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Q & A with Judge Timothy G. Hicks, Muskegon County Circuit Court

By Rachael M. Sedlacek posted 10-02-2018 11:10


Hon. Timothy G. Hicks

Muskegon County Circuit Court

990 Terrace St STE 325 Muskegon, Michigan 49442-3357
Phone: (231) 724-6337
Fax: (231) 724-4587

Hon. Timothy G. Hicks taught, counseled, and coached at two rural schools before starting his law career in 1983. He practiced law for 13 years before his appointment to the 14th Circuit Court (Muskegon County) in 1996, serving as chief judge from 1998 to 2003. Judge Hicks is active in the Michigan Judges Association and served as its president in 2012. He was one of 12 state court judges who, from 2008 through 2010, piloted innovations in the conduct of jury trials. Judge Hicks summarized that experience in an article in the June 2011 Michigan Bar Journal and has participated in seminars and programs concerning the pilot program and implementation of those reforms. He has taught business law at Central Michigan University and also teaches classes for the Michigan Judicial Institute. He is a member of the Committee on Model Criminal Jury Instructions and has been its chair since 2015.

Q & A with Judge Timothy G. Hicks, Muskegon County Circuit Court

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

The worst thing a lawyer can do is be rude to opposing counsel and the court. I understand that you want to do a good job for your client, but don’t personalize things. Not everyone who sues your client is a horrible person. You start to lose your integrity before the court when you treat the other side poorly or ask for sanctions constantly. We remember that kind of behavior.

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

I appreciate it when lawyers are honest and courteous. The importance of honesty cannot be overstated. Lawyers should also be prepared and professional at all times. Remember what an honor it is to be a member of the bar. Finally, there is no substitute for hard work. Invest the energy to learn about your judge—though the Internet or connections. You would be surprised at the size of your network even as a new attorney. Talk to members of your firm or reach out to law school classmates.

Case in point: A couple of attorneys from Grand Rapids recently told me that members of their firm had warned them about “the Hicks whiteboard treatment.” I like to use a whiteboard during hearings and trials to summarize the issues and arguments. It helps me organize and narrow the scope of the work. Lawyers who are unfamiliar with me or who haven’t done their research before coming to court tend to be unnerved when they see me head to the whiteboard.

When are written appearances required?

I’m a stickler for the court rules. A lawyer must file a written appearance before speaking in my court.

What role does your clerk play?

I don’t have a clerk per se. I have wonderful staff that includes an administrative assistant and a court officer. They are great resources if you have questions about my preferences. We pride ourselves on our customer service and go out of our way to help people.

What role does your judicial attorney play?

We have one research attorney who works with all of the judges in our court. She will almost always prepare a bench memo to assist me during oral argument. We make decisions from the bench whenever we can. Although the research attorney may occasionally answer questions, my administrative assistant is the gatekeeper.

When is a brief required?

I require a brief whenever one is required under the court rules. If a brief is not required, lawyers should include one for anything that is a bit unusual. I probably don’t need a brief for things such as

  • motions to compel,
  • motions for default or to set aside a default, and
  • motions to ratify settlement agreements or approve structured settlement payments.

However, I’d like a brief for almost everything else. When in doubt, give me a brief.

When is your motion call?

I am the business court judge (presently transitioning to be the recovery court judge), so motion days are pretty flexible. We always give you a time certain and we expect you to be prompt.

We recognize that practicing law is a challenging profession, so we are willing to work with you on scheduling, but we don’t want to always be the last on your list. Pay attention to your reputation. You would be surprised how quickly lawyers develop a reputation (tardiness, lack of preparation, general whining) with the bench, even when we don’t see you that often.

How do attorneys request an adjournment?

We’re serious about moving our docket, but I will generally sign stipulations to adjourn anything except trial dates. I try to save you trips up here when I can. However, I’m not a big fan of doing things by phone. It too often leads to confusion and can end badly for all parties. Make sure that if you are requesting an adjournment that you work things out with opposing counsel yourself. Don’t ask my assistant to work it out with the other side.

What happens at a settlement conference?

You can expect that I will understand the issues and that I will devote the time to talk to everybody. It is not pro forma. I talk to the parties first so they get a little more comfortable. If it’s a jury trial and if the parties agree, I can often use the case evaluation number and go from there.

When should my client come to court?

With limited exception, your presentation is always better if your client comes to court, particularly with repeated adjournment requests. If you have already asked to delay at least once, it’s better to have your client there.

How do I schedule a trial date?

Talk to my administrative assistant. Usually we will send out a scheduling order within a month of the answer and give you the opportunity to adjust from there. We pride ourselves on considering each case individually and doing some creative things. We are big fans of the innovative trial procedures listed in MCR 2.513.

What is something interesting you do off the bench?

I like to travel. This past year I went on a 30-day solo trip around the world. I visited Barcelona, southern France, Morocco, Dubai, Singapore, Australia, and Chile. My favorite destination on that trip was Australia. I also spend a lot of time outdoors and regularly hike on the North Country Trail.