Hon. William E. Collette reflects on his tenure as Chief Judge

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

After nine years as Chief Judge of the Ingham County Circuit Court, Judge William Collette will retire from that position at the end of 2011. Reflecting back on the experience, he said, "I think the hardest part of doing this job is the budget issues. We have a lot of mandates we are suppose to meet and no money to meet them.

"We have over two hundred employees and I'm proud to say that we never had to lay off employees on my watch. We lost job positions but they were positions that were open, but none of the staff that we had were lost. One lady we laid off but hired back and she is still with us today. I'm real proud of that."

Judge Collette noted that the other difficulty is all "of the different people and entities you have to work with -- the public, the other judges, all the employees, the county commissioners, the supreme court, the state court administrator's office, the legislature, the local police, the State police, the corrections department and the prosecutors."

Because each of these entities has its own interests, he described the interrelationships as "a real balancing act. You have to sort of balance one of those against the other. That is the hardest part is dealing with all the personalities because every organization has its personality. To put all that together is sometimes very difficult."

Judge Collette is proud of the "different projects we put together; with Judge Garcia and some of the family judges help we built a facility for a juvenile school. That makes a difference in some of the people's lives. We certainly don't make much difference in my court. Getting these young people much earlier in life is the way to help them."

He gave credit to the staff for the accomplishments during his tenure as Chief Judge.

"It's not me, it's the staff that does the great job. I am responsible for family and general trial court as chief judge. I don't like to say that much of what's going on is my doing--it is the work of good people. You have to hire people you can trust" and give them the freedom to be creative with new programs.

"We have a good collections program to collect moneys owed. I like to think I've managed our docket well. I just let people do their jobs, that's what I have always done."

The district courts have their own chief judges with whom he meets once a year. "We (District and Circuit courts) do a lot of things together; a lot of our stuff is integrated. We have district judges that do some of our PPO (Personal Protection Order) hearings, the Veteran's court and the Drug (Sobriety) Courts."

Under the court rules, the chief judge initiates policies concerning the court's internal operations and its position on external matters affecting the court. Acknowledging that the Chief Judge has a lot of authority, Judge Collette said "You manage all the court employees except for the staff of the individual judges and you try to keep the court's docket moving efficiently but, on the other hand, every judge has a certain amount of leeway in how they want to run their show and as long as they get it done, they get no complaint from me."

The chain of command is from the Supreme Court to the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) to the judges. "Justice Young," commented Collette, "is more hands on than the other Chief Justices. Basically it's the SCAO that sets the guidelines and the rules. They give me my marching orders and I follow them."

Asked about technology in the courts, he acknowledged what has been done and predicts that in the future technology will be "the key to everything."

"It has been very rewarding over the years," he concluded, "but there comes a point where you need to let somebody else have the job."

Judge Collette who has been serving in Mason for 13 years plans to stay "here until I retire," which is not anytime soon. He will run for office again in 2014.

Published: Mon, Dec 26, 2011

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