Eaton County Probate Judge presents his view from the bench

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

The members of the ICBA Probate Section gathered at the State Bar of Michigan on Tuesday, Sept. 20th to hear Hon. Thomas K. Byerley, Eaton County Probate Judge, present his "view from the bench."

"I really like probate court," Byerley said. "There is a saying that the District and Circuit Courts are the courts of confrontation and the probate court is the court of compassion. I believe that is true. What I hear are people who are looking for a compassionate resolution."

Probate work "attracts professionals who want to truly help people to get things resolved. It is very gratifying to me to see that everyone is there with a predisposition to do what is right for the person or family involved."

Sixty percent of Judge Byerley's cases are divided equally between Neglect and Abuse and Divorce; the remaining thirty percent are divided between estates, guardianships and conservatorships with balance miscellaneous items.

Judge Byerley's top ten helpful tips:

1. File annual accountings timely; the court keeps a log of when reports are due. Some wait until the third of three notices is sent to file, which is not timely. He asked that lawyers avoid that practice.

2. Make sure that accountings are accurate. "A large number are inaccurate. Start with the simple things--is your beginning balance this year equal to your ending balance from last year. You would be surprised how many are not right."

3. In Eaton County bonds for conservators are required. Byerley has softened the rule a little but not a lot. His goal is to make sure the money is there so if the funds are with a reputable company and you receive monthly statements then he might loosen up the requirement.

4. When filing motions, he requested that attorneys also file a judge's copy as required under the court rules and send it to him, a week before the hearing if possible. "It is not the clerk's job to send one to me."

5. When scheduling a time for a motion hearing, "please be realistic on amount of time that will be needed and if it is settled please dismiss to free up space."

6. Continuing on the topic of motions, he said, "I have a novel idea, how about calling the lawyer on the other side? It may be that the matter could be settled."

7. He noted discussion among lawyers before going to court is not a common occurrence, which he regrets. He believes that many things could be resolved without court hearings.

8. Byerley emphasized, "I am anal about promptness. If you reserve a time be there at that time."

9. He prefers that civility be maintained.

10. He urged practitioners to proof read the documents filed with the court.

Byerley commented on the changes that will take place in the courts in Michigan, noting that judges will become fungible and there will probably be only one chief judge for the county or in the case of small counties, one chief judge for two counties, which means that person will do all the administrative duties for all the courts. "The new chief judge will need to redistribute the work."

He concluded saying "If you have other ideas on how we can do business better, I want to know about it."

Before taking the bench, Judge Byerley practiced law with the Okemos firm of White, Schneider, Young & Chiodini, PC, where he engaged in probate and estate planning and general litigation. Prior to joining that firm, Judge Byerley spent ten years at the State Bar of Michigan, where he served as the Ethics Counsel for all lawyers and judges in the state of Michigan.

Judge Byerley also served as County Attorney for Berrien County between 1988 and 1995, and as an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Cass and Berrien Counties between 1979 and 1988 working on a substantial number of juvenile, neglect and probate court cases.

Judge Byerley is a graduate of Western Michigan University and the University of Toledo College of Law. He has published a number of articles and has taught law courses at the University of Notre Dame and Southwestern Michigan College.

He is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, the Ingham County Bar Association and the Eaton County Bar Association. Judge Byerley and his wife, Lisbeth, reside in Dimondale, Michigan. They have four grown children and five grandchildren.

The next probate section meeting will be held on Oct 18 at noon at the State Bar of Michigan.

Published: Mon, Sep 26, 2011

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