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Q & A with Judge Monte Burmeister, Chief Probate & District Court Judge for Crawford County

By Jeanne E. Murphy posted 03-14-2022 09:37

  

Judge Monte J. Burmeister was elected to the bench in 2007 after engaging in general civil and criminal practice for 12 years. He is a graduate of the Trial Lawyers College and a Paul Harris Fellow. He is a past president of the Michigan Probate Judges Association and a commissioner on the Judicial Tenure Commission since 2013, serving as its chair in 2019 and 2020. He currently presides over a variety of cases, including criminal misdemeanors and civil cases under $25,000, felony preliminary examinations, decedent’s estates, child custody disputes, and abuse and neglect of children cases.

For attorneys who have never been to your court, what is your check-in process?

 We are a small court, so the attorneys can check in either at our lobby window or with the clerk in the courtroom.

When is your motion call? Is there a maximum number of motions heard during motion call?


Tuesdays are district court criminal docket days, Wednesdays are abuse and neglect case docket days, Thursdays alternate weeks for probate and district civil and family court docket days, Fridays are jury trial days, and Mondays are miscellaneous motion days. We have no maximum number of motions heard during a motion call.

Should proposed orders be submitted to the clerk before argument? Do you expect orders to be drafted in court, and, if so, are there computers for drafting them?

I do not require proposed orders be submitted before argument, but that is often the most efficient process for an attorney to use. I do not expect orders to be drafted in court, and we do not have equipment for the attorneys to use for that process.


How should stipulated orders be submitted?


To the clerk of the particular bench handling the matter.

Who makes up your judicial staff, and what roles do they play?

 
I handle probate, district court, and circuit family matters involving children. I have one staff person in probate court, the registrar, who handles the processing of all probate matters. In district court, I have three clerks handling civil and criminal matters and a probation officer. In family circuit court, I have one Friend of the Court manager, two Friend of the Court caseworkers, two Friend of the Court clerical staff persons, a juvenile registrar, two juvenile caseworkers, a judicial secretary (in charge of scheduling), and a court administrator.

 
What types of pretrial conferences do you hold, and what happens at them?

In misdemeanor criminal cases, we hold informal pretrials early on in the case to allow for plea discussions. These are off the record and between defendant/defense counsel and the prosecutor. These will be followed by formal status conferences in the courtroom, where the court will take a plea or set the matter for trial. If the matter is set for trial, a final status conference is scheduled ten days before the trial date.

 In felony cases, the court holds formal pretrials on the record.

 In district court civil matters, the court holds pretrial conferences on the record. The court determines whether the pleadings are in order and whether discovery needs to occur, timelines for witness and exhibit lists and dispositive motions, and length of trial. The court then issues a pretrial order encapsulating the on-the-record discussion. But before a pretrial is held, the court directs the parties to attend mediation.


Are you still using Zoom? If so, what types of matters/motions are held via Zoom?

 Yes. Currently we are still expected to allow for Zoom proceedings. All types of matters can still be held via Zoom or in person, at the litigants’ preference (except for jury trials).

 
What are some of the common mistakes/issues you see attorneys making when attending court via Zoom?

Treating the proceeding as something less formal than a normal court appearance. Attorneys have appeared dressed inappropriately for court. Additionally, attorneys have often failed to test their equipment with the courts to see if it interfaces properly and sometimes fail to have their clients likewise test their equipment for a good connection. Attorneys also fail to exchange documents with other counsel when they know they are going to want to introduce the documents into evidence. They also sometimes fail to provide the court a copy in advance of the hearing.  

Do you have any advice for attorneys appearing remotely?

 

Be formal. Test your equipment. Be prepared. Surmount the obstacles that remote hearings will cause in the introduction of evidence by taking the extra effort ahead of time to provide for a smooth transition.

 

What are some components of an argument (either in a brief or oral argument) that you find compelling or persuasive?

When counsel gives a direct and succinct answer to the court’s inquiries. By way of analogy, juries are instructed that they can judge a witnesses’ credibility by considering whether they tried arguing with the lawyers and refused to answer questions in a straightforward manner. The same could be said to be true for attorneys. If an attorney is asked a question by the court and goes sideways, they are not helping their cause.

 
What procedural issues/disputes should be worked out between the parties before involving you?

Counsel and parties often do not dialogue and attempt to resolve cases before getting to their hearing. The court allows time for those discussions, but the net effect is a loss of docket time if an agreement is not met. Some issues, like discovery, should be resolved, or at least winnowed, before getting to the court. Other issues, the court is willing to hear but generally encourages a good faith discussion before coming to the court for resolution. Additionally, rarely should the court receive an ex parte motion on a case where there are two counsel who have filed an appearance.

 
Any other common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom?

Trying to answer a testimonial question for their client in the plea taking process. The court is supposed to take a knowing plea. The knowledge element cannot be demonstrated if the attorney is trying to answer the question for the client or coach them on the answer. Neither approach is appropriate, and counsel should instead request the case be passed and spend some more time with their client on ensuring an understanding plea.

 

What is an example of a time a lawyer impressed you?


Our counsel that handles indigent defense does a great job informing defendants of their rights and streamlining the process.

 

What is something interesting you do off the bench?

Ride my 1968 BMW R/60 motorcycle.

 
Is there anything else you would like Michigan lawyers to know?

We, as judges, sometimes have bad days too. There are things that we encounter that may interfere with our otherwise sunny disposition. I try to run a tight ship but be fair and courteous of other people in the courtroom. There are times that I fail to live up to the standards that I hold for myself and other judges. If you ever appear before me and think I am not being courteous or professional, I invite you to let me know. Even judges occasionally need a gut check. Gut checks help us not to be that judge that we never wanted to appear in front of when we were practicing attorneys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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