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Q&A with Judge Shauna Dunnings, Chief Probate Judge and Chief Circuit Judge Pro Tempore for Ingham County

By Noah C. Hagan posted 04-05-2022 08:45


Judge Shauna Dunnings was elected to the bench in 2018. She previously served as the circuit court administrator in the county, starting in 2013. In 2007, she became the Friend of the Court and deputy court administrator. In 2003, she became assistant Friend of the Court and attorney referee in Eaton County. She served as law clerk for Hon. Gordon J. Quist of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan for one year and was in private practice for 13 years.

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

Attorneys may come into the courtroom, and my law clerk or court recorder will check them in.  If the courtroom is locked, the door to the judicial corridor has a buzzer, and the attorney may push the button by my name, and a staff member will respond.

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

I have a family court docket and a probate docket.  My docket schedule is as follows:

  • Monday & Tuesday: neglect and abuse and delinquency trials, pretrials, and dispositions. Mental Health hearings are also held on some Mondays.
  • Wednesday: divorce, custody, child support and parenting time trials, pretrials, de novo hearings, and motions. I also hear name change matters on Wednesday (or any other available time).
  • Thursday: probate matters. On alternate Thursdays, I schedule approximately 20-24 uncontested matters from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Fridays: a potpourri of matters including trials, motions, or PPO hearings, etc.
Motions are heard on the days designated for the case type set forth above.  I also hear motions on Fridays for all case types.  I schedule motions every 15-30 minutes depending on the type of motion.  Motions for summary judgment are allotted more time.


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

Essentially, I hold pretrial conferences on all matters except uncontested probate matters. For contested probate matters or civil matters stemming from a probate case, I set scheduling conferences at the beginning of the case and pretrials before the scheduled trial.  At the scheduling conference, we identify any pretrial issues, and I establish a schedule for exchanging witness lists, completion of discovery, deadlines for filing dispositive motions, motions in limine and other pretrial motions, and I set the pretrial and trial dates. I use the pretrial to review proposed jury instructions, determine the number of witnesses, if any witnesses will testify via Zoom by agreement, and the anticipated length of the trial.


Are you still using Zoom? If so, what types of matters/motions are held via Zoom?

Yes, I am using Zoom.  This memo sets forth my general practice regarding Zoom, but I am flexible if the attorneys agree, except for trials.  I require the parties and attorneys to be in person for trials. I will allow witnesses to testify via Zoom during trial depending on the reason for the request.


What are some of the common mistakes/issues you see attorneys making when attending court via Zoom?

A common issue is unstable connections and poor sound quality. It is a mistake for attorneys not to conduct a test run with their clients and potential witnesses before a hearing to verify everyone has a good connection and knows how to use their device (including volume levels, muting, and camera function).

Sometimes the attorneys don’t make appropriate arrangements for the witnesses to have the proposed exhibits, and they don’t have an acceptable way of establishing the foundation to admit the exhibit.  I had one attorney share a screen to provide the exhibit before it was admitted. 


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

The most compelling arguments are those that apply the law (court rules, statutes, and cases) to the material facts of the case. The most persuasive arguments state the issue(s) in a clear and concise manner and set forth the law relied upon.  Depending on the type of argument, the attorney should also address the burden of proof required and which party has the burden of proof.     


Any other common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom? 

Not reading the contents of the court file before appearing in court and generally not being prepared.

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

An impressive attorney demonstrates the following qualities:

  • Being prepared
  • Attempting to communicate with opposing counsel if there is an attorney
  • Succinctly presenting their case in an efficient manner without presenting unnecessary cumulative information
  • Knowing the court rules and rules of evidence (Specifically, they know MRE 403 and the hearsay rules.)
  • Being able to specifically cite the rule of evidence relied upon to support their objection
  • Being courteous to everyone including self-represented litigants