Richard Bernstein

August 1, 2017

For Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein, "working from home" typically means walking around Birmingham while he talks on the phone and memorizes case files for the week's schedule.

"The great thing about my job is that I take the same route, the same footsteps and path, so I try to do as much work as I can by phone, and I walk at the same time," Bernstein said during a Tuesday afternoon phone interview. "When you have a lot of severe pain, when you walk, it helps to mitigate it – I'm actually out walking right now. I walk for eight or nine hours while I get my work done. It might be a little bit dangerous, but I feel I've memorized all the footsteps. I know every crevice."

Bernstein, a longtime Birmingham resident, has suffered from chronic pain since 2012, when the left side of his body was essentially shattered when a cyclist crashed into him in New York City's Central Park. The injuries left him hospitalized for 10 weeks, and with intense pain to this day. In response, Bernstein filed suit against the city in an effort to force officials to address the dangers cyclists and traffic have on pedestrians in the park.

"I didn't settle the case, but I think it ended perfect," he said. "They are doing more aggressive enforcement of the speed limit, they have resurfaced the road that encompasses the park and segregated bicyclists from pedestrians, and they have removed the traffic. You still have accidents and issues that will happen, but it's better than it was."

Changes in Central Park, Bernstein said, have helped him find meaning to the accident.

"If I can find some sense of purpose in circumstances that happen throughout life, I think it allows you to work through it and navigate a little better," he said.

Just as his walks help to ease the pain from the accident, Bernstein uses the time to navigate his own court cases. Blind since birth, more than two dozen cases are read to him, word by word, allowing him to memorize each in their entirety.

"As a blind person, you have to work differently," he said. "Imagine you have 26 cases every Wednesday, and you have to review the records of the trial court. You can't use Braille because Braille isn't effective... I memorize all of it. Twenty six cases. I know those cases start to finish and front to back."

The process is the same method Bernstein said he used to work his way through law school. The process was so difficult, Bernstein said he would pray for strength each day to get through the next day, vowing to his creator he would represent disabled persons without access to the legal system should he finish school and pass the bar.

Despite the psychological struggle and physical pain, Bernstein continues to push himself both as a member of the highest court, and in his personal running activities, which include completing an Ironman competition, a half-Ironman, and running 20 full marathons, including three since the accident. This November, Bernstein plans on running in his 12th New York City Marathon.

"For me, it's critical that I work through the pain because it gives me power and keeps the momentum going so I can keep doing other things I need to do," Bernstein said of his reason for running. "I refuse to give up."

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