Tuesday, April 6, 2021

New One Court of Justice Website Underway

By James Bosko, Judicial Information Services (JIS); and Sarah Roth, Publications Manager, Michigan Judicial Institute (MJI)

In 1990, the first web page appeared on the Internet.  Thirty years later, websites have become critical aspects of any organization that delivers services or disseminates information.  As new technology emerges, demand for a better online experience has increased.  Websites are expected to return relevant search results and work across all desktop and mobile devices.

S.T.A.N.D.ing through COVID-19: Wayne County’s Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Perseveres during the Pandemic

By the Honorable Karen Braxton, Third Circuit Court (Wayne County)

For more than 20 years, the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court known as the S.T.A.N.D. (Supervised Treatment for Alcohol & Narcotic Dependency) Program has been a staple in the 3rd Circuit Court - Juvenile Division for working with very troubled youth.

The S.T.A.N.D. Program is a highly-structured specialty court designed to provide an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system through comprehensive supervision and treatment services for youth who struggle with substance use disorders.  It provides opportunity, teaches responsibility, builds character, and produces success.  Cases are referred into the program by either the jurist, prosecutor, defense attorney, and/or case management organizations.  Youths are screened for eligibility by our Juvenile Justice Specialist.  Our team includes jurists, a coordinator, an administrative assistant, probation officers, defense attorneys, educational advocates, prosecutors, treatment providers, and mentors.

Michigan Legal Help’s Newest Feature: The Legal Clinics and Events Calendar

By Ramzi Badwi, Program and Outreach Coordinator, Michigan Legal Help

From Legal Information to External Referrals

The Michigan Legal Help (MLH) Program is always looking for ways we can better assist self-represented litigants in Michigan.  Although MichiganLegalHelp.org began providing solely legal information, many of our expansions since then have dealt with providing referrals to external organizations and resources.  For example, the Guide to Legal Help can screen a visitor for legal aid eligibility, allow them to start their online intake application for legal aid if they are eligible, find a private attorney through the State Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service, and more.  We also have a Courts & Agencies feature, which provides the visitor with court contact information, and a Community Services section, which can help the visitor find helpful organizations like fair housing centers and domestic violence shelters.  The latest addition to our website is a continuation of this trend: a feature that will help visitors find a legal clinic where they can potentially receive free legal advice and representation.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Advising Defendants of Their Rights

By Hon. William G. Kelly, Retired 62B District Court Judge

At the time of a guilty plea, the court must advise a defendant of his or her rights.  This can be done in writing, but people who are illiterate or have low literacy just sign their names without knowing their rights.  Literate people can read the rights, but they often sign without reading to expedite the process.  Educators tell us that people retain only 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, and 50 percent of what they both see and hear.[1]  So I believe it is important to read the advice of rights to the defendants.  However, reading the advice of rights to everyone is time-consuming and repetitive, and it’s possible to miss something.

In the 62B District Court (Kentwood), we created a narrated slide show video for criminal case defendants to watch about their rights.

Our Greatest Advancement in 2020: Being Human

By Tony McDowell, Deputy Friend of the Court, 7th Circuit Court (Genesee County)

Looking back at how courts have changed in 2020, it is easy to see the technological changes.  Courts have surged forward with amazing advancements.  It wasn’t long ago that ‘zoom’ was something your camera did, and being “in a waiting room” meant you were going to have to sit on an uncomfortable chair while looking at an old Sports Illustrated.  Now, for those of us in Michigan courts, Zoom video conferencing is how we do much of our work, and we have all gotten used to the virtual waiting room.  COVID-19 forced all of us working in the judiciary to evolve and become more comfortable with Zoom and many other remote work technologies.  Although for most of us Zoom is simply a computer program we are now required to use to conduct hearings and meetings, for some of us Zoom has become so much more.  It has become how we connect to each other and to those we serve.

Collaborative Process and Consent Judgments under MCR 3.222 and 3.223

By Deborah Bennett Berecz

Collaborative law has been offered in Michigan since 2004 when a group of lawyers, mental health professionals, and financial specialists were trained to practice in this relatively new format.  In this process, parties retain collaboratively-trained lawyers to specifically assist them with negotiating an agreement – not to prepare the matter for hearings or trial.  Parties sign a “participation agreement,” agreeing to this defined scope of legal services, full, transparent disclosure of all information pertinent to settlement, and retention of a team of professionals trained in collaborative law, including a divorce coach.  A series of meetings is conducted and when agreement is reached, a final judgment is signed and the petition is filed with the court.

Making it Through the Pandemic – How the State Court Administrative Office is Supporting Employees

By Marie Bowen, Business Analyst, Statistical Research

Employee with baby
An employee shares a fun moment
with the newest addition to her family.
On March 23, 2020, when Governor Whitmer issued a statewide stay-at-home order, State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) employees were unsure about what to expect over the next several months.  Some of us were excited to work from home, some of us were nervous, but all of us needed one thing: to maintain employee interaction and human connection.  Research shows that loneliness can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.[1]  As Jennifer Warner, then-SCAO Court Services Division Director, stated, “Working remotely, especially during a pandemic, is difficult.  It is hard for people.  They have to change the way they work.  Even if they are grateful for it, it is still difficult.  They have kids, partners, and pets at home.  They have issues with Internet and a lack of privacy.  They are worried about a lot – some family members are sick, some have lost jobs, and some are struggling to keep a family business afloat.  People need support and connection.  We all need to take steps to intentionally connect to each other during this time.”

Friends of the Court Remind Staff They Are Valued and Missed

Interview with Suzanne Hollyer, Director, Oakland County Friend of the Court; and Lynn Bullard, Director, Van Buren County Friend of the Court and 36th Circuit Court Family Division Administrator

The negative effects of isolation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic are no secret.  With most hearings moving to Zoom and support staff spread throughout the state in their home offices, court staff members are not immune to feeling alone and isolated during this time.  The “Connections” team asked two Friend of the Court (FOC) Directors to share some of their ideas for letting staff know not only that their work is valued, but also that they are missed.  Lynn Bullard is FOC Director and Circuit Court Administrator in Van Buren County, and past president of the Friend of the Court Association.  Suzanne Hollyer is FOC Director in Oakland County, and she currently serves as President of the Friend of the Court Association.

Adapting During the Pandemic Shutdown at the 23rd District Court Probation Department

By Steve DeSmet, Probation Director and Downriver Regional DWI Court Coordinator, 23rd District Court

In March 2020, most things in the world came to a halt.  The COVID-19 pandemic caused the closing of schools, restaurants, and other businesses in a way that had not been seen in more than 100 years.  However, even in these unprecedented times, the work of courts could not simply stop.  The criminal justice system is one of the rare parts of American society that continues to churn on, regardless of the externalities that threaten its ability to function.