Q & A with Judge Judith E. Levy, United States District Court - Eastern District of Michigan

By Melanie C. Hagan posted 06-07-2018 11:32


Judge Judith E. Levy, United States District Court—Eastern District of Michigan


Judge Levy is a district judge whose primary chambers are in Ann Arbor. Judge Levy was appointed to the federal bench in 2014. Before serving on the Eastern District Court, Judge Levy was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan. She received her law degree from the University of Michigan.  


What are the worst and best things a lawyer can do in your court? 

The best things a lawyer can do are arrive on time, be prepared for the matter by knowing both the facts and the law applicable to the case, and be respectful of everyone she or he encounters (including opposing counsel and the building staff). 

I try to be an understanding and forgiving person. I know lawyers are busy and are balancing multiple demands. The only thing that truly irks me is when a lawyer blames a secretary for something. I appreciate it when everyone takes responsibility for their part of the case. I will work hard to do that myself, including starting hearings and trials on time and addressing the law and the facts as accurately and carefully as I can.

 What role does your staff play?  

I have a case manager, three law clerks, and a court reporter. I think we can all agree on what the court reporter does. But please, please, do not talk too fast, especially when you are reading from a document. I very much want her hands and wrists to remain healthy and for the transcript to be accurate.

My law clerks assist with research and writing, primarily on dispositive motions in civil cases. They also assist with disputes that might arise regarding jury instructions and the proper format for a verdict form. I have one career law clerk and two one-year term clerks.

My case manager does almost everything you can imagine. She keeps the entire docket of approximately 250 criminal and civil cases going. She assists with jury selection and with jury logistics, parking, work verifications, and all manner of issues related to jury trials. It is crucial to be kind and respectful to my case manager.

What should attorneys know about motions and briefs?

I will read all motions and briefs, and most exhibits. I say "most exhibits" because some are attached primarily to show they exist and not so much for the content. This means that if an attorney has been difficult in a deposition, I will most likely know that.

In most cases I am quite familiar with the standard of review, so attorney should save pages for what really needs to be argued by spending less time on, for example, Iqbal and Twombly in a motion to dismiss.

What happens at a settlement conference? 

I enjoy the settlement process. In most cases, we all start in my office in chambers and then we divide up for confidential conversations. Generally, I will try to settle cases only after a dispositive motion has been decided if one is filed, and only when the case has a jury demand. Clients with full settlement authority must attend, although I may make exceptions for governmental entities and international clients who can be available by telephone.

How are trials scheduled?

Trial dates are set at the initial scheduling conference as a placeholder. As the date nears, counsel will work with my case manager and, if necessary, with me to find a date when their witnesses are available and they do not have other trials or family obligations. Once a firm date is selected, the trial will take place, barring "flat tires and broken legs," to borrow a phrase from my stepfather. Depending on the length of the trial, we will be in session long half-days or full days. For longer trials, I set half-days so that I can address other matters and the jurors can take care of family and work obligations. I am flexible and will work out the details based on the needs of the case.

When must attorneys bring their clients to court?

Clients are always welcome at any phase of the case, but they must be present for the final pretrial conference and any settlement conferences. In criminal cases, defendants must be present or they waive their presence for any "critical stage of the proceeding."

What is the process for handling discovery disputes?

Counsel is required to call chambers to inform my case manager of any discovery disputes. Please do not argue the case to the case manager or law clerk. They will set up an on-the-record telephonic hearing for the issue to be identified and argued. If it can be resolved to all parties' satisfaction (or equal dissatisfaction), then voilà, it's over. If it cannot be resolved, there will be no hard feelings on my part, and the moving party may request leave to file a written motion, which will automatically be granted. In almost all cases, I will handle that motion and will not refer it to the Magistrate Judge. If this process is not followed and a discovery motion is filed without first calling the court, I will instruct my case manager to strike the motion and brief from the docket as nonconforming.