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Q&A with Judge Karl A. Barr, 14A-2 District Court (Washtenaw County)

By Lisa F. Geherin posted 03-06-2024 14:54


Judge Karl Barr was elected to the bench in November 2022, and he began his term on January 1, 2023. He currently presides at the 14A-2 District Court in Ypsilanti, Michigan. After law school at Michigan State College of Law, Judge Barr worked in the tax department of Plante Moran and then joined Barr, Anhut and Associates, PC, in Ypsilanti. His practice areas included municipal law, real estate, trust and estates, criminal prosecution, and civil litigation.


What types of cases are on your docket?

My docket is a mix of civil and criminal. I handle all matters typically heard in a district court including landlord-tenant, general civil, and felony preliminary hearings.

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

For in-person hearings, attorneys should sign in on the sign-in sheet in the courtroom. The bailiff will let the court recorder know who is signed in and ready. Attorneys should not approach the recorder.

For Zoom appearances, once an attorney enters the waiting room, my judicial coordinator takes note of who is there. There are instructions in the Zoom waiting room for the lawyers to rename themselves by adding the case name as well. Sometimes they don’t rename, so my judicial coordinator will provide further instructions.

For the landlord-tenant docket or other civil dockets there is an “advice of rights” statement in the waiting room that is for in pro per individuals.

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

All civil motions and hearings are heard once a month at 14A-4 in Saline. There are no specific days or times for criminal motions. Attorneys should contact the clerk’s office to receive a date and time for their motion.

For civil motions, failure to file a responsive pleading may result in the court issuing a ruling against you prior to the date of the hearing, and the court may cancel oral argument pursuant to MCR 2.119(E)(3). Note that this will not happen in pro per cases.

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?

It’s always best to have a proposed order submitted with your motion or brought to the hearing. Attorneys can submit orders either in person with the court clerk or via email to the clerk’s office. If sent via email, attorneys should copy my judicial coordinator as well.

Please make sure orders are submitted to the correct court clerk:

·       General civil cases: Saline District Court (14A-4) (Saline)

·       Felony preliminary exams: Hogback and Washtenaw (14A-1) (Pittsfield Township)

·       Misdemeanor criminal cases: Michigan Ave (14A-2) (Ypsilanti)

Civil orders can be submitted under the seven-day rule. Criminal orders are typically entered by the court in the register of order. Stipulated orders to adjourn or other stipulated orders should be filed with clerk’s office, copying my judicial coordinator by noon the day before the hearing.

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

Generally speaking, I encourage and expect counsel to have meaningful discussions about settlement options, discovery, etc., before a pretrial to either eliminate the need for the conference or narrow down the issues. The best attorneys work hard to keep the clutter off the docket. Unless I am deciding on bond or you need me to make a ruling on some issue, there is no reason to have the pretrial conference. Where that is not possible, and the matter needs more time for discovery, I expect a stipulated order for adjournment. SCAO form MC 309.

In criminal cases, pretrial conferences are held when I need to rule on an issue, or I need to take a plea. If an attorney was just appointed on a public defender conflict two days prior, and there are no bond issues that need discussion, submit an MC 309, ideally with consent of the prosecutor, and submit it by noon the day before. Ideally, explain the specifics of what was agreed upon and have the form signed by both the defense lawyer and prosecutor.

The court is currently working on using the same form to avoid an appearance and set a case for final settlement conference or bench trial as well. Adjournment requests for additional discovery are less likely to be granted the older the case is.

How are you using Zoom in your courtroom?

If a lawyer wants to appear in person for any of my dockets, I will accommodate that request. But generally, my civil docket is via Zoom, unless there is a hearing or trial. Those dockets run smoothly, and there are generally no issues with technology as there are typically lawyers on both sides.

Zoom is allowed for criminal arraignments and pretrials (except for domestic violence cases). Criminal sentencing and probation matters are all in person. Landlord-tenant cases are all on Zoom.

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

Attorneys must cite the legal authority that allows the court to grant the relief they are seeking. The jurisdiction of this court is limited, so if you’re not citing the authority that allows the court to act, you are not likely to obtain a favorable ruling. The same is true for evidentiary objections. Give the legal basis for the objection, don’t just say “objection.”

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

I expect counsel to work together to narrow the issues for the court to decide. Anything counsel can agree to should be stipulated, and what they don’t should be concisely defined. This way, I can spend the time and mental energy on the items that matter the most to the parties.


What are some of the common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom, either while appearing in person or remotely?

Common mistakes include being chronically late or unprepared. I will not tolerate attorneys who are rude, interrupt, or are unnecessarily argumentative (particularly about items not pertaining to the issue I need to decide before me).

What do you think is the most commonly misinterpreted court rule or rule of evidence?

Hearsay. If you don’t understand it, learn it.

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

The most impressive lawyers are those that are prepared and are able to manage their caseloads. In addition, lawyers who understand what the court needs to know to produce the result they want will be the most successful in my courtroom.

What is something interesting you do off the bench?

I am almost an empty nester, so I’m working on what that means for my “off the bench” schedule. In my spare time, I like to downhill ski and attend rugby events.

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

It is important for lawyers to be involved in their local and state bar associations and make connections beyond their own practices. Getting to know your fellow lawyers outside of the practice can make it much easier to find common ground when you find you are on opposing sides.