Tanya Todd begins position as clerk for the 61st District Court

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE 

by Cynthia Price

Legal News
 
“I feel like I haven’t had a set plan for my career, but all of my decisions keep leading me to the right place,” says Tanya Todd, the new 61st District Court Clerk.

Todd, who was sworn in Sept. 23 by District Court Judge Jeanine Nemesi LaVille, certainly feels that this position, in this court, is the right place for her right now.

And the Court Administrator, Gary Secor, agrees. Calling Todd “very bright, well-spoken and professional,” he adds, “ I think she will have a very promising and successful future at the 61st District Court.”

It is true that Todd did not take a straight route to her new position. After growing up in Warren and graduating from Cousino High School, she attended Michigan State University and received her B.A. in Political Science.

“I like school and so when I got my bachelor’s it made sense for me to keep going,” she says. “I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, even though I definitely considered law as one of my options.. So I chose to do my master’s in communication because that’s a subject that can benefit anything you do.”
 
She very much liked the field and even now loves to talk about language and gender disparities, which was the subject of  her master’s thesis, again at Michigan State. “I wrote about whether small gender discrepancies in modern language — like saying ‘you guys’ instead of ‘you girls’ — made a difference. Some would argue that that’s small potatoes, with all the challenges women have faced, but others would say that if the very foundation of learning and communication is gender-biased, that has larger implications,” Todd says.

After taking a year off, Todd decided not to go in the direction her thesis might have taken her and pursue a doctorate in linguistics and interpersonal communication. “Practically speaking I thought a law degree would be more beneficial,” she admits.

A Spartan all the way, she attended the MSU?College of Law while working as a hotel front office manager, which gave her valuable experience in hiring, supervising and evaluating personnel.

She was lucky enough to secure an internship clerking for 17th Circuit Court Judge Daniel Zemaitis just as he took office in 2003, after having served as a multi-District Court Magistrate.

Says Todd about Judge Zemaitis, “I have so much warmth in my heart for him. He was so fair and dedicated and hard-working — I’m not sure, but I still think he’s the first one who comes in in the morning and the last one to leave. It was my first introduction to the courts and it was hugely beneficial. He’s a stand-out citizen, great judge, and great person.”

Barrix Law Firm was Todd’s next stop on the career path, though she worked for Jason Barrix as an independent contractor.  Her focus was on divorce and criminal defense cases.

“I will say, with Jason it was great because he threw me right in,” Todd commented, laughing. “I think that was a great way to learn.”

She has been surprised, she says, at the number of people in the court system she has met recently who remember her from that time.

Todd’s next position, very similar to her current one, was with the Kent County Friend of the Court. She was first a casework manager, and then, starting in 2010, casework supervisor.

There she performed a number of duties  similar to those of a district court clerk. She developed workflow efficiencies, supervised and evaluated personnel, and created materials and training programs to ensure her staff of ten had all the tools needed.

During Todd’s tenure, in one year she increased the number of child support reviews completed over 300%, reducing the number of days needed to complete a review by 50%.

She served on statewide initiatives, such as the 2012 Michigan Child Support Formula committee and the Joint Application Design committee for statewide database improvements, as well as regularly presenting to the Grand Rapids Bar Association Family Law Section. She also supervised a grant program intended to help non-custodial parents out of poverty.

Though she also argued motions in front of judges on Friend of the Court issues and worked directly with clients, Todd’s main work concentrated in improving efficiency, monitoring performance, and in building relationships with and between Friend of the Court?employees.

The latter, she says, will be a big focus for her at the 61st District Court. “It takes a lot of motivation to keep people engaged in their jobs. I want people to come to work feeling like it’s a good place to go,” she states. Todd feels strongly that efficiency gains rely on such team-building, since employees with high morale are more likely to strive for excellence.

“And then the other prong is helping Gary out with whatever he needs to do,” Todd says, adding that she is really looking forward to the variety in that aspect of the job.

Does she think that being an attorney will be helpful? Absolutely, if the past is any indication. “One thing is in understanding where to look and how to read court rules and statutes, exactly what can be done, what paperwork is necessary, what the courts can and can’t decide,” Todd says. “If someone is arguing a point, I just grab my rule book, and I’m usually able to see what the lawyers who wrote the rules were intending to do – ‘may’ rather than ‘shall,’ as
just one example.

“Sometimes I just go through and write out a rule in my own words, which clarifies it for me and for others,” she adds.