Q & A with Judge Lita Popke, Wayne County Circuit Court

By Rebekah Page-Gourley posted 06-04-2019 11:25

Judge Lita Popke

Hon. Lita Masini Popke has been a judge in Wayne County Circuit Court since 2000, with a combined docket of general civil and business court cases. Her prior service includes chief judge pro tem (2009-2013); executive committee (2005-2013, 2016-present); presiding judge, family division (2005-2007); and Mediation Tribunal Association board member. Judge Popke has also held various positions outside the court, including president of the Michigan Judges Association (MJA) (2013); cochair of the MJA civil and business law committee; member, Judicial Section of the State Bar of Michigan (2009-present); member of the Child Support Leadership Council by appointment of the Michigan Supreme Court (2004-2009); member, Michigan Judicial Institute (MJI) academic advisory committee; SCAO postjudgment docket committee; faculty member for the MJI new judges seminar; member, State Bar subcommittee on civil discovery scope; member, SCAO committees (judicial resources and case weights, court clerk ministerial duties); Inn of Court; and the Dads From Day One advisory board. Judge Popke has spoken for numerous conferences, seminars, and radio programs. Before joining the bench, Judge Popke was an appointed member of the State Board of Ethics and a Wayne and Oakland County mediator.

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

I hold motion call on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday according to the following schedule:

  • Tuesday 8:30 a.m.—Business Court dispositive motions
  • Thursday 8:30 a.m.—General Civil dispositive motions
  • Friday 8:30 a.m.—Business Court general motion call
  • Friday 9:30 a.m.—General Civil motion call

Attorneys can make special arrangements to have motions heard on other days or times. There is no maximum, within reason. I once heard 105 motions on a Friday. That was way too many. Generally, about 40 to 60 are scheduled, but many are dismissed or adjourned.

Do you have any particular briefing requirements? What sort of arguments in a brief do you find compelling?

Yes, I have specific briefing requirements, which are outlined in my policies and protocols on the court’s website. For example, the moving party must deliver a judge’s “courtesy copy” of motions and briefs within three days, and all exhibits attached to briefs must be tabbed. Also, with regard to dispositive motions, the scheduling order issued by the court lays out the requirements.

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

The Michigan Court Rules in Subchapter 2.100 on service of process are commonly not followed, particularly the rule with respect to service through the use of certified mail. See MCR 2.105. The most common rules of evidence not followed would have to be the hearsay rule and what constitutes records kept in the ordinary course of business. See MRE 803(6).

Any other common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom?

Sadly, many attorneys appear unprepared and justify it by saying they are “standing in” for the attorney handling the case. This is not an acceptable reason for lack of knowledge about the case or failure to prepare.

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

I have a judicial attorney, a court clerk, and a deputy. Each member of my staff has particular duties as outlined in my policies and protocols. My staff assists me in trying to make our courtroom run efficiently in recognition that we are public servants.

When and how do attorneys request an adjournment?

Attorneys often call to adjourn motions. Under my policies and protocols, attorneys may also contact the court clerk and law clerk via email. My court clerk handles requests for adjournment of general motions and scheduling motion dates and times. My law clerk handles requests for adjournment of motions for summary disposition, and discussion of scheduled trial dates. Settlement conferences may be adjourned only with an order scheduling the matter for facilitation or with court permission. Trials are rarely adjourned as the attorneys participate in the selection of the date at the settlement conference. A motion and good cause are required.

Regarding adjournments of scheduling dates, attorneys will generally be asked what specifically needs to be done and why it was not possible to complete within the current scheduling deadlines. All counsel of record are required to appear at motions to adjourn scheduling dates.

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

Under the policies and protocols, there is a required final pretrial order. The final pretrial conference occurs approximately three weeks prior to trial. Only trial counsel need to appear and be prepared to discuss trial proceedings, particularly witnesses, exhibits, legal issues, damages, and the filing of motions in limine.

When should my client come to court? Do you allow telephonic appearances?

Clients are required for settlement conferences and any other times ordered by the court. They must appear at those times unless excused by the court. Telephone conferences are very rare and should not be anticipated.

How are trial dates scheduled?

Trial dates are scheduled with the input of counsel.

Do you have any advice for new lawyers?

Read every judge’s policies and protocols. Call the law clerk if you are unclear. Be prepared and on time. Do not tell the judge you are “standing in” for another attorney. Do your own research and reach your own conclusions. You own it when you are in court representing a client before a judge.

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

I’m impressed whenever an attorney is prepared to address the merits of the case and does not make excuses.

What is something interesting you do off the bench?

I play platform tennis, which is an outdoor, winter sport. It involves elevated, metal, reduced-sized tennis courts with screens on all sides. Great exercise regardless of the temperatures!

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

Read the Lawyers’ Oath once a year and remind yourself that practicing law is a privilege.