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Q & A with Judge Cheryl A. Matthews, Oakland County Circuit Court

By Lisa F. Geherin posted 11-07-2018 09:43



Hon. Cheryl A. Matthews was elected to the Oakland County Circuit Court bench in 2004. She is currently assigned to the Civil/Criminal Division, but had previously served in the Family Division. Before that, she served in the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office, first as an assistant prosecuting attorney (1991- 1997), then as chief of the Child Sexual Assault Section (1997- 2004). During that time, Judge Matthews also served as an instructor at the Oakland Police Academy. She was appointed by the governor to the Michigan Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children (2014-2015), was appointed to the Governor's Task Force on Children's Justice (1998-2004), and served as a board member of the Oakland County Child Abuse and Neglect Council (1999-2005). Before joining the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, Judge Matthews was an associate at the law firm of Chadbourne & Parke in New York. She is a member of the State Bar of Michigan and the New York State Bar Association.

 Q & A with Judge Cheryl A. Matthews, Oakland County Circuit Court


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

The worst thing a lawyer can do in my courtroom is to talk over me or argue with me once I have made my ruling. I strive to always give the lawyers in my courtroom a good deal of time to argue their side of the case and answer my questions, but when I do make my ruling, it’s final. Also, I will not tolerate rudeness to my clerk or staff.


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

There are three things I would like lawyers in my courtroom to do:

  1. Be punctual. I am on time and I expect them to be also.
  2. Be respectful.
  3. Answer my questions about the case. I review each case and often have questions, the answers to which are important to my ruling.


What is something interesting you do off the bench?

Our family frequently visits Mackinac Island and Torch Lake during the summer months. I also recently took my son on a mission trip to Guatemala.


When are written appearances required?

Always. If you don’t file an appearance, you don’t get court communication.


What role does your clerk play?

My clerk is the gatekeeper. She sets boundaries and calendars hearings and generally moves things along. I have the best staff in the court.


What role does your judicial attorney play?

My judicial attorney is the brains of the business. She has been with me for three years. We review motions together, argue both sides, and generally look at what evidence is there and where there are holes. She works on all of the summary disposition motions.


When is a brief required?

Any motion should have an accompanying brief. It does not necessarily need to be lengthy as long as it contains the applicable law. I recommend proofreading all briefs as the canned briefs usually contain errors and the wrong parties’ names.


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

Motion call is every Wednesday morning. I do not have a maximum; we just stay until all the motions have been heard. When I was on the family law bench, I had 93 motions on one day, but with the circuit court docket, my average is usually 30 to 40.


When and how do attorneys request an adjournment?

To adjourn a hearing date, the moving party can call my clerk. To adjourn a trial date, you must file a motion; I will not accept a stipulation. I typically grant the first request to adjourn trial, but I am not inclined to adjourn beyond that without a very compelling reason.


What happens at a settlement conference?

I don’t have many settlement conferences. I try to keep firm as many of my trial dates as I can because that puts pressure on the parties to settle or be prepared to go to trial. When I do hold a settlement conference, I am very frank with the lawyers about the strengths and weaknesses with their case and how a juror might view the case. I prefer to hold settlement conferences in those cases in which I have heard a summary disposition motion because I know those cases better. Lawyers should bring their clients, or at least someone who has settlement authority, to the settlement conference.


When should my client come to court?

In family court I always want the client to be there. On the general civil docket, clients should be there for settlement conferences and trial. Bottom line, lawyers need to have a client attend whenever it is necessary to accomplish something.


When should a lawyer approach the judge in a bench conference?

It is fine to approach the bench if a lawyer has a sensitive piece of information. Otherwise, I prefer communication to include all parties.


How do I schedule a trial date?

As soon as the complaint is answered, the court sends out a scheduling order that has your trial date. People should pay attention to that date. Your trial is going, so if there is a conflict, let the court know ASAP.


Any other comments or suggestions for lawyers?

New lawyers should sit through motion calls or the criminal docket and read the briefs and pleadings filed with the court. It‘s a great way to learn what you are supposed to do in court and provides an opportunity for you to ask questions of experienced lawyers and maybe even meet a mentor.