Meet Genesee County’s Newest Judges

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In the mid-term elections of November 2018, Elizabeth A. Kelly and Brian S. Pickell were elected to two open seats on the 7th Judicial Circuit Court, beginning six-year terms on January 1. They took some time from hectic schedules to answer a few questions about their days on the bench so far, their backgrounds and achievements, and more.


Judge Elizabeth A. Kelly

Now adjudicating in the 7th Judicial Circuit Court of Genesee County’s Criminal Division and Family Division, Kelly was born and raised in Genesee County, the youngest of four children. She attended Mott Community College and received an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science – Paralegal Technology, a Bachelor’s Degree from UM-Flint, and attended law school at Michigan State University. As a student at MCC, she interned at the 65th District Court, and took a position as secretary at the Genesee County Bar Association. She has worked in the County legal community ever since in every capacity – as a secretary, paralegal, law clerk, lawyer and now, judge.

What motivated you to become a judge?

When I was four years old, I told my mother I wanted to be a judge. I do not know what prompted me at such a young age to make that declaration, but it has always been what I’ve wanted to do.

Tell us about a typical day at the courthouse.

I have been on this job since January 1 and there are no typical days. My docket includes both criminal and family cases, so depending on the day, it can be anything. My court call usually starts at 8:15am. Some days are motions, pre-trials, probation hearings, PPOs, divorce trials, criminal trials, etc., or a combination of all of those on one day. I recently granted a divorce at 8:15am and was hearing testimony on a serious felony trial by 9am. There is nothing “typical” about this job. I love it!

What aspects of being a judge are the most exciting?

My idea of exciting is atypical. A unique legal issue, an interesting evidentiary issue, a newly-published case are things I find exciting.

What career achievement are you most proud of?

When I was in law school, I completed an internship with the late Judge Robert Weiss. It was supposed to last a semester but turned into a part-time job. While I was there, he was asked to start a pilot program for a Baby Court – a specialty court designed to help young families with children between the ages of birth and three who were in the abuse and neglect system. Three pilots were opened in Michigan courts and Genesee County is the only one that is still running. Judge Weiss and I started with a few key community leaders, an initial grant I wrote, got our seed money and it grew from there. After I finished law school, I was excited to have my first Baby Court case in front of Judge Weiss as a lawyer representing a mom. The week before my first appearance, I received a call in the early morning hours that Judge Weiss had passed away. Judge Newblatt was tasked with taking over the Court, and now that I am on the bench, I hope to get involved once I have settled into this role.

As a new judge, what are you most focused on right now?

Arranging my docket so that I can be sure to give every case the time it needs. As a lawyer and now as a judge, I deal with court every day – the people who come before me do not. I want them to feel like they are being heard and are not just another case.

What do you like most (and least) about being a judge?

What I like most is the impact I can have on people. Defendants seem surprised when I am willing to give them a chance to get involved in drug court, or addiction treatment, or something that can help with their underlying problem. I also like trying to guide parents when they cannot agree on issues. It is very extreme that parents are asking a total stranger to make decisions about their children. I am hoping to give them tools to make decisions together about major aspects of their children’s lives.

What I like least is that I miss being a lawyer. When I was in practice, I was in court every day. I miss seeing other judges and now, I only see lawyers who appear in my court. I also miss having clients. The relationships I built while helping people during some of their most difficult times were very rewarding.

Did any special people influence you?

My parents have supported and encouraged me my entire life and set a very high bar for the kind of person I want to be. My dad is the smartest person you’ve ever met, a genuinely honest and good person. He sets the standard for being an outstanding husband, father and grandfather and makes me want to be a better person. My mom has always encouraged me and is also very good at keeping me grounded. She raised four children and instilled strong independence and self-confidence in all of us.

What is your best quality or trait?

I listen. There is a distinction between waiting and listening, and personally, that came with age and experience. The ability to keep an open mind is also crucial to my job. I review my cases before court, but I cannot make a final decision until I have heard all of the testimony, arguments, evidence, and given everyone a chance to be heard.

How do you like to spend your spare time?

My children are grown and my favorite time is when they are both visiting and I get to cook for them. My husband Jeremy and I enjoy being outdoors, and after devoting last summer to my campaign, we look forward to a relaxing summer that includes a lot of fishing!


Judge Brian S. Pickell

Born in Flint and raised in Grand Blanc, Pickell graduated from Grand Blanc High School in 1987. He then attended and graduated from the University of Michigan and received his law degree from Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State University College of Law). Pickell was an attorney in private practice for 20 years, specializing in intellectual-property law (i.e., patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets). As a practitioner, he enjoyed helping people protect their rights in artistic creations, ideas and inventions. More recently, in conjunction with the IP practice, he worked for about three years in the area of elder law (i.e., estate planning, eligibility for Medicaid and VA Aid and Attendance benefits, protections against elder abuse and neglect, etc.), which opened his eyes to the various needs of seniors and their families. He has resided in Genesee County for nearly the last two decades with his wife, Malori, and their two young children.

