Members of a near standing-room only crowd got what they came for recently from retired Taylor Judge Anthony Nicita — a one-of-a-kind history lesson.
Nicita told his life story to about 50 people gathered Sept. 26 in the Taylor Community Library for the first in a series of “A Casual Conversation With …” presented by the Taylor Historical Society and Commission.
Nicita, 90, retired from Taylor’s 23rd District Court in 2001 after 43 years on the bench. He cited a state law that did not allow a judge to be appointed to or run for re-election after he or she turned 70. At the time, Nicita was 71 years old.
His tenure included continuous terms as justice of the peace, starting in 1957, and then municipal court judge, beginning in 1968. In 1980, the courthouse changed to district court. At that point, Nicita had to give up his flourishing law practice.
Nicita’s official retirement from the bench didn’t last long. Since then, he has been invited to participate as a visiting judge at about a dozen courthouses in the area.
Nicita said his connection with Taylor started when he was 8 years old. Born during the Great Depression in Lincoln Park, he moved with his family to what was then known as Taylor Township.
During the program at the library, the judge talked about his childhood, his parents’ overcoming hardships and challenges, growing up in Taylor, attending schools in other cities and graduating from Taylor Center High School, his jobs at a Ford dealership and a bowling alley, the community’s growth, earning his law degree from “Wayne University” (now Wayne State University), getting drafted and serving in the Army during the Korean War and becoming a law-practice partner with his friend, future U.S. Rep. William Ford.
Nicita’s name has been synonymous with Taylor. In fact, some call him a “father of Taylor” because he chaired a “city study committee” that recommended Taylor become a city, as well as chaired the Charter Commission. When voters gave Taylor cityhood in 1968, the commissioners were responsible for creating a charter for the city to operate.
A fellow commissioner was fellow Judge William Sutherland and the two would go on to become partners in the Goddard Road courthouse that now bears both of their names.
Nicita talked about political characters back in the day, about two suspected houses of ill repute during township days, about challenges with a trailer that once served as the courthouse and the early days of Taylor’s Police Department, Post Office and parks.
He talked about some of the interesting cases he faced as a lawyer and judge, including successfully defending a soldier against a biased Kentucky town and later performing the marriage of a 70-year-old man and his 17-year-old wife, who needed hospitalization insurance.
Nicita and his wife, Joanne, have seven children, 13 grandchildren and one great grandchild. Son Jeff and daughter Antoinette were on hand for their father’s talk, as was Joanne. Also among those in the audience were current 23rd District Judges Geno Salomone and Joseph Slaven, state Rep. Alex Garza (D-Taylor) and Wayne County Commissioner Raymond Basham (D-Taylor).
Retired Taylor police Detective Cpl. Rich Todd, who also attended, said he “didn’t always agree” with Nicita’s rulings on the bench, but “I couldn’t have asked for a judge more knowledgeable and fair than Tony.”
Nicita’s “casual conversation” was held in a question-and-answer format with moderator Patrick Ferguson, treasurer and oral historian with the Historical Society and Commission. Audience members also asked questions. The session was video recorded by society member James Barringer for future reference.
Ferguson said Nicita’s selection to kick off the “conversation” series was an easy decision.
“We discussed among ourselves which longtime Taylor resident had the most to share with the community,” Ferguson said. “Judge Nicita fit that bill.”
The “casual conversation” series picks up on an interview series that took place during Taylor’s early years as a city.
“We recently came across nearly 50 cassette tapes recorded 45 years ago back in the 1970s,” Ferguson said. “This collection of oral history of prominent elderly Taylor residents fascinated us. Sonja Pray, a Taylor historian who worked in the Treasurer’s Office, conducted the interviews.”
He said those recordings include chats with “Taylor pioneers and notables,” including Russell Lowe, Alexander Papp, Richard Trolley, Alfred Sheridan, Martin Schumann and Roy Holland.
The conversation with Nicita “was both informative and enjoyable,” Ferguson said.
He added that plans call for at least three or four similar programs a year. Organizers anticipate that the video-recorded conversations will be made available to Taylor residents.
The next scheduled session will feature Taylor historian George Gouth on Nov. 21 at the Taylor Community Library. The questions will focus on Gouth’s knowledge of Taylor history and how his family heritage formed him into the person he is today.