GENESEE COUNTY, MI – Three candidates are running for a non-incumbent bench seat in Genesee County’s 7th Circuit Court.
Those candidates – Mary Hood, Rebecca Jurva-Brinn and Dawn Weier – are running for a 6-year term on a bench seat that will be vacated by Judge Duncan Beagle, who is retiring at the end of 2022.
Hood, 59, already works in the Genesee County circuit courthouse. She is an attorney referee and has been licensed to practice law in Michigan for 31 years.
The 43-year-old Jurva-Brinn also has spent much of her career in the Genesee County court system, working as an assistant prosecuting attorney under Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.
Weier, 47, has been an attorney for more than 20 years.
MLive-The Flint Journal partnered with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Michigan to provide candidate information for readers. Each candidate was asked to outline their stances on a variety of public policy issues listed below.
All responses in the voter guide were submitted directly by the candidate and have not been edited by the League of Women Voters, except for necessary cut if a reply exceeded character limitations. Spelling and grammar were not corrected. Publication of candidate statements and opinions is solely in the interest of public service and should NOT be considered as an endorsement. The League never supports or opposes any candidates or political parties.
How have your education, professional experience and interests prepared you to serve on this court?
Hood: I practiced law in a variety of areas before I began serving the public in a quasi-judicial capacity. I have twenty-five years’ experience as a quasi-judicial officer and have presided over tens of thousands of family law and criminal law matters (please refer to my qualifications and experience set forth above). The newly elected judge will be assigned to the Family Division of the Circuit Court where I have served as an Attorney Referee for nearly twenty years. In my capacity as an Attorney Referee, I have heard thousands of custody, parenting time, child support, child protective, delinquency, truancy, and runaway cases, and issued orders (emergency removals) or recommendations in them.
In addition, I have a strong sense of the importance of giving back to the community. I have done so in a number of ways: helped victims of domestic violence draft court documents, taken in foster children and cared for them, “adopted” a classroom at a local high school, helped establish “Career Day” for two local high schools , prepared Thanksgiving dishes for men at a local shelter, and donated money to local causes. I also participated in the Law Day program of the Genesee County Bar Association, and I participated in its annual community Christmas party. I speak to students at Mott Community College and the University of Michigan-Flint regarding the government and the role of the judicial branch of government. I am a member of various organizations.
My service to the community also includes random acts of kindness.
Various activities I enjoy also help me to stay connected to the community: swimming, cycling, and yoga.
Jurva-Brinn: I decided that I wanted to be a judge when I was in 3rd grade. I remember sitting in my 3rd grade classroom learning about the branches of government and thinking that the judicial branch seemed like something I was interested in. Since then, I have been working towards becoming a judge. I spent much of my law school career focused on becoming a prosecutor because I loved being in the courtroom and seeking justice for the community. I did my first jury trial as a law student when I served as a law clerk with the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office in Indio, CA and I knew that I wanted to be a trial attorney. I have worked in almost every area of the prosecutor’s office from writing warrants, to misdemeanor jury trials and preliminary examinations in district court, to felony jury trials and motion practice in circuit court, and responding to appeal briefs in the Michigan Court of Appeals and responding to applications in the Michigan Supreme Court. I have worked in the family court section of the circuit court representing the department of health and human services and representing the people in juvenile delinquency cases. I have handled mental health commitment hearings in probate court before the judge and before a jury. Throughout all of these cases I have been focused on helping those most vulnerable among us and as a judge I intend to continue helping those most vulnerable. My entire career has been focused on justice.
Weier: I have the overall experience required as I have practiced in each area of law handled in the Circuit Court for over 20 years, as well as having a great deal of experience in all Michigan State Courts and the Federal Courts. I have civil, family and criminal law trial experience. I also have significant appellate experience as I have handled appeals in the Michigan Court of Appeals, Michigan Supreme Court and the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. I also believe I have the right temperament for the position. As a single mother raising three daughters, I am a compassionate person who cares for people and their feelings. I further understand the people coming before a judge are going through the most difficult time in their lives. If elected, I will treat all that come before me with fairness, respect and dignity.
What have been the most effective methods for improving court procedures? What other methods would you suggest to improve efficiency or make the courts less intimate to the public?
Hood: There are many methods available for improving court procedures. Currently, a limited number of Michigan courts allow documents to be filed electronically (E-filed). Michigan, through the State Court Administrative Office, is moving towards requiring most documents to be E-filed. E-filing will increase access to the court and save litigants time and money and is therefore effective for improving court procedures.
