William Giovan: Retired judge credits university years for his start

William J. Giovan, who recently retired as chief judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court, advised UDM students to develop their critical skills and to stretch themselves.Giovan, who graduated with a bachelor's degree from U of D in 1958, visited the campus recently as part of Alumni Week activities. After attending U of D, he transferred and graduated from the University of Michigan Law School.

As an undergrad, Giovan was quite an active student. "I was on the fencing and debate team and I remember putting on plays in the third floor of the library," he said. "I knew I wanted to practice law at an early age, the second grade."

He recalled putting his skills for arguing to use early.

"I remember debating on if dogs were better than cats or something of that such," he said. "I had such a rush of a feeling when I stood up debating that case."

The debate team at U of D helped Giovan to become a lawyer and judge, he said.

In 1973, Giovan became a common pleas court judge. A few years later, he was appointed to the circuit bench by Governor William Milliken.

Giovan later became chief judge of the circuit.

After he retired, he became a part time judge working only five days a month for a year.

When one of the students asked Giovan if he preferred practicing law to being a judge, he took a long pause and pondered the question.

"I was very fortunate with my time as a lawyer and a judge," he said. "However, trying cases was the hardest work I have ever done. While the cases were in progress, I felt like my life wasn't my own. If you won a case, it was good. But if you lost a case it was like the depths of depression.

"As a judge," he added, "you don't have the same stress as a lawyer. If you're late as a judge, they smile and say, 'Good morning, judge.' "

Giovan mentioned that as a judge there are limitations on behavior because people are looking up to you and expecting you to act in a certain manner.

Giovan gave the students advice to take with them in their budding careers.

"I would recommend taking debate," said Giovan. The debate team helped him to organize his thoughts and recognize if an argument was valid, he said.

"Take accounting, economic, business and tax courses," said Giovan. "Also, make sure this (law) is something you really want to do. There are a lot of lawyers out there and it's not as easy to become wealthy as people think."

Since retiring, Giovan has returned to private practice as a partner with Charfoos, Giovan & Birach. He credits U of D with giving him a jumpstart on his career.