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Q&A with Judge Cynthia M. Arvant, Judge of the 46th District Court

By Rachael M. Sedlacek posted 19 days ago


Hon. Cynthia Meagher Arvant is a judge for the 46th District Court. Before her appointment to the bench, she served in various roles for the 46th District, including research attorney, magistrate, and court administrator. Judge Arvant was also previously an assistant attorney general. She is a member of the National Association of Women Judges, the State Bar of Michigan, the Michigan District Judges Association, the Women's Bar Association, Oakland Region of the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, the Oakland County Bar Association, and the Oakland County District Judges Association (past president). She also serves as chairperson of the State Court Administrative Office's Trial Court Performance Measures Committee.

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

We are still doing a hybrid docket; some cases via Zoom and some cases in person. If your case is scheduled via Zoom, we ask that you call in at your designated time, and that your user name is your name along with either a case/party name or case number. You will be brought into the Zoom meeting when all parties/attorneys are present on your case.

If your case is scheduled in person, please come up to the courtroom and check in with the court officer who will be present in the courtroom.

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

I do not have a specific day set for motion call; civil motions are heard on my designated civil dockets, and criminal motions are heard on my designated criminal dockets (which could be state cases, city cases, or local subdivision cases). Attorneys wishing to schedule a motion hearing should contact my judicial assistant directly to secure a motion date/time, then send a notice of hearing to all parties.

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 is preferable for the moving party to submit a proposed order prior to the hearing. If that is not possible, parties generally draft an order in court or submit an order immediately following the hearing; we accept proposed orders via email to my judicial assistant, or via U.S. mail. Our court has blank order forms available if parties want to handwrite an order. We do not have computers available for public use.

How should stipulated orders be submitted?

Stipulated orders can be submitted via U.S. mail or email.

Who makes up your judicial staff and what roles do they play?

My staff is comprised of my wonderful judicial assistant, who keeps things well-organized and running smoothly; and my assigned court officer, who provides security in the courtroom and through the court building, checks parties in for hearings, transports in-custody defendants, and provides support in other courtrooms as needed. I’m fortunate to work with a wonderful team.

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

I set final pretrial conferences in many civil cases after case evaluation in order to get an idea of where the parties are, if they are ready for the court to set a firm trial date, if they need additional time to discuss with their clients, etc. If we know that the trial is going, I give the parties a firm trial date, explain our pick-and-go jury procedure, and set dates for filing of final witness lists, exhibit lists, proposed jury instructions, and a cut-off date for pretrial motions.

What types of matters/motions are held via Zoom?

Most of our civil docket is still being handled via Zoom. The exceptions are for bench trials (which are generally easier to handle in person), and if a litigant requests to appear in person. There are some court users who are not able to use Zoom, so we handle their matters in person.

Our criminal docket is primarily in person. However, we still handle formal hearings via Zoom, and if a party requests to appear via Zoom for some reason—due to illness, residing out of state, transportation issues, etc., we try to accommodate those requests.

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

I facilitate my own Zoom meeting room, so I’m particularly aware of issues that can cause delay for a Zoom docket. For example, not calling in at the scheduled time. We stagger our docket, to avoid lengthy delays. When attorneys don’t call in on time, it causes the docket to be delayed for others and may delay their case being called. It is also important for an attorney to have their username reflect their own name and the case name/client name or case number. If an attorney has not filed an appearance yet, or is covering for another attorney, it’s hard to identify who they are and which case they are appearing on. Nothing is more frustrating or wastes more time than looking at a Zoom waiting room and seeing three or four users identified as “iPhone” or “Galaxy.” It’s also helpful if attorneys have spoken to their client and to opposing counsel or the assigned prosecutor prior to the hearing. Taking time to shuffle parties in and out of breakout rooms to speak to opposing counsel or the prosecutor and then into another breakout room to speak to their client, sometimes repeatedly, can cause significant delay.

Do you have any advice for attorneys appearing remotely?

Many of the issues were addressed in the previous question. I would add, please do not call in while driving your car. And please be reminded that while the hearing may be virtual, it’s still a session of court and counsel should treat it as such. Many attorneys have become extremely casual while appearing via Zoom.

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

I read all pleadings filed by parties prior to any hearing, so I do not need counsel to reiterate what they’ve already included in a brief. I appreciate an attorney highlighting something of particular importance or using their oral argument time to address issues raised by opposing counsel. As simple as it sounds, an attorney should be thoroughly familiar with the facts and law applicable in their case.

Any other common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom?

I expect that attorneys will treat each other, the court, court staff, and litigants with courtesy. There seems to have been a general decline in professionalism.

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

I hear a lot of motions for summary disposition, MRC 2.116. While this is a relatively straightforward court rule, and a common motion to file in civil cases, attorneys often misinterpret the rule or misapply it. Attorneys should read the entirety of MCR 2.116 carefully and file motions in accordance with the requirements. Be mindful of the timing requirements for filing, service, and hearing on such motions. Clearly state the basis for the motion, citing to the appropriate ground or grounds under MCR 2.116(C). If a motion is filed under (C)(8) or (9), please do not file an affidavit, documentary evidence, depositions, etc.; the court’s review is limited to pleadings. If the motion is filed under (C)(10), affidavits, depositions, documents, or other evidence are required. If defending a properly made and supported motion for summary disposition under (C)(10), the adverse party can’t simply rely on their pleadings, but rather they must come forth with evidence or affidavits to establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact. Attorneys should not simply appear at the hearing and place an argument on the record; responsive pleadings are required.

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

I’m always impressed when a lawyer has gone above and beyond to assist someone, whether it’s a civil plaintiff’s attorney who has taken extra care and patience in handling a case with a self-represented defendant, an attorney from a legal services program stepping in to represent a defendant in a landlord-tenant matter, an appointed attorney on a criminal case going the extra mile to help a defendant, or a prosecutor/city attorney assisting an unrepresented defendant in resolving their case in a fair and just manner. In our profession, and particularly in district court, there are opportunities to help people every single day. I’m always proud of our profession when I see attorneys who are willing to do that.

What is something interesting you do off the bench?

Spending time with my husband and two college-aged children is my favorite pastime. Everybody is on the go in our house, so I appreciate the time we can spend together. I enjoy spending time in northern Michigan, in every season of the year. Cooking is my after-work stress relief. I’m usually reading a few different books, mostly fiction. And I spend a lot of time walking my very active, energetic beagle.