Q & A with Hon. Edward Ewell, Wayne County Circuit Court

By Rebekah Page-Gourley posted 11-07-2019 07:17


Hon. Edward Ewell, Jr. was appointed to the court in August 2003. He served in the Criminal Division for eleven years, serving five years as presiding judge. For the past six years he has served in the Civil Division (four as a business court judge). Judge Ewell previously clerked for Hon. Damon J. Keith in the U.S. Court of Appeals. He was an associate at the law firm of Pepper, Hamilton, and Scheetz; a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office; and general counsel for Wayne County. Judge Ewell graduated from the University of Michigan and then pursued an MS from Atlanta University. He received his JD from Wayne State University Law School.

What advice do you have for attorneys navigating the new discovery rules going into effect on January 1, 2020?

Be prepared and think ahead. This has always been good practice, but especially under the new rules. If you have a scheduling conference, do not send someone who is unfamiliar with the case in your place. A lawyer who knows and has analyzed the case should be present to participate. This is beneficial for everyone involved because it helps the lawyers handling the matter think early on about putting the case in best position for the client. I encourage all lawyers to think about the end game early in the process and to seek documents, depositions, and the like strategically. I like it when attorneys to talk to each other. I do not like it when attorneys are meeting for the first time at the scheduling conference or have never spoken to each other about the case.

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

Motion call is at 8:30 a.m. on Fridays. It is first come, first served, so if you want to get out early, get there by 8:30 a.m. If you have a simple motion, you will almost always be out by 9:00 a.m. I usually handle unopposed motions first, then general motions, and then motions for summary disposition around 10 a.m. If you check in but have somewhere else to go at the court, just write down your name and let the clerk know where you will be.

Do you have any particular briefing requirements?

Each judge has his or her own protocols on the website. In general, I expect the parties to give each other as much time as possible and plenty of notice. I expect lawyers to follow the twenty-page limit on motions for summary and the five-page limit on replies. I also require lawyers to submit a hard copy within 24 to 48 hours of filing the brief. I like to read the briefs on paper and mark them up as I go. If I have to print off a brief, I am generally not happy about it. Make it easy for me!

What sort of arguments in a brief do you find compelling?

The most compelling arguments are the ones that leave out personal attacks. I will know if the other side is being unfair or unreasonable, so keep it professional. Demonstrate your case and how reasonable you are. For example, on a motion to compel, show me that you have tried to call and email to resolve the issues and that you have given opposing counsel some time. Motions filed when something is five days late without any attempt to resolve the issue first do not sit well with me.

How should lawyers handle proposed orders and to whom should they submit them?

I am not a big fan of the seven-day rule. Unless I am really not clear about something, I don’t want to come back to hear arguments on an order three, four, or five more times. I don’t want to hear the lawyers reargue issues I have already decided. So I have started to require lawyers to come up with the wording of the order before leaving the courtroom. This helps them get things down while they are still fresh in their minds and also prevents them from coming up with things to add later.

I do have three staff members who help me with a variety of tasks. My judicial assistant is an office manager, helping me with appellate work and uploading opinions. I have a deputy who generally hands the cases to me. I call out the cases in order to be efficient, and my clerk accepts and enters the orders.

What are some common mistakes lawyers should try to avoid?

When filing a motion, don’t make me read all the way to the end to find out what it’s all about. Put what you want up front, and then tell me why you deserve to get it. It’s never a good idea to bury your argument or your primary goal. If you are asking for more time for discovery, tell me what track you are on at the beginning and which track you want to move to.

Also, don’t make the font and spacing smaller to fit the page limit or use single spacing when it should be double—the argument is not going to be effective if I can’t read it!

Finally, don’t rely on excessive quotations to make your arguments. If your brief is filled with block quotes from other cases without sufficient analysis linking the reasoning to your case, it is not going to be very persuasive to me.

What can lawyers do to create a good impression?

The best thing a lawyer can do is be credible and forthright. Point out weaknesses in your own arguments and address them head on. I also always appreciate it when a lawyer compliments the other side genuinely and displays true professionalism. I know that if the lawyers behave that way, even if the case goes to trial, it will be a good experience.

Lawyers are supposed to be passionate but not uncivil. Courtesy and civility are huge for me. The worst thing a lawyer can do in my courtroom is make things personal or be unprofessional when interacting with me or opposing counsel.

What is something interesting you do off the bench?

I love to play tennis and travel. I’m also a big movie buff and love TV shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. I think I have a good sense of humor, and I try to use it on the bench—but not at anyone’s expense! I recognize that people come to court because they have to. I try not to make what’s already a tough situation worse.

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

I had the privilege to work with great people over the course of my career. I clerked for Hon. Damon J. Keith, who always told me to treat everyone the way you want to be treated. I also learned from the late Hon. Kaye Tertzag, one of my former colleagues, who always said to live by the three P’s and be “prompt, prepared, and professional.” I have tried to follow those two pieces of advice throughout my career, and I encourage all lawyers to do the same.