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Q&A with Judge David Allen, 3rd Circuit Court (Wayne County)

By Rebekah Page-Gourley posted 11-01-2023 08:55


Hon. David J. Allen was appointed to the Wayne County Circuit Court by Governor Jennifer Granholm in December 2003. He practiced law for ten years prior to taking the bench. He currently serves on the civil docket and as a business court judge.

What types of matters/motions are held via Zoom and which are held in person?

Trials are in person. I hold everything else via Zoom, unless the parties request otherwise.

What is your check-in process? 

For both motion call and everyday status and settlement conferences, I let everyone into the Zoom room, and my law clerk directs counsel to use Zoom’s chat function to check in. I don’t use a waiting room.

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

Motion call is on Thursdays, and, most of the time, there is no cap on the number I’ll hear. On a given week, I can hear anywhere from 30-50 motions. 

How should orders be submitted?

Proposed orders come as an exhibit to the motion or response. After the hearing, I instruct counsel to submit the order to my clerk via the e-File system. Stipulated orders should be submitted to the clerk through the e-File system. 

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

I have a judicial attorney/law clerk as well as a clerk of the court. They work together on scheduling. If there’s any doubt about who to contact, send an email to them both. You can call if you like, but my office strongly encourages emails. Email is more efficient and quick. Email addresses of staff can be found on the court’s website under my protocols. If you address an email to both of them, they’ll get it done between the two of them.

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

I hold status conferences for business court cases only. My clerk issues scheduling orders on track one or track two in all other cases. At the business court status conferences, I usually ask, “What’s the case about and what can I do for you?” I want a quick summary of the case, and what the parties need in terms of discovery, facilitation, and the like. This really only works if the attorneys have communicated beforehand. If they can’t agree, I have to start imposing what I think is necessary for the case. Left to my own devices, that usually looks like a quick run through discovery and then right to facilitation. My goal is to craft an order that works to get a business court case moving.

At settlement conferences in nonbusiness cases, I try to determine if the parties need a trial date, facilitation order, or if they can settle that day. I’ll ask if there are motions to be filed. (Note: my protocols impose a deadline of case evaluation for the filing of dispositive motions.) I can’t stay completely informed on every one of my 800 cases, so the settlement conference is sometimes my first chance to take a peek into the case. Ninety percent of the time, the attorneys have spoken beforehand and have come to an agreement about what they want to do next. In the other ten percent of cases, I have to be more involved and proactive. 

Case evaluation is still the default provision, so if one or both of the parties aren’t agreeing to an alternative, that’s what will happen. But if the parties agree on facilitation or another dispute resolution process, I’m generally not going to stand in the way. I’m here to make decisions and move cases. Over the last ten years, especially with the auto docket, I’ve noticed that facilitation has become very popular. Parties seem to like to be able to pick a facilitator who is educated about the case and the area of the law. 

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

In briefs, it is critical to get to the point. When you’re writing a motion for summary disposition, start with an executive summary or road map—a one- or two-page statement of your main point and your counter to the other party’s point. I recommend treating this almost like a reply brief. Remember that I deal with anywhere from 5-10 summary disposition motions per week. If it takes you 15 of the available 20 pages to get to the point, I’m likely not going to make it that far before turning to the response to try to get to the important part faster. Of course, you need to expand on things and make your record, but make sure you get to your point first. 

This goes for oral argument as well. I’m usually a fairly proactive motion call judge. I’m going to ask questions to probe your positions a bit. I recommend that you answer the questions clearly and directly, and don’t meander. 

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

I really dislike motions to compel. I think they are often a waste of time and signify a failure of counsel to either do their job and/or timely/properly communicate. If you’re going to file one, narrow the issues. I’ll make the calls, but I’m not going to waste time nitpicking through countless interrogatories. 

I also want parties to have a good answer to the question, “What’s next?” Do they want to facilitate? File motions? Schedule the trial? I may not agree, but I’m always taking the temperature of the attorneys to help me make my decisions.

What are some common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom, either while appearing in person or remotely?

Don’t talk over me. Answer my questions. Concede what is necessary. If I ask if the sky is blue, don’t start with, “Well, sometimes, but during a storm, it’s dark.” There are obvious things on which we should all be able to agree. So just argue what’s important. In terms of civility, Judge Damon Keith taught me years ago that if a judge creates a respectful courtroom, most people will respond in kind. And I’ve found that to be the case in my experience.

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

I have lawyers impress me every day! It doesn’t have to be big stuff. I appreciate when attorneys consistently show up on time, are deferential to staff and the court, and are timely with their submissions. That said, I especially appreciate great written communication and great oral argument from lawyers who are prepared and argue the real issues. I love a good back and forth or conversation at oral argument. I’m educating the lawyer and the lawyer is educating me, so that we can get to the right result. One of the finest lawyers to practice in my courtroom, Matthew Leitman, is now a federal judge. His written and oral arguments were always extremely thorough and thought provoking, and it was a pleasure to have him in court.

What is something interesting you do off the bench?

I enjoy spending time with family and friends. 

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

This is a great profession. In these challenging times, we need to be mindful of the role judges and lawyers play in adjudicating disputes and keeping society orderly and civil.