Judge Tina Yost Johnson was elected to the 37th Circuit Court in November 2016, where she presides over the Family Division. Judge Yost Johnson serves on the State Bar of Michigan’s Family Law Council Legislative and Court Rules Committees and the State Bar of Michigan’s American Indian Law Section Executive Committee. She is a member and past president of the Calhoun County Bar Association. Judge Yost Johnson is also a member of the Michigan Judges Association Family Law Committee, and she was the past-public relations chair of the Women Lawyer's Association.
For attorneys who have never been to your court, what is your check-in process?
I have an amazing staff who ensures that parties and legal counsel are acknowledged when entering and get proper instructions.
When is your motion call? Are there a maximum number of motions heard during motion call?
Motions are Mondays at 1:30 p.m. We do not have a maximum number of motions; however, we will advise parties of time constraints as appropriate so each case can be given the attention it needs.
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?
Proposed orders should be submitted to the clerk’s office with a judge’s copy submitted to my office. Small changes can be made by the judge electronically in a program called Tru sign. It works like electronic whiteout. If they submit an emailed copy to JudgeYostJohnsonExhibits@CalhounCountymi.gov, we will make more substantive changes real time, print, and sign whenever possible. We find this meets the needs of most of our cases.
How should stipulated orders be submitted?
To the clerk’s office with a judge’s copy provided to the judge’s office. Emergency orders may be submitted by contacting the judge’s staff. They will provide instructions in the case of an emergency when parties cannot make it physically to the clerk’s office to file.
Who makes up your judicial staff and what roles do they play?
My judicial assistant handles all scheduling, is primarily responsible for questions on name change and domestic cases, and is the main contact for office communication with the judge.
My court services officer/bailiff checks parties in and is responsible for communication in the courtroom and is primarily responsible for child welfare cases. My office works as a team, and both staff members will assist parties and attorneys as necessary. We also work closely with the referee teams to provide services as needed.
Contact information can be found at https://www.calhouncountymi.gov/departments/courts/circuit_court/about_us.php.
What types of pretrial conferences do you hold and what happens at them?
We hold trial management conferences. Case scheduling orders are issued in advance of these conferences. All jury instructions, witnesses, exhibits, and motions are due before these conferences. Service, time for trial, and any objections will be resolved so the case is either settled or set for trial. Adjournments of trial management conferences are rarely granted because they control the trial schedule. All parties are required to attend trial management conferences. They are usually held via Zoom for the convenience of the parties.
Are you still using Zoom? If so, what types of matters/motions are held via Zoom?
We schedule hearings in person and allow parties to appear via Zoom for their convenience. All requests to appear via Zoom are granted unless the court has a good reason to deny. Parties appearing via Zoom waive their right to an in-person appearance. We will not adjourn for failure to appear or bad connection issues that were foreseeable because hearings are scheduled in person. Parties should test their connections and service in advance. We will make every effort to accommodate the appearance and meaningful participation of parties. All exhibits must be premarked and submitted to JudgeYostJohnsonExhibits@CalhounCountyMI.Gov. The court will screen share exhibits properly submitted. Exhibits not properly submitted will be excluded. Parties may also be required to submit judge’s copies of exhibits in hardcopy.
What are some of the common mistakes/issues you see attorneys making when attending court via Zoom?
- Failure to properly submit exhibits.
- Failure to advise clients appearing via Zoom that they are still in court and must behave as such.
- Attorneys must appear in the same manner as their client unless they have properly arranged for a way to communicate with their client during hearings.
- The court does not have a way for them to confidentially speak to their client during a hearing if they aren’t appearing in the same manner.
- Make sure appearing via Zoom is possible for your client.
- Does the client have an Internet connection/service?
- Do they have a hearing or learning disability that would make remote appearance harder?
- Can you communicate properly with your client?
Do you have any advice for attorneys appearing remotely?
