Grand Rapids attorney talks about first four months as justice on the Michigan Supreme Court

LANSING, me. – For the fourth time in the state’s history, the Michigan Supreme Court has a female majority. One of these recently sworn women is from West Michigan.

There are seven Michigan Supreme Court justices, four of whom are women.

I sat down with Grand Rapids’ newly elected Judge Elizabeth Welch to brief her about the first four months at the bank and how the coronavirus has affected her daily life.


“And that I will faithfully perform the duties of the Michigan Supreme Court to the best of my ability,” said Judge Welch in December as she was taking her oath.

Her family was right by her side; In fact, her children helped her slip into her new robe before a photographer took the official portrait.

Your election means there is now a female majority on the bench, along with Judge Megan Cavanagh, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Judge Beth Clement.

It was the last time they were all in the courtroom together thanks to COVID.


“I worked as a lawyer for 25 years. I did labor law. I worked in a few big law firms before starting my own law firm in 2004, ”she told me in their chambers as we discussed her new role.

Your position is nominated by the political party, but chosen by voters on an impartial map.

“I really thought that the skills I had developed over the past 25 years, not only in my legal practice, but also in leveraging my law degree outside of my legal practice, really brought a lot of synergy – and I was motivated to take a step forward to make up front, “she said. “There was an opening in the square; One of the longtime judges retired, so there was an opportunity to step forward and run. “


Judges serve an eight-year term and must be licensed to practice in Michigan. There is no term limit, but they must be under the age of 70 at the time of their election.

Justice Welch has been on duty for four months now.

“It’s a pretty busy schedule when you’re brand new. You’re going in the middle of the semester, ”she said. “The court’s term begins in September. that’s so when the work is up – it’s a bit of September through July 31 of the year; That is how the court works. So if you come in on January 1st, you come in the middle. “

The Michigan Supreme Court receives around 2,000 appeals each year. They hear about 10 percent of that. Justice Welch has heard more than 30 in her time on the bench so far. But because of COVID, she had to do everything through Zoom.

“I had to hire a team of five people, all of the interviews on Zoom,” she said. “I still have a few of my employees who I haven’t met personally because we were out of the way in the justice hall.”

And they’re still in their robes even when working from home. The judges hear oral arguments a few days a month after deciding to accept a case.

RELATED: Check out all of the trials in the Michigan Supreme Court


The Supreme Court is a little complex.

Judges hear cases appealed to them by the appeals court, but you must first get permission to send them to the Supreme Court.

While most people ponder judges’ opinions, they are also responsible for overseeing all courts in the state, setting rules for them regarding practice and procedure, and making judicial issues more accessible.

“The vast majority of people involved in civil matters – divorces and landlord / tenant disputes and contracts – all of the non-criminal matters are civil matters – there is a huge, astounding number of people who are not represented by lawyers in these cases . ” She said. “You can’t afford it – you still have to appear in court and find your way around a court system that is open to lawyers.”

It is for this reason that the Court created the Justice for All Commission. Justice Welch is a member of one of the sub-committees.

The task force conducted a year-long study that found recommendations and loopholes that needed to be addressed in order for people to have 100 percent access to the civil justice system in our state.

“And right now the system is disaggregated,” she said. “Every county is different; They all have different software, they all use different technologies, and understandably so. This is how the system evolved. But we are in a moment where we are trying to bring everyone together so we can see what is out there and who is affected and how and why. “


Justice Welch has more than seven years to work towards these goals and tells me she is ready to work with the others to get the job done.

“People know the piece of opinion we were talking about, but they don’t know how long it takes to get really new innovative ideas through the court system and make those ideas available to everyone.”

Another interesting thing about moving from a law firm to the bank is that ethical rules meant that Justice Welch had to shut down her practice and bank account, and move her clients to new lawyers.

And when the case of a former client lands in front of her, she has to reuse herself.

When they will return to the courtroom for the full day has not yet been determined, but it appears that the Zoom hearings may continue in the future.


Which is part of the fourth female majority in the history of the court.

It first happened in 1997 when Dorothy Riley, Betty Weaver, Marilyn Kelly and Patty Boyle were serving on the pitch.

Dorothy Riley retired that year, being replaced by Cliff Taylor.

From 2009 to 2010 there was again a female majority with Marilyn Kelly, Betty Weaver, Maura Corrigan and Diane Hathaway.

In 2010, however, Betty Weaver retired and was replaced by Alton Davis.

The last female majority was in 2011 with Marilyn Kelly, Mary Beth Kelly, Maura Corrigan and Diane Hathaway.

However, later that year Justice Corrigan left the court (to become DHHS director) and Brian Zahra replaced her.

RELATED: Click here to learn more about the Michigan Supreme Court

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