Approaching the Bench Questions – Judge Sara Schimke
Judge Sara Schimke was appointed to the Macomb County Probate Court Bench in April 2022. Prior to taking the bench, Judge Schimke was in private practice with Chalgian & Tripp, PLLC; Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss, P.C.; and Barron, Rosenburg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C. Judge Schimke focused her practice on probate law, estate planning, and advocacy. Judge Schimke has also previously served as an adjunct professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Judge Schimke is active in her community, including serving as a board member of the Michigan Parkinson’s Foundation, a past member of the ICLE Elder Law Advisory Board, a current member on ICLE's Elder Law Institute Planning Committee, and a past chair of the State Bar Elder Law & Disability Rights Section.
For attorneys who have never been to your court, what is your check-in process?
A new process for check-in launched on March 13, 2023. A copy of the docket is posted outside the courtroom. If your case is highlighted, you can proceed directly into the courtroom and check in with the judge’s clerk. For all other files, you will check in with an analyst in Area A.
Files with proposed orders and proofs of service submitted at least seven days prior to the hearing date are the ones that get highlighted on the posted docket (and streamlined into the courtroom). For files without proposed orders and proofs of service seven days in advance of the hearing date, those parties appearing for hearings will be required to wait for an analyst to check you in.
Proposed orders and proofs of service may be mailed to the court, hand delivered to the court, or faxed to the analysts at 586-783-0929.
When is your motion call? Are there a maximum number of motions heard during motion call?
There is no specific motion call day. Every day is motion call day here. The initial hearing can be scheduled any day Monday through Thursday. We do Zoom hearings in the morning Tuesday through Thursday and in-person hearings in the afternoon, except Mondays when all hearings are in person.
Initial hearings are set via Zoom or in person based on the type of case and whether testimony is required. If the case is proceeding on the contested docket, a scheduling order will be entered at the initial hearing, and a subsequent pretrial hearing set following discovery.
Who makes up your judicial staff and what roles do they play?
I have a judicial secretary; she handles all of the adjournments, scheduling, and any issues getting cases on the docket.
I have a courtroom clerk who runs the docket in the courtroom with me during the day.
I have a staff attorney who assists with much of the uncontested administrative matters that do not require hearings.
Finally, we have an analysist who reviews inventories, accounting, and checks parties in for their hearing.
What types of pretrial conferences do you hold and what happens at them?
I hold pretrial conferences at the close of discovery, and I use that to ultimately determine how long we will need for trial, determine if the issues for trial have been narrowed down, and whether the parties are going to participate in late mediation. Depending on the complexity of the case, I may also set a final pretrial conference a week or two before trial to deal with any last-minute issues. Of course, the parties can always request a final pretrial if there are any outstanding procedural issues or questions that need to be addressed—this should be done prior to the date of trial, not the morning of.
What types of matters/motions are held via Zoom and which are held in person?
Typically, we schedule the following types of hearings for Zoom:
· Mental health hearings
· Developmentally disabled guardianships
· Minor guardianships, initial hearing
· Minor conservatorships, initial hearing
· Motions for summary disposition (time limit: 15 minutes each side), or must request in-person hearing
· Petitions for instruction
· Modification of adult guardianships
· Modification of adult conservatorships
· Special needs trust petitions
· Review hearings
· Status conferences
· Pretrial hearings
· Early scheduling conferences
· Case evaluation
What are some components of an arguments (either in a brief or oral argument) that you find compelling or persuasive?
I tend to like very straightforward arguments without a lot of fluff. I practiced in this area for a long time before taking the bench. Give me the statutes and the caselaw that support your argument.
What procedural issues/disputes should be worked out between the parties before involving you?
Discovery motions. When I get discovery motions, oftentimes the party that has overreached on discovery knows they have, so try to work those issues out before appearing for the hearing.
Also, any agreements on scheduling, such as if the parties plan to mediate, should be worked out beforehand to move through the court easier.
What are some common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom, either while appearing in person or remotely?
Service mistakes are by far the most common mistake. Probate has its own set of rules regarding who is required to be served with specific pleadings. Probate timeframes are different than general civil, and there are different interested parties that are entitled to be served. For example, if the protected individual is on public benefits, the service rules require certain pleadings to be served on the agency paying benefits.
What is an example of a time a lawyer impressed you?
I am most impressed by attorneys who are professional and collegial with opposing counsel, who know the law that supports their position, and who understand and accept when the law doesn’t support their position.
What is something interesting you do off the bench?
I have kids that keep me really busy and play a lot of sports. In the winter, we spend the weekends skiing a lot as a family. I am a lifelong boater. I had my own a boat before I got my first car! And now that I’ve converted my husband to an avid boater, we spend our summers on the lake.
Is there anything else you would like Michigan lawyers to know?
I know what it is like to be a practitioner, so I really try to respect your time. I read everything in advance, so rest assured, if you have filed something timely, I have read it. I work hard to make the lawyer’s time in court efficient and effective. I love probate work and am happy to be on the bench; I will continue to do what I can to make the Macomb County Probate Court a great place to practice law.