Niles’ Grathwohl leaving bench

Published 9:19 am Thursday, March 25, 2004

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Perhaps Cappy Grathwohl went through his mid-life crisis a little early.
The son of prominent Niles attorney Casper Raymond Grathwohl, the younger Grathwohl graduated from Niles High in 1952, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and was in his second year at its prestigious law school when he decided he really didn't want to be a lawyer.
A relative was a parish priest in Kalamazoo and Grathwohl found that vocation appealing. In addition, he had made several retreats with the Passionist Fathers Order in Detroit, while going to school in Ann Arbor.
Grathwohl entered the Passionist Fathers seminary in Chicago and spent the next five years studying theology.
However, after five years, Grathwohl began to question his decision to leave law school.
Grathwohl convinced the dean at the University of Michigan law school to let him back in for his final year of law school. The dean did, but on a probationary basis.
Grathwohl graduated from the University of Michigan law school in December 1964, took the bar exam and passed with a good score in 1965 and "the rest is history."
Priesthood's loss
is Berrien County's gain
Today, nearing age 70, Casper O. Grathwohl is one of Berrien County's longest-serving judges. He'll step aside at the end of this year, having been elected by Berrien County voters to three six-year terms.
While feeling he is a "young 70," Grathwohl thinks the mandatory retirement rule for judges is a good one.
Niles and the Grathwohl family
Grathwohl has been called Cappy by most everyone who knows him for as long as he can remember.
He was born in Niles on June 1, 1934, and graduated with Niles High's Class of 1952.
Clark Equipment employed about 3,000 people when Grathwohl grew up in Niles. That company moved south a number of years ago.
Other companies, like Simplicity Pattern, Kawneer, National-Standard, French Paper Co., were thriving.
Grathwohl's father, too, was born and raised in Niles. His grandfather was a paper maker and moved to Niles to go to work with French Paper Co.
Grathwohl's father worked on the railroad at night and went to school at Notre Dame during the day.
His father graduated from the University of Notre Dame law school in 1929 and soon after began his Niles law practice.
Grathwohl practiced with his father, who died in 1982, for 21 years.
He also served as city attorney in Niles from 1967 to 1970.
Grathwohl met his wife, the former Lynn Landgraf, after graduating from law school. She is the daughter of Dr. Robert Landgraf, a retired Niles pediatrician.
The Grathwohls have four children, ranging in age from 35 to 26.
Oldest is daughter Molly Grathwohl Hanrahan, who is a legal aid attorney in Milwaukee, Wis. She and her husband, who is also an attorney and works for a large construction company in Milwaukee, are the parents of the Grathwohl's only two grandchildren.
Next is Casper Raymond "Rob" Grathwohl, a publisher at Oxford University Press in New York City.
The Grathwohl's third child is Walter Grathwohl, who teaches third grade in Indianapolis. He is also married to a school teacher.
The Grathwohl's fourth child is Marshall Grathwohl, who lives in Buchanan and is a language specialist for the South Bend (Ind.) School system, working out of Benjamin Harris School.
Appointed to the bench
When Grathwohl's father died in 1982, he began practicing law with his brother-in-law, Niles attorney Bill Landgraf, until he was appointed to the bench by Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard in 1986 after Judge William S. White resigned due to poor health.
After his father died in 1982, Grathwohl practiced with Bill Landgraf, his brother-in-law, until 1986.
White was originally a Niles attorney in the law firm that would later operate as Stone, Campbell and Schofield. The firm dissolved in 2003 when Murray Campbell died.
Grathwohl was appointed judge in February 1986. He ran in a contested election in November 1986, in which he was elected to his first full, six-year term. He ran unopposed twice after that and was elected to two more six-year terms.
Judging others
His first law clerk was John Donahue, who is seeking one of the two judgeships being vacated in Berrien County this election year.
The jury awarded the plaintiff $5 million, one of the highest jury awards at that time in Berrien County.
He also applauds the judicial experiment of sorts in which Berrien County is participating.
No longer are judges elected or assigned as district, circuit or probate judges. Berrien County is one of six areas in Michigan which has been working for a number of years now as test sites for new judicial organization. The court system here is divided into Criminal, Civil and Family divisions.
Of the cases he decides, Grathwohl said, "Divorce and custody cases are the most trying. There are no winners. It's very hard on the children."
For the last four years, Grathwohl has been assigned as a criminal division judge.
The death penalty
Life in prison without the possibility of parole is a just sentence, he said.
Justice, compassion
and public service