Will COVID-19 Compromise Washtenaw County Courts?

COVID-19 has continued to wreak havoc on the criminal justice system in Michigan.  The number of COVID- 19 cases and hospitalizations continue to surge across the State of Michigan, with 6,008 new cases reported on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. With this new surge of cases, it has caused many to consider the hard-hit possibility of a second shutdown. With county court systems all taking different approaches, the impact on Washtenaw County seems extremely significant. With caseloads that continue to grow and a new power structure in place, Washtenaw County is a community that is at the center of the COVID-19 controversy.

The Washtenaw County Circuit Court will experience a great deal of change. Tracy Van den Bergh won the seat that was vacated by the retirement of Judge David Swartz. Van den Bergh brings a wealth of knowledge with her career at the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and a successful career in social work which will add a new layer to the 22nd Circuit Court. Eli Savit is taking over as the new prosecutor at the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Officer and appointed Detroit attorney Victoria Burton-Harris whom was known as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in Michigan and ran a very spirited race against Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. Savit and Burton-Harris have the potential to bring a fresh perspective to Washtenaw County with a “Restorative Justice” platform. While the future looks bright with leaders such as Van den Bergh, Savit and Burton-Harris at the helm, COVID-19 looms large on the immediate future of the county. To gain insight into this issue, we spoke to three of the top lawyers in Washtenaw County to gain their insight.

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is known as one of the top family law attorneys across the state. When asked about the impact of COVID-19 on Washtenaw County, Kelley said, “This is an issue that Judge Van den Bergh and I discussed during her election. There is a concern that judicial economy will be compromised but as litigators, we need to work as a team with our adversaries right now. We have to not only advocate for our clients but we also have to respect the burden on the court during this pandemic.”

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo and one of the top business law attorneys in Washtenaw County. McManus added, “Many of our business clients are in a state of concern. We do not know if we will get shutdown again. Governor Whitmer has expressed her concerns for the safety of everyone across the state and with President-elect Joe Biden prevailing over Donald Trump, we are in the dawn of a new day. The Washtenaw Court system will feel this impact and business owners will need to think outside of the box to stay a step ahead. We have been having regular meetings with our clients to have a plan of action in place.”

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo and  Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates and is known as one of the top criminal lawyers across the State of Michigan.  Amadeo provided his insight when he said, “As lawyers, we need to think of ways to resolve issues. If every case went to trial under normal circumstances, the court system would shut down. Now, more than ever, we need to get creative while fighting for our clients. Eli (Savit) and Victoria (Burton-Harris) are definitely a change that represents justice but we need to realize that these caseloads are not going to stop. It is a great feeling to have leaders in the prosecutor’s office that care more protecting the community as opposed to a conviction rate. It is definitely a positive culture change from what the county has experienced the last 28 years.”

According to figures of November 10, 2020,  the total number of cases among local residents since the pandemic began was up to 6,752, including 5,945 lab-confirmed cases, 807 probable cases and 124 deaths. That’s 323 more cases and two more deaths since Friday’s numbers three days earlier. There is no question this will affect the ability to hold jury trials and live preliminary examinations.

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