In transition-Former judge enjoys new role as mediator

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

During two decades as a judge, Paula Manderfield would listen to attorneys argue before her in court and often think to herself, "I could settle this case."

The reality is that judges don't have time to stop what they are doing and spend long periods of time trying to resolve one case. But since retiring from the bench at the end of 2012, Manderfield is now developing a civil and divorce mediation practice as a shareholder in the Lansing office of Fraser Trebilcock.

Manderfield, who has taken the 40-hour training as a mediator and observed several mediations, is enjoying her new position.

"I'm learning from the best," she said.

Studies have shown facilitative mediation resolves more that 70 percent of all cases, whereas case evaluation resolves a much lower number.

"More and more cases are being resolved through the use of alternatives to dispute resolution," she says. "Facilitative mediation--helping litigants arrive at a resolution without trial--literally keeps the court dockets moving and costs less than going to trial. And with mediation, parties can be creative in their resolution in ways a court or jury cannot."

Manderfield's background in nursing has always been invaluable, since so many cases involve medical issues, or medical records are an exhibit or there are medical experts testifying.

She became interested in the law after nursing school lectures on legal implications of nursing.

"While in (Cooley)law school, friends would say 'you have to do medical malpractice law' but I wasn't interested in suing doctors and hospitals," she says.

After working for two small firms, she opened her own law practice sharing office space with other lawyers. Several years later, Manderfield set her sights on becoming a judge believing this was how she could best serve the cause of justice. Running for circuit court the first time, she came in third out of six candidates in the primary election.

"I had worked very hard campaigning and beat a sitting district judge who also ran, so it was suggested to me that I run for district court in two years which I did and won," she says. "District court is truly the people's court because of the sheer volume of people who come in. That's where I learned how to make decisions and manage a docket. I brought that experience to circuit court with me."

After eight years as a 54-A District Court judge--and two years as chief judge, Manderfield was recruited by several lawyers to run for circuit court.

"After agreeing, I had many sleepless nights wondering what in the world I was doing," she says. "I had 10-month old twins and a 3-year-old and was running against two long-term incumbent circuit judges! By filing time, others had jumped into the race. I ran scared the entire time, which means my family and I worked night and day campaigning. We pushed the kids in strollers in the parades."

Despite her qualms, Manderfield easily came in first in the primary and also in the general election. After serving 2 years in the family division of circuit court handling a very heavy docket, she moved to the general trial division handling felonies, general civil, and court of claims cases until she retired.

"After 20 years on the bench I've handled just about all types of cases, some obviously more memorable than others," she said.

The murder trial of the adoptive parents of Ricky Holland landed her in the spotlight. The parents had reported the boy missing, and after a nearly 6-month search of southern Ingham County, his remains were found in a garbage bag along a roadside.

"It was notorious because of the media attention leading up to the discovery of the death but also the fact that the parents were charged with his murder after they adopted him," Manderfield says.

All pre-trial proceedings and the mother's trial (the father pleaded guilty) were intensely covered by statewide newspapers, television and radio.

Manderfield lives in East Lansing with her husband, David Gilstrap, who teaches turfgrass at MSU "and who painstakingly cares for our lawn," she says with a smile.

The couple have three children, including 14-year-old twins and a 15-year-old.

Published: Mon, Jun 17, 2013

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