Q & A with Judge Joyce A. Draganchuk, Ingham County Circuit Court

By Rachael M. Sedlacek posted 04-02-2018 10:51


Judge Joyce A. Draganchuk

Ingham County Circuit Court

Lansing, Michigan


Judge Joyce A. Draganchuk is the presiding judge of the General Trial Division as well as a Business Court judge of the Ingham County Circuit Court. Before her election to the bench in 2004, she served in the Ingham County prosecuting attorney's office for 16 years and was the chief assistant prosecutor from 2001 to 2004. Judge Draganchuk is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, the Ingham County Bar Association, the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, the American College of Business Court Judges, the Ingham County Bar Foundation, and the Michigan State University Inn of Court, and she is a life fellow of the Michigan State Bar Foundation. Judge Draganchuk has lectured for the Michigan Judicial Institute, the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and the Young Lawyers Section of the Ingham County Bar Association. She has served as a criminal defense attorney trainer and has been a guest speaker at local high schools and middle schools.


1. What is the worst thing a lawyer can do in court?


It bothers me when attorneys pop out of their chair and argue with me after I issue a ruling. Often, they try to disguise it as a question, for example, “But did you consider this factor?” However, that type of question is an argument against my ruling. Sometimes attorneys will say that they are trying to preserve the record. It is not necessary to reargue your position—briefs are part of the record. If you failed to bring something up in the brief or during oral argument, that is on you.


I give counsel a full opportunity to present their argument. I read briefs carefully and allow parties ample time during oral argument to make their case. I also clearly outline the reasoning for my rulings. Arguing with me postruling—particularly if posed in the form of a question—is both disrespectful of my time and disingenuous.


2. What is the best thing a lawyer can do in court?


I really appreciate it when attorneys are civil and professional in my courtroom. That is at the top of the list. It is really off-putting when an attorney turns to opposing counsel during an argument and starts making personal attacks. It is unprofessional to indicate that the other side’s position is “laughable,” or “ridiculous,” or to say things like “here he goes again; this is what he always does.” The best attorneys don’t use personal attacks and address comments directly to the court.


In addition, the moving party can make the best use of oral argument time by reading the opposing party’s brief and countering its arguments. Do not just regurgitate your brief—I have read it. The best attorneys begin their oral argument by saying, “I am not going to reargue my brief; I am going to address issues in opposing counsel’s brief.”


3. When are written appearances required?


Realistically, they are not required. Due to time constraints, unless someone raises some issue regarding an appearance, I do not pay attention to them.


4. What role does your clerk play?


I have a law clerk who is also my court officer. He has a different role than the clerk of the court, which sometimes confuses practitioners. This can be problematic because when attorneys address the judge’s copy of a brief to “Clerk,” it may not end up in my chambers. To avoid this issue, address the judge’s copy directly to me or to my judicial assistant.


My law clerk does not deal with my civil docket or draft rulings on summary disposition motions. He works on and manages the time frame for prisoner appeals and administrative agency appeals. If you have a question about my practices and preferences that my judicial assistant cannot answer, my law clerk may be able to help you.


5. What role does your judicial attorney play?


I do not have a judicial attorney. I have a judicial assistant whose role is similar to that of a legal secretary. All motion hearings are scheduled through my judicial assistant—there is no praecipe.


6. When is a brief required?


The court rules require all motions to be accompanied by a brief, and I stick to that. The briefs do not have to be long—particularly on discovery motions. The critical aspect of a brief for me is authority. I am not basing my rulings on what feels right. I want to know the authority.


7. When is your motion call? Are there a maximum number of motions heard during motion call?


Motion call is Wednesday afternoon. We do not limit the number of motions heard overall, but we try to keep to only four summary disposition motions per afternoon. We may make exceptions if there is one case with multiple summary disposition motions.


We generally schedule in 15-minute increments, but if things get busy, we will tack on more than one case in a 15-minute time frame.


8. When and how do attorneys request an adjournment?


If both sides stipulate to the adjournment, I will usually sign off. I leave it to the attorneys because they know the case. If the adjournment is not stipulated to, it is a contested motion and there has to be a hearing.


9. What happens at a settlement conference?


It is pretty rare for me to be involved in a settlement conference. I will participate only if the attorneys have asked for my help and I think I can help settle the case. My ability to participate in these kinds of conferences is also limited because it takes quite a chunk of time (sometimes an entire morning).


During pretrial conferences, which are scheduled by the case conferencing clerk about three weeks before trial, we are setting the stage for trial. We will discuss the remaining procedural issues to be addressed and assess whether the parties are ready to go to trial.


10. When should my client come to court?


I never expect to see a client in court until trial. Of course, clients have a right to be there and are welcome. However, if clients are unreasonable, they can create an uneasy environment. I have had a client verbally lash out at me in court after a ruling.


11. When should I approach the judge in a bench conference?


You should approach the bench only for things the jury cannot hear. One of the most common examples is when you want to make an objection during trial to something that would be unduly prejudicial to present to the jury. This is a perfectly acceptable reason to approach the bench. However, be careful not to abuse this practice—you should not be approaching the bench for every single objection.


Also, be aware that bench conferences are not recorded in my courtroom. I use a court recorder, not a court reporter. Consequently, there are no means to record a bench conference. I try to make a note of my rulings during bench conferences, but it is ultimately up to the lawyer to make sure that any argument or ruling is placed on the record, for example, “Your Honor, we had a bench conference, and I would like to place some of that on the record.”


12. How do I schedule a trial date?


For most civil cases, the trial dates are set by the scheduling order. After an answer is filed, my assistant will send out a scheduling order with blanks for the attorneys to fill in for all of the case milestones. The scheduling clerk will schedule trial based on this order. If the parties cannot agree to all of the dates in the order, they have to appear for a scheduling conference.


For business court cases, after the answer is filed, I have the attorneys come in and meet for a scheduling conference. I do not allow them to just agree on dates and send in a scheduling order. During the conference, I will do an individual assessment of the case and we will all agree on how the case should move forward. I have found that it is important to have judicial management and involvement in the time guidelines because these are not cookie-cutter cases.