Connectivity: Court's chief judge touts value of outreach efforts

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Even as a third-grader, Bill McConico had a to-do list.

Back then, it was the brainchild of his older sister, Kimberly, who did her best to keep her brother focused on his daily household chores and school responsibilities.

Now, as the chief judge of the 36th District Court in Detroit, McConico is the maker of his own list on how to constantly improve the operation of the busiest court in Michigan and to strengthen its connection to the urban community.

Toward those twin goals, McConico has developed a series of outreach programs to better inform Detroit residents of the specialty services that the court offers and how those translate into bettering lives throughout the community.

“As a state legislator for three terms, I was accustomed to meeting with my constituents on a regular basis to listen to their concerns and to respond in a positive way with action that hopefully made their lives better,” said McConico, who was first elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 2000 at the age of 27. “When I became chief judge in January 2020, just months before the pandemic, I wanted to do my best to bring the court to the people so that they would be aware of the services and programs we have in place. We are, after all, truly a ‘People’s Court.’”

Last week, for instance, McConico held two neighborhood block meetings in Detroit to tell residents about “our specialty courts, including the Landlord-Tenant Division, and the recent bail reform program we implemented” that he hopes will become a model approach for the state and the nation.

“We view this as an opportunity to create a fairer system,” McConico said in a prepared statement earlier this month about the bail reform measures. “Individuals were being jailed while awaiting a 36th District Court hearing on routine traffic offenses because they couldn’t post bail. So, they were being punished without being found guilty.

“Too many individuals are jailed while awaiting a hearing simply because they can’t afford to make bail, and that’s not what should guide those outcomes,” he said of the settlement agreement that arose from a suit filed against the court several years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “This agreement instead allows bail decisions to be based on a case-by-case basis, judicial discretion, and whether the individuals pose a flight risk or are a danger to the public.”

McConico, whose parents migrated to Detroit from the Jim Crow south following World War II, also is piloting plans for a court-led mentorship program in select city schools, while he already has implemented an internship program for college and law students interested in pursuing legal careers.

“It’s been so rewarding to see the response to these programs, and how the changes have been embraced by our judges and court staff members,” McConico said. “It’s been a total team effort and I’m encouraged to see the willingness of my colleagues to be involved in these outreach efforts.”

A lifelong Detroit resident, McConico graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Morehouse College (see related story), before earning his juris doctor from Case Western Reserve University. Earlier this year, McConico was inducted into the law school’s Hall of Fame, the Society of Benchers, adding even more luster to his rising judicial profile.

Married and the father of three children, McConico previously served as chief of staff/city attorney for Highland Park, and as the city prosecutor for Hamtramck. He currently is an adjunct professor at Wayne County Community College District in both the criminal justice and paralegal studies departments. His wife, Jennifer, a University of Michigan alumna, is the chief development director at WCCCD.

While in the legislature, McConico served as vice chair of both the Energy and Technology and Criminal Justice committees. His “greatest points of pride” during his time as a state rep were in “leading the Democratic effort to stop laws enacting the death penalty in Michigan, and the passage of a bill eliminating mandatory minimums in drug sentencing.”

Four years after his legislative service was brought to an end by term limits, McConico was appointed to the 36th District bench in 2010 by then Governor Jennifer Granholm. He was elected to a full 6-year term in 2012 and re-elected in 2018. In 2019, McConico received the Catalyst Award from Equality Michigan for his efforts in fighting for the civil rights of marginalized people.

“I had wonderful role models in my parents (John and Louise),” said McConico. “My dad was a construction worker and a World War II vet who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and used the G.I. Bill to build a better life for himself and our family. My mom was from Terry, Mississippi, and was a homemaker, raising three children and impressing upon us the importance of getting a good education. In everything I do, I try to keep in mind the lessons I learned from them and how to treat people with the kindness and respect that they deserve.”


 

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