What motivated you to become a judge?

I wanted to give back to this community from the bench by trying, along with others, to help end the intergenerational cycle of alcohol, physical and/or substance abuse that so negatively impacts Greater Flint families. Many children will continue in their parents’ abuse or marry into such abuse, never leaving it nor becoming sober. I’d love to help one such person take the opportunity to finally cut it off in her/his family. And, that’s where the “giving back” occurs – when one person turns it around, positively affecting her/his family and then, the community at large. A judge can permanently and positively mold and shape attitudes and behavior for the remainder of an individual’s lifetime and, in turn, his/her family. That’s what motivated me to run and motivates me each day I come to work.

Tell us about a typical day at the courthouse.

For my first four months on the job, I’ve been assigned a civil docket and juvenile docket (i.e., delinquency and abuse/neglect). A typical day includes arriving to the office in the morning in ample time to review for hearings on our civil-motion call and juvenile proceedings. Specific days are set aside each week for trials and special hearings. In this rather short period of time on the job, we’ve even managed to perform at least a dozen marriage ceremonies. These are the moments, predominantly, when our team is in the courtroom.

Much of the remainder of my day is spent in the office interacting with other team members – administrative assistant, law clerk, civil court clerk and juvenile court clerk – reading motions and briefs, signing orders, researching law, drafting orders, meeting with attorneys and preparing for hearings and trials. There’s never a shortage of reading and prepping to do.

What career achievement are you most proud of?

Over the course of my career as an attorney, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to help a good number of local entrepreneurs, trying to protect their intellectual-property rights so they could get their business started, established and/or proceeding forward. I feel blessed and fortunate they let me into such a big part of their lives so I could, hopefully, give them some peace of mind.

With that said, I can’t leave out the completion of my first campaign – probably the biggest undertaking of my life, thus far. I am, of course, pleased with the outcome; but, even if I weren’t here, I learned a lot about myself, namely, that I can stray outside my comfort zone more than I ever imagined I could or would. Yes, the campaign was grueling at times, non-stop and not for the faint-of-heart. But, I grew as an individual by leaps and bounds over the course of it. It required involvement by the entire immediate and extended family, friends and even strangers – not just me, the candidate. To say we accomplished that together and still liked each other in the end is definitely a feat. I realized how important my support system is to me.

As a new judge, what are you most focused on?

Right now, I’m most focused on embracing my on-the-job training and being encouraged in it. I don’t want a day to pass in which I haven’t learned something about my new role and how I can apply it practically on the bench or in my office.

Furthermore, I’m surrounded by outstanding judges who have a wealth of experience and knowledge. I want to take advantage of that resource while I can do so. For example, Probate Judge Barkey is my hall mate – shame on me if I don’t tap into her storehouse of wisdom. Moreover, there are so many valuable resources at my disposal, and I’ve tried to spend a chunk of time each day pouring over them.

Lastly, a vital, but often difficult, life lesson for us all has to do with humility in leadership. I will always attempt to focus upon accepting God’s training of me in humility as I endeavor to assume real servant leadership as a new judge.

Are there any special people who influenced you?

My mother, Janet Pickell, as a devout woman of God, profoundly influenced both my life and career. She made it her life’s work to try to lift up the City of Flint and all of Genesee County through prayer and service – fighting to restore the downtrodden. She persevered for battered and abused women, drug abusers, the unemployed, the homeless, at-risk youth, criminals, those in shelters, and even the blight that has taken away Flint’s beauty. Through all of this, she instilled in me there’s a world out there bigger than just myself. Her influence has followed me to my new position, where it is my humble honor to serve the people of Genesee County.

What is your best quality or trait?

I think it’s important to be attentive and patient, and a good listener. On the other hand, I think I’m thorough and measured, as well. In fact, my wife has told me I can be a little too even-keeled, and she wishes I’d get more “riled-up” sometimes. Anyway, I think these qualities or traits serve me well as a judge because, while the position can be one of detail, firmness and objectivity, it can also require compassion, grace and mercy.

How do you like to spend your spare time?

I grew up playing hockey and still enjoy doing so with a group of guys I’ve been a part of for several years. I also play softball with a team from my home church in Flushing, where my family and I have been active attendees for many years. Mostly, though, I’ve been relishing the revived opportunity to just spend more time with my wife, Malori, and our two young kids again, especially coming off the heels of the campaign and immediately delving into the rigors of a career change. I feel as though I missed a lot of togetherness with them over the past 18 months, and it’s been nice to begin catching up with each other.


Photography By Kayce McClure

 

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