Decision maker: Probate court judge finds his true calling on bench

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By Jeanine Matlow
Legal News

Though he may not have followed a conventional path to rise to such a high level in his legal career, Wayne County Probate Court Judge Lawrence J. Paolucci already has shown he has what it takes to be in the key position.

“I never really aspired to be a judge. I didn’t come from a legal background or a political family,” says Paolucci, who was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that can affect movement and speech.

Despite the judge’s physical limitations, his father, Dr. Benjamin Paolucci, now a retired surgeon, knew his son could achieve academic excellence.

Raised in Grosse Pointe where he currently resides with his family, Paolucci earned his law degree from Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State University College of Law). While in law school, he served as the judicial law clerk to Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Raymond Cashen as well as Wayne County Circuit Court Judge James Rashid.

“The legal research piqued my interest to the role of a judge as a great form of public service,” Paolucci says.

After law school, Paolucci worked as an associate attorney with Bellanca, Beattie, & DeLisle PC. for more than a decade, focusing mostly on probate areas including guardianships, conservatorships, trusts, and decedent estates. In 2004, he joined the Wayne County Probate as court attorney before being appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to the Wayne County Probate bench in 2015. 

“Having worked for this court, I already knew a lot of the staff and some judges and I had some knowledge of the work we do and the importance of the work we do,” he says. “I fell into an area of law that I really enjoy and I love to use my skills to achieve the highest level of public service.”

As a judge, Paolucci understands that the people who enter his courtroom are often under duress.

“They come to our court at the worst of times and it brings back all those problems in families,” he says. “The most rewarding part is when you can help those families out by playing a role in solving some of those issues, like assisting or protecting a child or vulnerable adult.”

For him, the most challenging cases are on the minor guardianship docket.

“That tugs at my heartstrings a lot,” says Paolucci. “You have to make the best decision you can with the information you have.”

That’s some of the advice he received along the way with other pointers like: “You gain respect as a judge by giving respect and never try to humiliate or embarrass anyone who comes before you.” In this regard, Paolucci always tries to remember he was once a young lawyer who appeared in court on the other side of the bench.

Paolucci, who has four siblings, credits both his parents, but especially his father, for his professional success.

“My dad wanted us to be productive citizens and to help people. I was less fortunate than most, but I had skills, so I had an obligation to try to be a productive person. I looked up to him, but I knew I did not want to be a doctor because I spent too much time in the hospital as a patient when I was a kid,” says Paolucci, who underwent numerous surgeries as a youth.

“He never let me use my disability as a crutch and he never put any limitations on what I could achieve,” Paolucci says of his father. “I just love what I do. It doesn’t feel like a job. To go from law school to a judgeship in probate law feels like a dream or fortuitous accident. I feel so blessed to be here.”

Paolucci married later in life, and he and his wife adopted their son and daughter from Hungary.

“It gives you some perspective when you’re on the bench,” he says. “I wanted to pick a profession where I would be doing something positive. I’m in a position to help people and I want them to feel like they’re being treated fairly. As a judge, I have an important responsibility to ensure that the legal process works the way it’s supposed to. I hope that every day in some small way I am assuring or safeguarding the integrity of the legal or judicial process.”

Wayne County Probate Court Chief Judge Freddie Burton Jr. supports Paolucci every step of the way.

“He came to us from private practice and immediately displayed an incredible ability to grasp probate law,” Burton says. “I am pleased to have Judge Paolucci as a contributing member of our bench. He works really hard and we’re very fortunate to have him.”

Patience and understanding are among the qualities Burton has seen Paolucci demonstrate consistently.

“Most of all, he has a wonderful temperament. He judges the facts and law, not people.”

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