Advocate: New judge plans to focus efforts on specialty courts

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By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Judge Anna Frushour, sworn in to the bench of the Washtenaw County 14th District Court on Jan. 31, has a heart for working in the community to make people’s lives better.

She has served as part of the United Way Leaders Society, a member of the event planning committee for Avalon Housing, a volunteer with Food Gatherers, and as a board member of Jewish Family Services, drawn to its refugee and other social programs. Indeed, Frushour has been community-minded virtually all her life; her first volunteering was done at a nursing home when she was only 14.

She has also been active in the legal community, as co-chair of the Washtenaw County Bar Association’s Judiciary Committee and president of the Women’s Lawyers Association-Washtenaw; and was appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court to the state’s Attorney Discipline Board.

And during her most recent tenure as the public defender for the City of Ann Arbor, along with law partner and former prosecutor Patricia Reiser, Frushour participated heavily in the treatment courts through the Washtenaw County Trial Court (15th Circuit).

“Through these courts, we’re treating people more as individuals, treating them as the whole person,” Frushour says. “I’ve been going to trainings for about seven years, and you can’t beat those success stories.”

Frushour was appointed to the 14A-3 District Court in Chelsea by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after the early retirement of Judge Richard Conlin. Frushour, who lives in Pittsfield Township with husband Casey and young sons Max, 5, and Jake, 2, will be housed mainly in Chelsea and at the 14A-1 Court in Ann Arbor. The District also has locations in Saline and Ypsilanti.

The appointment came after Frushour applied to the governor’s office and went through a series of interviews. “It was very intense. The first round of interviews are with the State Bar of Michigan, I think about 25 people, and I was the one person on the other side of the table!” she says. “But it was fine, because everyone was very courteous and respectful.”

Frushour, who will run for the seat in November, has participated in a number of political campaigns including a paid position for her Wayne Law School Professor Jocelyn Benson, when Benson ran for Secretary of State in 2009-2010. Frushour also volunteered in the campaigns of Jason Morgan (now chair of the Washtenaw County Commission) and Leigh Greden (previously an Ann Arbor City Commissioner who lost his re-election bid last fall).

Morgan, Greden and others from the local political community, including State Rep. Yousef Rabhi and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, participated in Frushour’s investiture. Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack swore her in, Judge Conlin ceremonially robed her, and her sons brought the gavel to her.

Comments Commission Chair Morgan, who met Frushour during the 2009 Benson campaign, “I’ve known Anna for a long time and I was a huge supporter when she first spoke about running for judge. She’s fair, someone of the highest integrity, compassionate, and absurdly smart.

“At the investiture a lot of folks talked about her background and where she came from. Her whole story is what makes her so well equipped for this. She’s overcome a lot of challenges, and she’s done it with a calmness and grace that I think is really telling of how she’ll do as a judge.”

Frushour is a native of Poland, whose parents escaped that country right before it went under martial law, in the 1980s. The family settled first in Garfield, N.J., which has a strong Polish-American population.

“Growing up in that environment in an immigrant community where we really had to rely on each other for survival, with the sense of community giving back and forth, I learned a lot about serving,” she says.

Her father worked in the automotive field, and the family moved to Ann Arbor in 1995.

After graduating from Father Gabriel Richard High School, Frushour earned her undergrad degree in communications and political science at the University of Michigan, and her J.D. from Wayne Law.

After working on Benson’s campaign, Frushour launched a solo law practice in January 2011, later joining forces with Patricia Reiser. “I had met her when we had cases together when she was the prosecutor,” Frushour says, “and then we partnered on the public defender contract.”

It was in that role, where she handled misdemeanors for the City of Ann Arbor, that Frushour became more involved with the Sobriety Court, Veteran’s Treatment Court, Mental Health Court, and Street Outreach Court at the Washtenaw County Trial Court, and developed a passion for that type of justice.

 “One of the things about participating, though, you have to come back to court more often if you agree to participate. We had a problem with access for people who lived outside of Ann Arbor, so I’m hopeful we will be able to bring in a Sobriety Court for the courts outside the city,” she says.

 “I really want to make sure everyone that comes into the courtroom is treated with respect and dignity,” adds Frushour, who says her fellow judges, including Conlin, have been “amazing” mentors, filling in because the training for new judges only takes place after even election years.

“We have to make sure that everyone is sensitive to people coming from all backgrounds and I intend to be as empathetic as I can. When I was a practicing attorney that one thing was really more indicative of how my clients felt about the court, even more than whether they won or lost,” she says.

“But what I really want most is to work through the treatment courts. For so long our criminal justice system has been focused on punishment and thinking that was the way to solve issues like recidivism. But what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working, and I believe we can’t let a person’s one mistake ruin their lives. I really want to focus on this different type of justice.

“Washtenaw County has always been in the forefront of so many things, so let’s push the envelope forward.”



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