Judicial leaders gather to celebrate milestone

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen J. Markman (left) recently convened with (left to right) Midland County Probate Court Chief Judge Dorene S. Allen, president of Michigan Probate Judges Association; Oakland County 46th District Court Chief Judge Shelia R. Johnson, president of Michigan District Judges Association; Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Tracey A. Yokich, president of Michigan Judges Association; and Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Annette J. Berry, chairperson of State Bar Judicial Council.
– Photo courtesy of Michigan Supreme Court
The leaders of the Michigan Judges Association (MJA), the Michigan District Judges Association (MDJA), the Michigan Probate Judges Association (MPJA) and the Judicial Section Council (JSC) of the State Bar of Michigan convened in Lansing recently to acknowledge that, for the first time in state history, all four judicial association heads are women.
“This milestone is of considerable interest to all members of the legal profession in Michigan,” said Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen J. Markman Markman during the gathering at the Michigan Hall of Justice. “The rise of these four outstanding judges to their respective roles of leadership makes this a remarkably noteworthy occasion.”

These four associations serve and assist different segments of the judicial community in Michigan: MJA was founded in 1927 and serves circuit and appellate court judges; MDJA was founded in 1969 and serves district court judges; MPJA was founded in 1879 and serves probate court judges; and the JSC serves all current and retired judges who are State Bar members. 

The assistance of these groups often includes commenting on changes to administrative and court rules, working with the Legislature on reforms along with providing professional support, according to court officials.

“It is an extraordinary time for women who choose to serve in public office,” said MJA President Judge Tracey A. Yokich, who serves on Macomb County Circuit Court. “Very early in my career, I had the opportunity to serve in the Michigan House of Representatives. As a result, it became eminently clear that women don’t bring a better perspective to the problem solving table — just a different one.

Yokich said good government “happens when its public servants are a reflection of the community it serves.”

“It opens the door for a diversity of background, experiences, and interests,” she said. “It has only been relatively recently that so many talented and capable women have had the opportunity to serve their communities as jurists. We are finally starting to walk in greater numbers through the door that was opened by some extraordinary women before us: Chief Justice Mary S. Coleman; Chief Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley; Chief Justice Patricia Boyle; and Judge Hilda Gage, to name a few.”

Chief Judge Shelia R. Johnson, 46th District Court in Southfield, said it was an honor and a privilege to lead the MDJA “and to serve along with three other remarkable women jurists as leaders of the major judicial associations in this state.”

Johnson said it was significant “that the four major judicial associations, at this pivotal point in time, have elected four women, one whom is of color, as their leaders.

“These judicial associations are uniquely positioned to positively impact the administration of justice in the courts and for the citizens of our state,” she said. “It is truly a historical moment that women, who had previously been barred from the bench in Michigan, now in tandem are leading the charge to craft and mold the course of justice for the future. I am honored to be a part of this extraordinary moment.”

MPJA President Chief Judge Dorene S. Allen, a member of Midland County Probate Court, said the presence of women at the top of the four associations “is reflective of a trend in our society in general.”

“And it’s a good thing, she said. “Women bring their own strength, talents, perspective and experiences to the bench. Access has not been there historically, and certainly was not there when I started 37 years ago.”

Allen noted that she has “often had to explain that I was the attorney and not the secretary. Women’s inclusion has been steadily increasing during my career.” 

When she and her husband attend events together “and ‘Judge Allen’ is introduced, people of all ages still assume that my husband is the judge,” she added.

“While it is kind of fun to watch their faces when they realize I am the judge,” Allen said, “it’s still an indication of the assumption that leadership positions are still expected to be held by men.”

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Annette J. Berry, called it a “tremendous honor and privilege” to serve as chair of the State Bars’s Judicial Section Council for the State Bar of Michigan and alongside Yokich, Allen and Joh.

“Together, we share our achievements by opening doors for other women judges, by collectively setting leadership examples with fairness, openness and respect for all members of the Michigan judiciary,” she said. “As associate Justice of the United
States Supreme Court Sandra Day O’Connor once said, ‘We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone.’ This is a momentous occasion and one of which I am truly grateful to share with such esteemed jurists.”


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