In transition- Former judge enjoys new role as mediator

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

During two decades as a judge, Paula Manderfield would listen to attorneys argue before her in court and often think to herself, "I could settle this case."

The reality is that judges don't have time to stop what they are doing and spend long periods of time trying to resolve one case. But since retiring from the bench at the end of 2012, Manderfield is now developing a civil and divorce mediation practice as a shareholder in the Lansing office of Fraser Trebilcock.

Manderfield, who has taken the 40-hour training as a mediator and observed several mediations, is enjoying her new position.

"It's a great place to work with excellent staff. There's an expert in every field and readily available if I have a question," she says. "Retired Judge Peter Houk is in the office next to me, and Pete Dunlap is here also - I've observed them and Maurice Schoenberger, Bob Best and Richard Kaufman mediate cases, so I'm learning from the best."

Studies have shown facilitative mediation resolves more that 70 percent of all cases, whereas case evaluation resolves a much lower number.

"More and more cases are being resolved through the use of alternatives to dispute resolution," she says. "Facilitative mediation - helping litigants arrive at a resolution without trial - literally keeps the court dockets moving and costs less than going to trial. And with mediation, parties can be creative in their resolution in ways a court or jury cannot."

"My nursing experience gives me a special expertise in handling cases involving medical issues and I can draw from my judicial experience in how a case may play itself out before a judge and or jury in court," she says.

A native of Houghton in the Upper Peninsula, Manderfield graduated magna cum laude from Michigan Technological University, with an associate degree in nursing. After working a year in a medical/psych unit as an RN at the local hospital, she moved to East Lansing to attend Michigan State University, and worked at Ingham Medical Center (now McLaren) in the Intensive Care Unit taking care of post open-heart surgery patients and other surgical and trauma patients.

"It was fast paced and at times very intense," she recalls. "I loved that work but soon realized I didn't want to do that type of nursing my entire career."

Ultimately, she completed her bachelor's degree in nursing, and took a year of accounting and econ classes as electives. She became interested in the law after nursing school lectures on legal implications of nursing.

Accepted for the fall semester at Cooley Law School, she moved back to Lansing from the UP, returning to Ingham and to a new position as a nursing supervisor on afternoon shift--supervising staff, admitting patients through the ER and handling administrative issues included staffing for the following shift.

After working for two small firms, she opened her own law practice sharing office space with other lawyers. Several years later, Manderfield set her sights on becoming a judge believing this was how she could best serve the cause of justice. Running for circuit court the first time, she came in third out of six candidates in the primary election.

"I had worked very hard campaigning and beat a sitting district judge who also ran, so it was suggested to me that I run for district court in two years which I did and won," she says. "District court is truly the people's court because of the sheer volume of people who come in. That's where I learned how to make decisions and manage a docket. I brought that experience to circuit court with me."

After eight years as a 54-A District Court judge - and two years as chief judge, Manderfield was recruited by several lawyers to run for circuit court.

"After agreeing, I had many sleepless nights wondering what in the world I was doing," she says. "I had 10-month old twins and a 3-year-old and was running against two long-term incumbent circuit judges! By filing time, others had jumped into the race. I ran scared the entire time, which means my family and I worked night and day campaigning. We pushed the kids in strollers in the parades."

Despite her qualms, Manderfield easily came in first in the primary and also in the general election. After serving 2 years in the family division of circuit court handling a very heavy docket, she moved to the general trial division handling felonies, general civil, and court of claims cases until she retired.

"Ingham Circuit is sometimes referred to as the 'super circuit' because not only is it the Court of Claims, where suits filed against the State of Michigan must be filed, but also many cases can be filed in Ingham County by statute even though normal venue does not exist," she explains. "After 20 years on the bench I've handled just about all types of cases, some obviously more memorable than others."

For the past 10 years she has served on the executive board for the Michigan Judges Association and the SBM Judicial Council Board. Currently, she serves on the SBM Criminal Law Section Council Board and is a member of the ADR Section and Negligence Law Section of the State Bar and is a member of the Ingham County Bar Association.

She also shares her expertise as an adjunct faculty member at the MSU College of Nursing, where last September she was honored with the distinguished Alumni Award.

A firm believer in community service and giving back to the community, Manderfield has served as a board member for many organizations including the YMCA Metro; Advent House Ministries; Blue Care Network, and Elder Law of Michigan. She is a past president of the American Heart Association and Women Lawyers Association, both of the mid-Michigan regions; founding board member of Ronald McDonald House; and past chair of the Ingham County/City of Lansing Community Corrections Board.

Manderfield lives in East Lansing with her husband, David Gilstrap, who teaches turfgrass at MSU "and who painstakingly cares for our lawn," she says with a smile. The couple's three children, ages 15, 14 and 14, keep their parents busy with their many activities. Manderfield also hopes to visit the Washington, D.C. area more frequently to visit her older son from her first marriage, a lieutenant in the Coast Guard working for Homeland Security in counter intelligence work, and his wife and three children.

In her leisure time, Manderfield enjoys exercise of various kinds and currently is doing aerobics and strength and conditioning classes.

"I also enjoy biking and did the DALMAC (a Lansing to Mackinaw City bike ride) last fall with my then 13-year-old son - which may be my greatest (physical) accomplishment to date."

Published: Mon, Jul 8, 2013

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