Kent County's Judge Murkowski takes helm of state probate judge association


Chief Probate Court Judge David M. Murkowski


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Kent County Probate Court Chief Judge David M. Murkowski has taken on the task of leading a successful organization critical to the well-being of the probate judiciary — one that has no permanent paid staff.

As of the July 2016 annual meeting of the Michigan Probate Judges Association (MPJA), Judge Murkowski has succeeded to the presidency.

This may mean as many as ten hours of extra work a week, or even more depending on circumstances, but it is a burden Judge Murkowski willing shoulders.

“There’s no real way of knowing how much time it will take, but I asked that question of many past presidents. They told me it was pretty substantial, maybe five to ten hours per week And I’m happy to do that. I’m honored to serve the group.

“Many years ago we did have staffing, but I would now say that the burden falls on the executive committee itself, and on my staff while I’m president,” he continues. “But there’s no better collection of men and women, no one more dedicated to the promotion of justice than these individuals who are members on the executive committee. They volunteer a tremendous amount of time to do the right thing.”

Deeply involved on that 17-member executive committee for a long time, Judge Murkowski now joins an impressive group of probate judges who have served as president. The Immediate Past President is Judge  Robert J. Butts of Cheboygan County.

The voluntary association enjoys almost 100 per cent membership among eligible judges, which puts it in the vicinity of 100 members.

The MPJA is one of three judges’ associations sanctioned by the Michigan Supreme Court, the other two being the Michigan District Judges Association and the Michigan Judges Association, which includes the circuit court and court of appeals judiciary.

Judge Murkowski says the MPJA’s purpose is to  promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law, and the dignity and integrity of the judiciary, as well as to serve the needs of MPJA member judges and the legal community.

“We have a great focus on education, and work diligently to share ideas and education among our members, including a Listserv for information exchange, and our annual conference,” Judge Murkowski says. “We think that educational effort serves both our members and the general public through making better judges.”

In addition to ongoing seminars throughout the year, the MPJA sponsors an annual conference in conjunction with the Michigan Judicial Institute (MJI), the Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE), and the State Court Administrative Office.

In keeping with a long tradition of the MPJA, Judge Murkowski chooses the site for the summer conference. “I’ll be fully responsible for the conference, which will take place in Grand Rapids in June 2017,” he says.

The conference, which he says is attended by 70-80 percent of the members, includes business matters, updates and items of topical interest to probate judges and the judicial community as a whole.

“In my humble opinion, this is the best educational conference for judges put on in Michigan,” Murkowski says. “We’ll have national speakers and state speakers so that the topics of interest to our membership are well-covered.”

Judge Murkowski has served the probate court in Kent County for ten years, after being appointed in 2006 to fill the seat of retiring judge Janet Haynes. He became Chief Judge of the Probate Court on Jan. 1, 2008.

Originally from Milwaukee, Murkowski attended Marquette University there, graduated cum laude and won the Outstanding student Service Award. He was also inducted into the National Jesuit Honor Society (Marquette is a Jesuit university).

From there he received his J.D. from Thomas M. Cooley Law School (Now Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School), from which he was an honor roll graduate. Judge Murkowski then did a clerkship with the Michigan House of Repre-

sentatives Civil Rights Committee, worked as a solo practitioner, and, in 1993, joined Dilley and Dilley, focusing on criminal defense, juvenile neglect and delinquency, and probate law. He served as managing partner of Dilley, Dilley, Murkowski and Goller until his appointment.

In addition to his lengthy service on the MPJA executive committee, Judge Murkowski has been on the Judicial Council of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM), and as MPJA President he will continue to have a seat. He also was on the council of SBM’s Probate and Estate Planning Section and a member of the Executive Committee of the Kent County Family and Children's Coordinating Council.

He enjoys lecturing on both probate-specific topics and on legal and judicial history, and has done so both locally for the Grand Rapids Bar Association, and statewide for the MJI, ICLE’s Probate and Estate Planning Institute, and the MPJA. He has also been a contributor to official publications and handbooks, and assisted in drafting the Michigan Trust Code.

His honors are many, and include receiving the 2014 Judicial Contri-butions in Law and Aging Award from Elder Law of Michigan, election as a Fellow of the Michigan State Bar Foundation, and being named a 2015 Leader in the Law.

Judge Murkowski notes that the county’s probate caseload has increased greatly over recent years. “In particular in the area of commitment to mental institutions, there has been explosive growth in the docket, 29% from 2008-2014 in that area. The available beds in Kent County have probably doubled since I took the bench, which results in an increase in hearings on involuntary mental commitment. In Kent County we receive over 2,000

filings a year just for that alone,” he explains.

That has resulted in the addition of a judge, the position which Deborah McNabb won in the November election. “She will certainly get a lot of the standard training, but she has proudly served as a referee for 25 years. So there is no doubt that Judge-Elect McNabb can hit the ground running, and that will be a tremendous benefit to her, as well as to the other judges,” Murkowski comments.

Judge Murkowski himself looks forward with exictement to his year as MPJA president, which he adds will be eased through the support of his excellent staff.

“I couldn’t be more proud to be a member of the organization. We are vibrant, active, and engaged,” he says.