Washtenaw County's newest judge will focus on 'phenomenal' specialty courts

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

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

A University of Michigan alumna, Frushour 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, first volunteering at a nursing home when she was only 14.
Frushour also has 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. In addition, the Michigan Supreme Court appointed her 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 regularly in the treatment courts through the Washtenaw County Trial Court (the 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 by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to the 14A District Court seat last December to replace Judge Richard Conlin, who retired a year ahead of schedule. Frushour already had declared her candidacy for Conlin’s seat since he could not have sought re-election this fall due to age limits.

District Court 14A covers all of Washtenaw County except Ann Arbor (which is the 15th) and the Township of Ypsilanti (which is 14B).

The 14A Court has four locations, including Pittsfield Township, Chelsea, Saline, and Ypsilanti. Frushour, who lives in Pittsfield Township with her husband Casey and their two sons, will split time between the Chelsea and the Pittsfield Township court facilities.

Frushour’s 2019 appointment came after she applied to the governor’s office and went through a series of in-person interviews.

“It was very intense,” she says. “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. But it was fine, because everyone was very courteous and respectful.”

This November, less than a year after taking the bench, Frushour will have to run for the seat she now occupies. But campaigning may be less onerous for her than for others, because she has participated in a number of political campaigns including a staff position in Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s first run for that position (in 2009-2010). Benson was Frushour’s law professor at Wayne State.

Frushour also volunteered in the campaigns of Jason Morgan (who is now the chair of the Washtenaw County Commission) and Leigh Greden (who was an Ann Arbor City Commissioner, but lost his re-election bid).

Morgan, Greden, and others from the local political community, including State Rep. Yousef Rabhi and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, participated in her investiture on Jan. 31. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack performed the swearing in, while Judge Conlin and Frushour’s two sons had ceremonial roles.

Commission Chair Morgan, who met Frushour during the 2009 Benson campaign, has high regard for the new judge.

“I’ve known Anna for a long time and I was a huge supporter when she first spoke about running for judge,” says Morgan. “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,” Morgan notes. “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.”

What Morgan references is that Frushour was born in Poland and had to learn a whole new way of life when her family came here.

“My parents escaped Poland right before it went under martial law, in the 1980s,” Frushour explains, noting that her 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.

Frushour’s father was working in the automotive field when the family moved to Scio Township in 1995.

After graduating from Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor, Frushour went to the University of Michigan, majoring in communications and political science. She earned her juris doctor from Wayne State University Law School.

It was after working on the Jocelyn Benson campaign that Frushour started a solo practice in January of 2011, later joining forces with attorney 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.”

In that role, where she handled misdemeanors for the City of Ann Arbor, Frushour became more and more involved with the various specialty courts in Washtenaw County – the Sobriety Court, Veterans’ Treatment Court, Mental Health Court, and Street Outreach Court. In the process of that work, she developed a passion for that approach to 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 that her fellow judges, including Conlin, have been “amazing” mentors, filling in because the official training for new judges only takes place following 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.

Frushour, in turn, believes that the cause of justice can be best advanced 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,” Frushour says. “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,” she says.




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