Genesee Circuit judge to be honored for 'Girls' Court'

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Genesee Circuit Judge David J. Newblatt will be honored in October with the Philip A. Hart Award.

LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY PAUL JANCZEWSKI

by Paul Janczewski
Legal News

Genesee Circuit Judge David J. Newblatt began to hear more and more about commercially sexual exploitation of children from his law clerk, Lori Johnson, a former nurse who decided to go to law school specifically because of that issue.

Her interest in curbing exploitation intrigued Newblatt, especially because the victims in human trafficking display tendencies that he would often see in his family division cases.

So Newblatt attacked the issue with passion and determination. That fervor resulted in the formation of Michigan’s first “Girls’ Court,” where at-risk females are given a chance to break out of the cycle of tendencies that could, in some cases, lead them into the world of human trafficking.

And for those efforts, Newblatt will be honored with a crystal award named after the late U.S. Senator Philip A. Hart at the 2015 Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame Awards dinner and induction ceremony on October 29 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing.

“It was a tremendous honor when I learned I was getting this award,” Newblatt said. “To be recognized that way is very meaningful to me.”

Newblatt was aware of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, and knew of the Hart Award, and some of the honorees who have won it in the past.

“It was humbling, and overwhelming,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing stuff to be in that society of past honorees.”

According to Emily Fijol, executive director of the organization, the Hall of Fame grew out of the Michigan Women’s Studies Association (MWSA), an academic professional organization founded in 1973 on the Michigan State University campus to change what was taught and thought about women in schools, colleges, and universities. As a result, the MWSA established a museum dedicated to women’s history.
The Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame was opened in 1987 on June 10, the anniversary of Michigan's ratification of the Women's Suffrage Amendment. Past honorees include former Lieutenant Governor Connie Binsfeld, Grace Lee Boggs, Betty Ford, Aretha Franklin, Gwen Frostic, former Governor Jennifer Granholm, Rosa Parks, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Helen Thomas, Lily Tomlin, and Mother Waddles.

Fijol said this year’s class will bring the number of women in the hall to 298, each of whom were born in Michigan, lived most of their lives here, or made a major contribution in the state. She said the Hart award is given each year to a man “who has done something through their career or in past years that supports women’s issues, concerns, or contributes to women’s rights.”

“Senator Hart was a University of Michigan Law School graduate, a U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, and a gubernatorial legal adviser, as well as a two-time lieutenant governor, who was always very conscientious of women’s rights and issues, justice for women, and a great supporter of our organization,” Fijol said.

Hart was the inaugural posthumous honoree in 1983, and other notable winners were Gov. William G. Milliken, Michael Ilitch, Judge Harold Hood, Dennis W. Archer, Chief Justice Conrad L. Mallett, Jr., Lloyd H. Carr, Bill Laimbeer, Daniel Krichbaum, and Daniel Mulhern.

“We were very excited about Judge Newblatt’s creation of Girls’ Court,” Fijol said. “His idea to provide services for at-risk girls in a juvenile delinquency program
and build them up and give them tools so they do not become victims of human trafficking or other negative outcomes is really appreciated, and we wanted to recognize the amazing work he’s doing on behalf of our girls.”

Newblatt, 49, was born to help. His father, Stewart, was a Genesee County Circuit Court judge before being appointed to the federal bench as a U.S. District Court judge for the Eastern District, presiding in Flint. His uncle, Harry Newblatt, was a Flushing District Court judge. And his mother was a long-time Flint attorney. Practicing law “was something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I’ve been exposed to law since birth.”

He graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor of general studies in 1988, and went to Wayne State University Law School, graduating in 1991. Newblatt worked for several litigation firms as well as for the United Auto Workers-General Motors Legal Services.

In June of 1996, Newblatt joined the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office.

“It was the perfect mix of what I loved to do, which was public service, and trying cases,” he said.

Along the way, Newblatt learned more and more about the law and the proper way to practice it, from observing other prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. But then, Newblatt decided to do what he always sought out to do – follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a judge.

“Being in the Prosecutor’s Office was great preparation,” Newblatt said. “You’re motivated by the law, and by what’s the right thing to do. You learn instinctively what to do, and those skills become second nature.”

He was appointed to the bench by Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2004, and re-elected in 2010. One of Newblatt’s duties was overseeing the Infant and Toddler Treatment Court, also known as the “Baby Court,” which was established by Judge Robert E. Weiss. That court is a specialty treatment institution that provides infant mental health, other wraparound services, and intensive judicial review to families with children ages 1-3, with a goal of reuniting families.

That court has been a success story for years. Newblatt said the national reunification rate is 26 percent, while the Baby Court in Genesee County boasts an 80 percent success rate.

“In public policy land, it’s like hitting 10 grand slam home runs in a row,” Newblatt said. “We’re doing something right, because our Baby Court has become the state’s model program.”

Genesee County, because of its population, socio-economic conditions, and location to transportation hubs, has become “very forward-leaning and groundbreaking” in terms of specialty courts. In all, there about 11 specialized treatment courts. That led him to form the Girls’ Court earlier this year, the state’s first and only specialty treatment court that provides gender-specific and trauma informed treatment and holistic services to at-risk girls in the juvenile justice system.

“We’ve seen girls who are vulnerable, and we’re trying to prevent them from being victimized,” Newblatt said. “We do have girls who have actually been trafficked.”

The court relies on a number of other community partners to help these girls, including the University of Michigan-Flint Women’s Education Center, the YWCA, Wedgewood Christian Services, the Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force, the Community Foundation, the Hagerman Foundation, Genesee Health System, Flint Schools, and the Department of Human Services among others,

“We have a team of so many dedicated people in Girls’ Court,” he said.

Now, the court can only take on about 12 girls, ages 14 to 17, in each session. And since it’s so new, concrete results are not available.

“We only have some anecdotal results, and some have thrived, but I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far,” Newblatt said. “I think we are making a difference in these girls’ lives, I see changes in them, growth, they are engaging in therapy, they are banding together and doing a lot of positive things, and supporting each other.

“And it’s not going to be an immediate change, and it takes time. But over time, we’re going to help these girls achieve functionality, and empower them,” Newblatt said.

The girls in this specialty court are seen every month and placed in individualized programs. They are mentored, see therapists, and given opportunities to experience different opportunities, such as museums or other community field trips designed to broaden their horizons.

“If they embrace those connections, hang in there, engage in all this, they will see the improvements they make, and once they see and feel all that, it becomes something they want to continue,” Newblatt said.

“I see a lot of grief and sadness, but I really enjoy the ability that I get to make it better,” he said. “My role is a positive one, and it gives me a lot of energy and strength to do the work because I feel as if I’m making a difference, and helping someone.”

 

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