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Q&A with Judge Julie Gatti, 16th Circuit Court (Macomb County)

By Rachael M. Sedlacek posted 04-02-2024 16:14


Judge Julie Gatti graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1989.  She received her Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University in 1995.  Judge Gatti was elected to the Circuit Court bench in November 2018.  Prior to her election, Judge Gatti was in private practice, specializing in Family Law.  She served 9 years on the Board of the Macomb County Bar Association (MCBA) and was elected its 85th President. She was the proud recipient of the MCBA’s Civility Award for 2017-2018.   Judge Gatti serves on the Board of Directors of The Resolution Center.  Additionally, she is a member of the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan - Macomb Region, the Italian American Bar Association of Michigan, and the Italian American Chamber of Commerce of Michigan.

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

Most civil proceedings in my court are “litigant’s choice” of in-person or Zoom. Civil docket check-in is with my secretary, in the office through the courtroom door. If attorneys appear on Zoom, my secretary will check them in from the Zoom waiting room. When there are attorneys appearing both on Zoom and in person, I will most often invite the in-person attorney into my chambers where we will Zoom together with the remote participant(s). My Zoom ID is on the Macomb County Circuit Court website. 

Most of my criminal docket is conducted in person and check-in is in the courtroom with the judicial court clerk assigned to me. 

For both civil and criminal motions, whether in person or remote, court staff does the check-in for Monday morning motion call. Please be sure to identify yourself on Zoom by name and case number.

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

Motions are heard at 8:30 Monday mornings, and, usually, we do not limit the number of standard motions. I do, however, limit the number of Motions for Summary Disposition to six per Monday. The start time for dispositive motions is 10:00 a.m. I do not straddle the start times for the 8:30 or 10:00 motion call as that requires additional resources to schedule and execute. However, if you want to be heard first, come on in! I’m an in-person judge and always handle the matters in the courtroom prior to those waiting on Zoom. 

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?

Often, attorneys will attach proposed orders as an exhibit to their motion or response, which can sometimes help to clarify a party’s request for relief. Because of e-filing, I do ask, even if granted verbatim, that the proposed order be “re-uploaded” to e-filing as an order to be signed. If an attorney is present in the courtroom and wishes to use the “old school” yellow order, the yellow order room computer is still available for use, and I will sign on the spot. Court staff will then upload the entered yellow order to e-filing for distribution. 

How should stipulated orders be submitted?

Stipulated orders are submitted to the e-filing system for entry. I sign stipulated orders every day.

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

My staff includes a judicial secretary, judicial court clerk, and courtroom deputy. 

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

Civil pretrials and criminal “final” pretrials are generally conducted in person. Everything that needs to happen before jury voir dire will happen at that pretrial. I hear and decide all motions in limine (filing deadline is pursuant to MCR 2.119(C)). I review and resolve any disputes related to proposed jury instructions submitted by the parties. I will want to know what exhibits are coming in without objection so that trial time need not be unnecessarily spent on admission of agreed-upon exhibits. If de bene esse depositions have been taken, I will ask if they’ve been scrubbed. I expect attorneys to test their equipment and be ready to use courtroom technology. I will often ask attorneys if they believe it could be fruitful to have clients present for a last-minute opportunity for a settlement or plea. If so, I am happy to conduct a settlement conference or take a plea before conducting our working pretrial.

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

It probably goes without saying, but when a responding attorney is able to tell me, in an organized point-by-point manner, how the case upon which the opponent relies differentiates from the facts of the case before me, it can be very persuasive.

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

Any and all that can be! Talk. On the phone! I know email is the preferred method of communication for many, but please don’t underestimate the power of human interaction for working through issues. The tone of an email can be easily misconstrued. An email can rarely state all the possible solutions. Civil, professional discussions often promote compromise, and I am far more impressed by that than by an attorney’s discovery motion with exhibits A through H of back-and-forth email exchanges purporting to show your opponent’s alleged unreasonableness or lack of cooperation.

Any other common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom?

Thankfully, it does not happen often, but please do not talk when someone else is talking. I will give everyone an opportunity to be heard. Just not at the same time.

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

I am impressed by civility, by preparedness, by courtesy to court staff, and, thankfully, many examples come to mind. I do like the organized attorney! Some time ago, an attorney took a 20-page brief with numerous issues and combined his arguments into what he called four “buckets.” It was very apparent he spent time preparing for that oral argument, and his big picture organization impacted the way the Court analyzed the issues. 

What is something interesting you do off the bench?

Because we’re empty-nesters, my husband and I enjoy nothing more than when the kids come home, but game night with friends is what keeps us enjoying weekends in the meantime. Whether it’s cards, trivia, board games, puzzles, dominoes … count me in. 

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

I began practicing law in 1996. The colleagues I met in district and circuit court conference rooms and courtrooms, in depositions, in mediations, at bar association events, lawyers’ league ballgames, judicial fundraisers, etc., became some of my dearest friends. We shared our experiences, gave and received sound advice, laughed about things only lawyers would find funny, bounced ideas off each other, offered coverage when overscheduled, referred business, applauded victories, and commiserated over losses. We were mentors and mentees. We became seasoned lawyers in the courtroom, emulating those we had previously watched from the gallery. We celebrated weddings and babies, offered support in hard times, and always shared a unique camaraderie borne of our commonality of profession. Without those relationships, I would not have loved being a lawyer like I did. When I decided to run for election in 2018, these same friends and colleagues, court staff and judges, encouraged and endorsed me—circulating petitions, attending campaign events, reporting campaign finance, spreading good words, sharing Facebook posts, writing friend-to-friend cards, erecting signs, working polls, etc., and, without them, I would not have been able to do this job that I am honored to do. I truly cannot imagine doing the difficult work of this entire career without the joy of those friendships. Why do I want Michigan lawyers to know this? Because remote work is enticing. It saves us commute time, parking woes, wear-and-tear on cars, and shoe leather. It can make some days more productive, allowing us to be in more places at once. It can offer flexibility with the demands of home life. I get it. And yet I don’t. This profession is a difficult one. Lawyers are often representing those in crisis. The law changes and evolves, and we can never stop learning. There is much to know and do, and the pressure can at times be overwhelming. For those practicing many years, this new Zoom work model may be the answer they’ve been looking for to slow the rat race. But humans need social connection and can quickly become disconnected and socially isolated. I do find myself wondering about the impact of the modern practice of law on those starting out who, in the current Zoom climate, may never have the opportunity to live the type of lawyer life I’ve enjoyed for almost 30 years. This was not meant to be an advice column. However, if you’re starting out, think about calling the court before your next hearing to ask if an in-person appearance is possible. Reach out to an attorney you admire to ask to observe or second chair a trial or for direction on an issue. Watch jury selection in the courtroom if litigation interests you. Introduce yourself to judges and court staff face-to-face when and where you can. Get active in the legal community as a volunteer or at networking events. I wish you satisfaction and joy in this profession and the people in it.