A Legacy of Law: Local Father-Daughter Judges Bring Justice on and off the Bench

36th District Court Judge Donald Coleman and his daughter, 32A District Court Judge Rebekah R. Coleman, are powerhouses with a great love for family and justice.

Photos provided by Rebekah R. Coleman


It’s all in the hashtags:


#HistoryWasMade. #ItsTimeForAChange. #1stFemaleJudgeOfHarperWoods. #1stAfricanAmericanJudgeOfHarperWoods.


History was indeed made through Rebekah R. Coleman’s hashtags that she posted on Facebook last November after her historical win twice over in the race to become the next 32A District Court judge in Harper Woods. And now, as the first Black and first female judge in the city of about 14,000, she continues breaking barriers.


Coleman celebrated her November 3 wins with the help of her family and supporters who voted her in against the incumbent.


Coleman, in her journey to becoming a judge, is standing on the shoulders of many people who inspired her including her “devoted” grandmothers who both had, as she said, “deep Southern roots, amazing leadership capabilities and were prayer warriors.”


“(They) instilled in me the importance of the family unit,” she said of them. “I know that you both are proud beyond my greatest expectations. It is without a shadow of a doubt that my mother, attorney April Howard Coleman, is standing with them beaming with pride and shouting for joy before the bragging begins.”


Near the end of her post, she wrote to her late mother that she “got it done” and will continue to live the life that she helped prepare her for before she left.


Coleman also thanked her father and told him that there is “another judge in the family.”

Her father is 36th District Court Judge Donald Coleman (who has served since 1992).

Coleman told The Michigan Chronicle that her road to becoming a judge started with her being in private practice for 10 years, where she handled cases in many different areas of law including criminal, civil, bankruptcy and probate.


“I ran for judge in 2016 for Wayne County Circuit Court and was unsuccessful but tried again in this past election for 32A District Court and was successful. I saw there was a need for change and I believed that I was the right person to bring those changes. So, I put my name in the race,” she said. “I walked the neighborhoods and presented my thoughts and ideas for the Court and how I planned to bring it into the 21st century and gained the trust and support of my community.”


Coleman said that she is grateful to have been mentored by her father, who she said has served honorably on the District Court in the city of Detroit for most of her life.


“(Through) him and other mentors, I have learned practical lessons of wisdom, empathy and how to view the ‘common man’s’ perspective when applying the law,” she said. She added that her parents’ tireless community outreach and involvement helped her to understand that her own involvement in educational ventures, youth programs, women’s empowerment programs and other efforts would be a vital asset “understanding the life challenges of those who come before me.”


When Coleman is not behind the bench, in her spare time she listens to audiobooks, does jigsaw puzzles, runs half marathons (primarily pre-COVID-19), bakes cakes and has mini-concerts with her son.


She said that as the first female and first Black judge in the city of Harper Woods, her general judicial philosophy is none other than fairness.


“My goal is to bring the 32A District Court into the 21st century by enhancing the technology of the court so that the website is more user friendly for the residents and lawyers,” she said, adding that she will bring more programs to the court such as literacy programs, drug treatment, and other alternative sentencing programs that address the underlying issues and/or contributing factors to crimes. “(This is) so that we can help people actually become productive members of society and not repeat offenders.”


She wants to also bring competent legal aid to the court so everyone can have legal representation and “not just those facing criminal matters,” she said, adding that she will aggressively go after grants, among other funding opportunities, available for the needed Court programs.


Coleman added that she has a very close relationship with her father.


“I used to sit in his courtroom almost every day after I finished my cases in the morning and before I started my afternoon cases,” she said. “I am able to talk to my father about anything and he is always ready and willing to give advice and instructions on any subject. Our family is a very tight-knit family so my son and I spend a lot of time at my dad’s home, especially when he cooks, which is very often,” she said, adding that her family was overjoyed when they found out that she won the election. “My family was very involved in the entire campaign process. My brothers, along with many others, walked the neighborhoods and knocked on doors daily for months.”


Donald Coleman said that his late wife, attorney April Howard Coleman, was the first lawyer in their family and she supported and encouraged him on his own journey.


“While I was in my final year of law school Rebekah, our firstborn arrived. She changed our lives forever and was born right in the heart of our legal journey,” he told The Michigan Chronicle. “Rebekah’s ascension to the Court has been simply breathtaking. I have laughed, cried, reflected, and cried again.”


He added that he is “filled with deep gratitude and appreciation at her commitment to fairness, equality and public service.”


“I am thankful for the trust and confidence placed in her by the citizens of her city. My only regret is that her mother is not here to appreciate the (beauty) of this moment, knowing that she started all of this,” he said. Donald Coleman added that the role of a judge is to guard, defend, protect and execute the public’s trust in the administration of justice.


“It is a role that requires an abiding commitment to serving the public with competence, honor and integrity,” he said. “There is no greater work than to accept the charge of your fellow citizens to wisely and faithfully discharge the responsibility of deciding their disputes. … God has blessed us to offer our training, skills, and integrity to the community in the form of public service. For this, we are incredibly humbled and we only hope that others will be inspired to do the same.”






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