Professionalism: Award is 'tailor made' for district court judge

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– Photo by John Meiu
 

By Linda Laderman
Legal News

Last month, the Oakland County Bar Association (OCBA) presented Oakland County 50th District Court Chief Judge Cynthia Walker with its Professionalism Award, recognizing her compassion for and dedication to those she serves.

Much to her surprise.

"When I heard I was to receive the award I was confident they made a mistake," Walker said. "I'm just one of those do good people that if it comes across my desk and it's good for the people I'm all in."

According to the OCBA, the Professionalism Award was established as part of its ongoing campaign to reinforce and illustrate the importance of civility, professionalism, and adherence to the fundamental values of the legal profession.

Candid and self-effacing, Walker has earned a reputation for freely giving her time and energy to the community with a commitment to an agenda that prioritizes Pontiac's residents.

One of the programs Walker has helped guide through the court system is an eviction diversion initiative that began in Macomb County.

Two years ago, Walker began meeting with the managing attorney, Kelly Bidelman, of the Oakland County office of the Detroit-based Legal Aid and Defender Association Inc. (LAD), to help establish Oakland County's first eviction diversion program.

Not surprisingly, Walker, whose court hears the landlord-tenant cases, minimizes her contribution to the plan that allows tenants facing eviction to remain in their rented homes by paying up to three months of their back rent.

"Our court just provided the venue for that to happen, really Kelly was the force behind the program," Walker said. "It's a win-win. When everyone works together we can provide better services to the public."

Youth groups also are consistently on the receiving end of Walker's efforts, as she makes time to talk with them and discuss her own journey, often reminding them that she wasn't a perfect teen-ager.

"I feel an obligation to get to know young people because if you can see it you can be it," Walker said. "I don't want to be perfect for them, I just want them see me in my judge's robe."

Calling her road to the judiciary an "interesting one," Walker, who has been on the 50th District Court bench since 2003, is quick to admit that her career moves were not part of a calculated strategy.

A native of Chicago, and a graduate of Valparaiso Law School in Indiana, Walker hoped to become a juvenile probation officer after she received her undergraduate degree.

But after finding the job market for probation officers unexpectedly sparse, she acted on her former beau's suggestion that she join him in law school.

"Once I was in law school I found it fascinating," said Walker. "I wished I'd had a career plan mapped out, but I wasn't sure about what I wanted to do."

After she earned her law degree, she married and moved with her husband to Michigan where she found a job with legal services in Saginaw.

"I was hired under a senior citizens grant that was funded by the Area Agency on Aging," Walker said. "So here I was, a city girl working in Michigan on consumer-related issues. It was my first entry into the field of social justice and I loved it."

From legal services, Walker went to work as an attorney for the UAW in Michigan and then to Pontiac, where she became a deputy city attorney and, from 1993-99, its chief attorney.

In 1999, Walker became the court's administrator, never expecting to take the bench until her name was submitted to fill a vacancy on the court created by the death of Judge William Waterman.

"I remember when Governor (Jennifer) Granholm called to tell me I'd been appointed to the position. I was shocked and honored," Walker said. "She told me that she expected me to work full days, give back to the community, and treat each litigant fairly."

Since then, Walker continues to fulfill that dictate, expressing gratitude for the opportunities she has to help her adopted city.

"Pontiac has been through a lot so I just want the city to flourish," Walker said. "I would love to be here long enough to see uniformity in how courts are funded rather than some being funded by the city and some by the county."

With no specific plans to deviate from where she is now, Walker said she takes nothing for granted and feels blessed to have a job that she loves.

"I am in a fulfilling space where I feel like I'm making a difference. Every once in a while I'll meet someone who tells me how much my work has touched them. I can't put a dollar value on that."