Judge brings years of trial experience to court

 By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

For newly-minted Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Alexis Glendening, there are few surprises as she ascends to the bench in a place she has practiced for decades.

“I really feel fortunate that I’m coming to a court where I have thousands of hours of experience,” she says. 

Gov. Rick Snyder recently appointed four new judges to the Wayne County Circuit Court. In addition to Glendening, he selected Thomas C. Cameron of Northville Township, Catherine L. Heise of Plymouth and Edward J. Joseph of Grosse Pointe Park. Glendening  fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Jeanne Stempien.

After law school and her initial practice, Glendening had a detour, but always knew she’d be back in law, even if she wasn’t sure where.

“There was a period of time when I raised my family and was busy with other things, including volunteerism, but I wanted to come back to practicing law. I’ve been back at it for about 20 years,” she says. “Former Judge David Szymanski said to me at the time, ‘You’re made for juvenile court. You’re a perfect fit.’ I came here and at first wondered if I was cut out for it, but it wasn’t long before I really loved it. Same for probate. It really was a perfect fit.” 

Glendening graduated from Michigan State University in 1976 and earned her law degree from Detroit College of Law in 1981.

She has extensive trial experience in juvenile court as both court-appointed and retained in delinquency and child neglect and abuse proceedings. She has also handled post-termination reviews, child custody matters and adoption proceedings.

In probate court, she has served as both retained and court appointed counsel including appointments as guardian ad litem in guardianships and conservator matters, involuntary commitments and mental incompetence hearings.

She has also represented appellants in many appeals to Court of Appeals from juvenile court judgments including interlocutory appeals.

Glendening has been active in community and charitable causes including the Junior League’s Task Force Against Domestic Violence, where she was co-chair. She was also involved in S.O.C. (Services for Older Citizens), which provides transportation for senior citizens, assessment for minor home repair work, as well as “meals on wheels.”

She is a board member of CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) and has also served as a board member of the Juvenile Court Trial Lawyers Association.

Glendening knew that law school was going to be difficult, but admits to some surprise at just how challenging it was.

“Law school toughened me up,” she says. “Academics had come fairly easy to me, and then I got to law school and it was me and the books. I thought, ‘This is serious. This is no more kidding around.’ And I had a sheer fear of failure. That was not an option. I was that kind of person. Today, deciding on a different path wouldn’t be failure, but at that age I felt that way.” 

Glendening credits her family for the solid foundation she received growing up and the encouragement to excel.

“My parents were both of Greek origin and my grandparents were immigrants,” she says. “A real American success story. There’s a lot of Greek tradition in my family and it was a big part of who I am when growing up.”

Part of that success story was a strong expectation of success in the next chapter.

“I grew up with a father where there was no difference in expectations between a son and a daughter,” she says. “My mother also never perceived gender as a limitation. In her mind, women could and should accomplish anything they desired.”

Among her biggest career influences, she cites one close to home and one she usually viewed from more of a distance.

“My husband, (attorney Wallace Glendening), has definitely been an influence,” she says. “I also admired  (current Michigan Supreme Court Justice) Mary Beth Kelly. I was always inspired by how intrepid she was.”

She says her broader influences include Oliver Wendell Holmes, Benjamin Cardozo, and Thurgood Marshall.

Glendening has the highest praise for the staffers at Lincoln Hall of Justice in Detroit where her court resides. 

“The people who work here are very special,” she says. “Everybody knows everybody and, in this kind of work, that’s good. The people who stick with this work do it because they really, really love it. They don’t do it for the glamour.”

She acknowledges that the work of the juvenile court especially can take an emotional toll on those who work there.

“It’s not for everybody,” she says. “You have to savor your successes. Someone, when I first started and was on an emotional case, said, ‘You’ve got to think about it like working in an emergency room. You’re there to do a job and do it the best you can. You can’t allow your emotions into it at the time you’re doing the job.’ I really took it to heart.”

Despite the occasional heartache, Glendening is excited about her new role at the court and loves going to work each day.

“I’m glad that the governor had the confidence that I could serve the constituency and that’s what I want to do,” she says. “I’m so grateful to be here. It’s what I always wanted, but I didn’t know it would ultimately be what I would get.”