Probate Court Chief Judge Murkowski recognized in statewide publication

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from Kent County sources, with additional notes by Cynthia Price

Chief Judge David M. Murkowski of Kent County Probate Court is highlighted in a recent report issued by the Michigan Supreme Court. The report, “Michigan’s Judiciary Success Stories: How Probate Courts Work to Protect the People of Michigan,” features stories from Judge Murkowski and five other probate court judges from around the state, examining pressing problems such as protecting vulnerable children and addressing mental illness in the criminal justice system. The report also offers an overview of probate courts in Michigan and interviews with other former and current probate court judges.

Judge Murkowski shares a story of success involving a man severely injured in a car accident. The man had a history of suffering from mental illness, substance use, and was estranged from his family. Judge Murkowski assigned the man a public guardian from the Kent County Public Guardianship Program. In two years, the guardian helped the man secure medical and mental health treatment, turn his life around and find him housing. When Judge Murkowski terminated the guardianship, the man had also reunited with his family and credited the public guardian and the court for his successes.

“We see individuals every day who are incapacitated, vulnerable, exploited, and mentally ill, or simply need some help,” Judge Murkowski said in the report. “To be able to provide a path to self-reliance, or safety, or stability is most rewarding to me.”
“Within our judicial branch, it is imperative that we have in place an effective system for resolving a variety of deeply-sensitive legal matters, such as the probate of estates, the supervision of trusts, the administration of guardianships and conservatorships, and addressing the treatment of persons with mental illness,” Justice Kurtis T. Wilder stated at a news conference in Midland announcing the report. “Michigan’s probate courts have a lengthy and honored history of providing that very system and protecting vulnerable people all across Michigan.”

Judge Murkowski graduated cum laude from Marquette University and attended Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where he was an honor roll graduate in 1983. Judge Murkowski was appointed to the probate court in 2006. The Michigan Supreme Court appointed Judge Murkowski to serve as the Chief Judge of the Kent County Probate Court commencing January 1, 2008. In 2017 Judge Murkowski served as President of the Michigan Probate Judges Association (MPJA), to which he has given long years of service. He is a member of the Judicial Council of the Judicial Section of the State Bar of Michigan. He also serves on the Diversion Legislation Subcommittee of Governor Snyder’s Mental Health Diversion Task Force.

He previously served six years as a council member of the Probate and Estate Planning Section of the State Bar of Michigan and as a member of the Executive Committee of the Kent County Family and Children's Coordinating Council.

In 2014, Judge Murkowski received the Judicial Contributions in Law and Aging Award by Elder Law of Michigan and was elected as a Fellow of Michigan State Bar Foundation. In 2015 he was selected as a Leader in the Law by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

The report, which can be found at http://courts.mi.gov/Administration/SCAO/Documents/Probate%20Court%20Success%20Stories_FINAL.pdf, gives in-depth profiles of the work of other judges around the state.

These include Judge Dorene Allen of Midland County, who is the current MPJA president, whose passion for helping children has caused her to use a trained therapy dog in her courtroom. (The canine assistant, “Courthouse Clyde,” often wears a tie to work.)

Another well-known judge profiled, Milton Mack, is now the Michigan State Court Administrator. When he was at the Wayne County Probate Court, Mack was the driving force behind “Kevin’s Law,” named after a man who was beaten to death by a person suffering mental illness who did not take his medication. The report says that the intent of Kevin’s Law is “to intervene early in someone’s mental illness before they [get] in trouble and to hopefully get them outpatient treatment so they would not have to be hospitalized.”

In his profile, Chief Judge Murkowski adds this history: “As a member of the Probate and Estate Planning Council, I initiated an effort to restructure the probate appellate process. Historically, the appellate process was splintered, inefficient, and uneconomical. Through a tremendous collaborative legislative effort of all stakeholders that spanned the course of several years, the appellate process has been restructured and streamlined to direct all probate appeals to the Court of Appeals.”
He concludes by saying,

“The responsibilities of a judge extend beyond the docket. I believe there is an obligation to serve your colleagues and the larger community.”
 

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