The 7th Circuit Court recently began allowing the public to utilize cell phones in the courthouse. This allows individuals quick and easy access to text and voice messages which may be needed for a proceeding.
I believe that providing resources and educating the public is vital to improving the court’s efficiency or making it less intimidating to the public. The judges of the Family Division of the Genesee County Circuit Court require divorcing parents who have minor children to attend an orientation. This program helps educate the public/litigants about divorce proceedings and what they can expect. It emphasizes the impact divorce has on children and the importance of parents putting children’s needs first during such an emotional time.
In addition, brochures are an effective way for the court to disseminate information to the public about various procedures and proceedings. However, they should be coupled with community engagement.
Covid-19 devastated not only the Genesee County community but the world. At the same time, it forced upon the court a different way of conducting hearings, virtually. Zoom allowed courts to continue to serve the public to a great extent, without jeopardizing public health during a pandemic. Zoom hearings have proven to be more convenient for litigants, who can often attend a hearing from work or home. In some respects, the court operates more efficiently with the use of Zoom and the court should continue to utilize it for certain proceedings.
I think judges should be more active in ensuring cases before the court are heard on time and disposed of efficiently.
Moreover, I believe judges should be visible in their communities and continuously educate the public on the role of the judicial branch of government. Seeing a judge in the community allows the community to see him/her not only as a role model and decision maker but also as a human being, which makes the court less intimate to the public.
Jurva-Brinn: I have found that using Zoom for some court hearings, which began during the pandemic, has been extremely helpful in promoting efficiency in the courts. There are some hearings that are extremely quick and do not need to be in person. When those hearings are held over zoom it helps the attorneys by not requiring them to run between courts and it helps the litigants who do not have to take the time off of work to come down to court and find a place to park and then find the courtroom all while nervous because it isn’t a comfortable situation for them. Some hearings do need to be in person though—typically when testimony is being taken or documents need to be signed and those do need to remain in the courthouse.
Having worked in the courthouse for 16 years, it can be easy to forget that the courthouse doesn’t feel like home to most people. For most people coming to the courthouse is scary and intimidating. I think having a friendly face to help guide them through the process is helpful. We have extremely helpful deputies at the doors of the courthouse and I will make sure that when people come into my courtroom they have someone available who can help them figure out if they are in the right place and what they need to do. So many people come into the courthouse and don’t know where they are supposed to go and it is so important that we help guide them to the right place to make the process less intimate.
Weier: Technology, such as Zoom, has improved the public’s accessibility to the courts for certain hearings. Although Zoom is not ideal for all court hearings, continuing to use Zoom for certain court hearings is a way to save participants time and money. Currently, individuals are not entitled to court appointed attorneys in civil matters, including family law matters. A way to make court less intimidating to the individuals who cannot afford an attorney is through workshops that would help individuals with paperwork and understand the process. The workshops could be conducted by local attorneys willing to donate their time to assist individuals with paperwork and a basic understanding of the process. Such workshops would also improve efficiency because individuals without legal counsel would be prepared for their court dates prior to attending.
What role should the court play in promoting racial justice?
Hood: Racial equity should be of paramount concern to the court as the branch of government charged with the responsibility of deciding facts, applying the law and deciding who is right, for all ethnicities. Indeed Canon 2 of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct provides: “… Without regard to a person’s race, gender, or other protected personal characteristic, a judge should treat every person fairly, with courtesy and respect.” Community engagement in marginalized and minority communities, diversifying the legal profession, and improving access to the courts and legal services are some ways the court can promote racial justice.
Jurva-Brinn: I think the courts play a big part in promoting racial justice. Judges must see that justice is equal regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, financial status or any other demographic who may come before them. Many minorities have felt that they are not treated fairly by the justice system and I will work to change that. The courts need to make sure the police are following proper procedures and protocol and upholding the constitution of both the State of Michigan and the United States. Woven into our notion of justice is the concept of balance, as symbolized by our scales of justice. Balance comes when the courts promote equity and fairness for all, and as a judge I will endeavor to balance the scales and keep justice equal.
Weier: Judges should treat all that come before them fairly and with respect and dignity. Further, judges should ensure that all the parties, attorneys and court personnel treat everyone they encounter fairly and with respect and dignity. There should be zero tolerance for any discrimination towards anyone.
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