Appearing in person or remotely makes zero difference in the outcome of your case. It is a convenience allowed to the parties and may save travel, time, and money for parties. It can also reduce anxiety for some clients. Appearing via Zoom is a privilege, not a right. If parties do not observe proper decorum or cause unnecessary delay, future requests to appear remotely may be denied. Talk to your clients on courtroom etiquette. Make sure they know they are still in court and their actions are being recorded. Tell them not to eat, smoke, drive, etc. while in court. Make sure you are in a quiet area. While the court respects people who can multitask, make sure you are not, and your client does not feel you are distracted by phones, staff, and other things happening.
What are some components of an argument (either in a brief or oral argument) that you find compelling or persuasive?
Attorneys who provide caselaw and court rules to the court and other counsel in advance—you can assume the court has read what you have submitted. Getting your legal position to the court well in advance will allow the court to review your arguments and make a timely decision.
What procedural issues/disputes should be worked out between the parties before involving you?
The court expects parties to comply with discovery and disclosure. Whenever possible, exhibits should be provided and stipulated to in advance.
Any other common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom?
Be prepared to cite the legal authority for your position.
Do not assume stipulations will be granted. A hearing is not removed from the docket until the court has reviewed and signed off on it. The court requires a next date and good cause stated for any adjournments. If you submit a stipulation to adjourn that is approved, it is your responsibility to notify all parties and witnesses and to process the order and properly do a notice of hearing and proof of service for the next date. If you do not have a signed order in hand, assume your hearing is still going to happen.
Do not assume deadlines will be extended for failure to follow case scheduling orders. Parties are entitled to timely and effective hearings on their cases. Cases will be held according to caseflow management guidelines unless good cause is shown and an order extending is entered. Ask for permission, not forgiveness.
Notify us as much as possible in advance of conflicts. We know you have a life outside of court and that you cannot be in two places at one time. Send our office notices of vacation and clear dates that you are not available; we try to avoid them. Follow the court rules when you have two hearing officers demanding your attention at one time. We will work with you the best we can to get you where you need to be. I find that judges are very cooperative and will do their best to share attorneys and keep the dockets moving.
What do you think is the most commonly misinterpreted court rule or rule of evidence?
Attorneys have a hard time switching between the rules of evidence for family law versus the rules for other cases. If an attorney is going to represent a client in the family division, they should carefully review the court rules and rules of evidence applying to their proceeding and not assume that the rules are the same as other proceedings.
What is an example of a time a lawyer impressed you?
I had a team of lawyers reach out to me on a Friday night for an emergency hearing regarding a child in an abuse and neglect case. All counsel agreed the matter had urgent necessity and requested a hearing. We held a hearing Friday night, after hours, with all counsel appearing via Zoom. No one was required, they all agreed it was necessary by consent. I will never forget how impressed I was with the professionalism, dedication, and compassion those attorneys had for the youth in crisis. We held the hearing, I issued an order, and the parties were able to get the proper care for the child that was needed. I am always impressed by attorneys who understand the true needs of the families and children they serve and make sure the court does its best to meet those needs.
What is something interesting you do off the bench?
I spend a lot of time trying to improve the law and work on many committees to serve families and youth better in our state. That being said, I am a mother of two children, and my family spends a lot of time in nature. I love to kayak, hike, camp, paddleboard, and explore.
Is there anything else you would like Michigan lawyers to know?
The best thing you can do is to be well prepared and know the law in the area you practice in. Give your client reasonable expectations and then overperform. Telling them something can happen that in reality won’t is a disservice to everyone involved. I am open to creative arguments but be prepared to cite and provide legal authority in advance. That makes the case move smoothly and efficiently.
I have an open-door policy. I am always open to give feedback and take feedback. We are all better when we work to improve the system. Remember, being a lawyer is more than just what happens in the courtrooms and on your cases. We all have a duty to work to make the law and the system better. The best work is done by joining sections in your practice area and working with colleagues who practice the same law you do. That is where you will find the best mentors. Join and participate. The benefit will outweigh what is required of you.
The system works best when we all treat each other with respect, state the reasons for our opinions, agree when we can, and agree to disagree when we can’t. Confrontation is never good for anyone, but when necessary to disagree do it in a civil and respectable way.