How would you describe your judicial philosophy?
In terms of judicial philosophy, I try not to label myself. My philosophy, if you want to call it a philosophy, is that judges need to apply the law to the facts of the case in as fair and just manner as possible.
What are you taking away from your district court experience?
I think what I take is that I actually sat and was a trial judge. In the appellate court, we obviously review trial judges’ decisions. I was able to try cases as a judge and as a lawyer in my experience. I know what trial judges go through on a daily basis. I also sat up in Circuit Court a few times for other judges when they needed assistance.
For me, we are here reviewing decisions of lower courts. I know what district courts and trial courts have to go through on a daily basis. And that understanding has already helped me here.
What have you learned in the first two weeks of your new job?
I have learned that this is a very busy court. The docket here is certainly varied. The issues are interesting. The cases are all very interesting.
What was one of the most challenging experiences you had as a District Court judge?
It’s hard to point to one specific case. There are so many cases that were important and important to all the litigants — both civil and criminal cases. As a whole, I know how busy district courts are.
I think what I learned is this: In every file, every piece of paper in every file, there are human beings behind that. No matter if it’s a corporation, an individual or any kind of group that may be before you — whatever the case is, it’s important to them or they wouldn’t be there. And no matter what the person had going wrong for them in district court, as long as you treat the people before you with dignity and respect, they’ll appreciate what you’re saying. Coming to the Court of Appeals, that underlying record is so important. Now that I’m here I realize how important the record I made in district court was.
But I think it’s important that people understand how busy District Court is and how busy this court is.
What does that mean that the court is ‘very busy?’ As opposed to being not busy?
The dockets are very heavy. We just have so many cases. A good example here is that with any particular case call, we may already be looking at 30 cases. Essentially, you’re looking at an opinion everyday that needs to be taken care of — everyday. Some of them are going to take longer than one day. There is just a tremendous amount of work that goes into the judicial system.
Is that a struggle?
I don’t think struggle is the right word. You really have to be paying attention. In District Court, you’re on the bench most of the day. Many days, I would finish my docket or trial and come into my office and have a pile of paperwork to go through.
And here, you are assigned a certain number of opinions you need to write. And you make sure to review other judge’s opinions, so you have all the records from the lower court to review. I mean, this office looks really neat but all of the files are in the other room over there (laughs). Some of them are on disk now, which I think will be the wave of the future.
What was the appointment process like? Did it come as a surprise?
There was an opening, so you had to put in an application, which I did. Was it a surprise? I knew I had put in, but to get the call and actually receive the appointment was very exciting and very humbling. It’s an excellent line of work.
What did it mean for you that you were able to stay in the city of Lansing?
My district now covers 58 counties, but to be able to stay and live in the city is wonderful for me. I’m close to the office and with all of the work we need to do, it’s nice to be close by here. I’m very involved with this community.
But I’m also really looking forward to working with people from across the state. When I was in the (attorney general’s) office, I tried cases all over the state, from Sault St. Marie to Adrian. So I look forward to traveling and meeting everyone and working with people I already know.
What do you make of partisan politics’ role at the state Supreme Court?
I don’t know if I would discuss that because it doesn’t have anything to do with me. What I’ve found here and in District Court is that partisanship does not play a role. I can tell from the group of judges we have here that it is a tremendously collegial group, and even if the judges disagree, everyone here treats the other judges with respect in terms of their opinion.
The Supreme Court justices I have known and met welcomed me to the building (Hall of Justice) as well. I think what goes on upstairs, goes on upstairs and is not something I’m a part of.
Do you have aspirations to run for the state Supreme Court?
I am so happy in this job, it’s not something I’m thinking about. I’m focused on doing a good job where I am right now.