Honorable B. Chris Christenson III joined the 7th Circuit as a Family Division judge in January 2021. Previously, he practiced in the areas of criminal defense, business and contract litigation, real estate and construction law, general civil litigation, and probate administration. Active in the State Bar of Michigan (SBM), Judge Christenson served on its board of commissioners from 2007 to 2010 and was recently reelected for a term expiring in 2023. He is also a member of the Centennial American Inn of Court and the Friends of Berston Field House's board of commissioners. Judge Christenson is a past president of the Genesee County Bar Association, a former chair of the SBM's Young Lawyers Section, and a former board of directors member of both the Centennial American Inn of Court and Legal Services of Eastern Michigan.
For attorneys who have never been to your court, what is your check-in process?
Attorneys appearing in person may check in with either of the clerks that sit on either side of the bench. Attorneys appearing by Zoom should confirm that their name is labeled correctly so that my staff can properly identify them when checking in.
When is your motion call? Are there a maximum number of motions heard during motion call?
Motion call in my court takes place on Mondays at various times depending on the motion. I do not have a maximum number of motions for the morning call. For the afternoon call, I prefer it to stay under 25 minutes with 15 minutes being the average.
What types of pretrial conferences do you hold and what happens at them?
I hold mandatory settlement conferences. At these conferences, we verify that discovery has started, address issues for trial, and set the schedule to discuss settlement and/or order mediation.
Who makes up your judicial staff and what roles do they play?
I have an extensive staff that helps me in a variety of ways. They include:
- A Judicial Administrative Secretary responsible for all secretarial duties, including:
- scheduling hearings, trials, and conferences
- circulating decisions, opinions, and notices to appear
- handling my case notes after hearings and trials
- receiving, screening, and directing telephone calls
- A Judicial Advisory Assistant responsible for conducting legal research and analysis, compiling case materials, preparing court orders and opinions for my review and signature, and performing duties related to jury trial operations and backup procedures with the court technology coordinator.
- A Court Clerk who maintains the domestic files assigned to my court, helps the parties and attorneys check in, gives me my case files in the courtroom, and helps keep me organized.
- A Family Court Clerk who maintains the juvenile and neglect files assigned to me; pulls files for all upcoming motions, conferences, hearings, and trials; checks in the attorneys and parties; and prepares and issues court orders and notices to appear.
Other notable people and entities include the Juvenile/Neglect Panel, various on-call attorneys, a Family Support Attorney representing MDHHS, and various circuit court referees.
How are you using Zoom in your courtroom?
We are still using Zoom and find it convenient for everyone involved in matters that will be less time consuming, such as motions, review hearings, mandatory settlement conferences, and pretrial hearings.
What are some of the common mistakes/issues you see attorneys making when attending court via Zoom?
The most common mistakes I find attorneys making when attending court via Zoom are not utilizing properly functioning equipment and having a weak Internet connection. Other issues that come up include excessive background noise and not properly naming themselves in Zoom, especially if they haven’t filed an appearance yet.
Do you have any advice for attorneys appearing remotely?
Make sure your camera, microphone, and speakers are all working properly and are unobstructed prior to appearing, and make sure that it is a quiet, distraction-free environment. Letting the court know of their possible tardiness is very helpful to the court.
What are some components of an argument (either in a brief or oral argument) that you find compelling or persuasive?
Concise factual arguments supported by caselaw or statute are particularly compelling and persuasive. Alternatively, engaging in personal attacks on the other party or attorney is never justified and will distract from your argument.
What procedural issues/disputes should be worked out between the parties before they involve you?
Evidentiary issues that can be easily stipulated to and the selection of a mediator.
Any other common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom?
Not being prepared and “winging it” are mistakes I see some attorneys making. I also see some attorneys not reminding their clients when hearings are being conducted by Zoom, especially if the client is elderly.
What is an example of a time a lawyer impressed you?
Anytime an attorney shows up prepared and their clients are prepared, that always impresses me.
What is something interesting you do off the bench?
Spending time with my family, riding motorcycles, golfing, and camping, basically being outside!