quirky side to Holowka as well, particularly on Fridays.

“Friday is Fancy Pants Day!” he said, smiling.

For years, Holowka has spent his lunch hour walking around town, but Fridays are special. That’s when he chooses from his collection of dozens of pairs of whimsical pants. They have different colors, prints and embellishments, and he often matches his tie to his pants, and tops off the ensemble with one of his signature hats. The walks refresh his spirit and the outfits, well, they’re just a part of his personality.

“Some people wave, some people flip me off, and some people say hi,” he said, adding that he feels lucky to live in a community where he can “go walk and be like everyone else.”

He said once, he was in line at Meijer wearing one of his colorful getups when an “illustrated” guy in line behind him — Holowka’s description of the man’s tattoos — commented that they were the ugliest pants he’d ever seen. Without missing a beat, Holowka replied, “I can take ‘em off at the end of the day.”

“I knew I’d be the butt of ridicule and jokes,” he said, “but if you can’t laugh at yourself…”

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