Judge Hines honored for commitment

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

If 15th District Court Judge Elizabeth Hines looks just a bit tired on this late afternoon in her chambers overlooking downtown Ann Arbor, it's understandable.

Hines was up past midnight preparing for 36 cases on that day's domestic violence docket.

"The actually hearing doesn't necessarily take that long for a review, but there's the preparation for it - I need to review all the materials, be up to speed, and know exactly what's going on," she said.

That diligence, passion, and concern for every individual standing before her has been recognized by the American Judges Association, which recently established the annual Judge Elizabeth Hines Award honoring judges who've taken innovative steps to reduce domestic violence.

"Judge Hines is known throughout this nation as one of the most committed and effective judicial leaders in the effort to reduce domestic violence," said Kevin Burke, immediate past president of the American Judges Association, in a statement announcing the award. "The award was established in her name because she is a role model for other judges."

Hines was the obvious first winner - to everyone but Hines.

"I was just shocked and honored beyond belief that they created the award and then they gave it to me," she said. "I can't even say it's everything I've ever dreamed of, because frankly, I never dreamed anything like that would ever happen to me in my lifetime."

Hines said she shares the award with many others in Washtenaw County who have also worked hard to address important social issues, creating a safer community in the process.

While she handles both the Domestic Violence Court and Street Outreach Court for those who are homeless or in danger of becoming so, Judge Joe Burke runs the Sobriety Court, and Judge Chris Easthope has started a new special court for veterans.

"These are problem-solving courts," she said. "We don't just process cases. We actually try to get at what's causing this, so they don't come back again. I think we've had really great success."

All cases are important, she said, but domestic violence and drunk driving can lead to serious injury or death. Specialized programs address those, and the underlying conditions that lead to criminal behavior.

According to Judge Joe Burke, Hines is the "best and most hidden treasure our legal community has." He admits he's biased because he's known her since 1982 and considers her a dear friend. But that bias doesn't mean he's wrong, he added.

Hines grew up in Royal Oak and majored in journalism and Spanish at the University of Michigan. The day she was accepted at U-M Law School, she was supposed to start as a full-time reporter at The Royal Oak Tribune, where she'd been working part-time writing engagement notices.

"So I had to go and quit the day I was supposed to start," she said, smiling. "That was traumatic!"

Hines' work in domestic violence goes back more than 25 years.

During the 15 years she worked for former Washtenaw County prosecutor Bill Delhey, Hines was assigned to juvenile court and she represented Delhey on related boards, where she learned a lot about domestic violence and the agencies that helped victims.

Back then, police didn't have the legal authority to arrest the perpetrators.

"They would separate them, and have him walk around the block," she said.

Burke says Hines, as well as Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie and former Washtenaw County Sheriff Ron Schebil, took on domestic violence when it wasn't a popular cause. Law enforcement, judges and lawyers had to be convinced that the way ''spouse abuse'' was being handled was ineffective, and worse, dangerous, he said.

"It's handled like a crime now, instead of some annoyance, which is how it used to be treated in the bad old days--by everybody," he said.

That didn't happen overnight, he said.

"And the reason that people's views and ideas have changed about it is because of people like Libby, who took it seriously years and years ago and came up with systems to deal with it," said Burke.

Three other local judges - Charles Pope, Kirk Tabbey and Dick Conlin--also have domestic violence dockets now.

Hines' domestic violence docket is the model for others across the country, and her teaching and advocacy have convinced judges to treat domestic violence for the serious crime that it is, Burke said. And that's beneficial to everyone, he added, including batterers who get stopped early in the cycle, often in time to receive treatment rather than jail time.

"You rarely see the success stories because your success is that there's no violence," he said. "It doesn't get reported to anybody. It's just a beautiful by-product of what's going on. The failures are horrific, but much fewer than there used to be because they're being taking seriously."

Hines came up with the idea of the Street Outreach Court at a Rotary Club when she learned about the national Blueprint to End Homelessness in 10 years, investigated a court for the homeless in San Diego, and helped start a similar one here with huge community input.

That court, too, has been well received by all involved.

"If someone is really trying to get on his or her feet and off the street, then in this court we can remove legal barriers to treatment, housing, benefits and jobs," she said. "It's a really great project that involves prosecuting officials, defense attorneys, many, many agencies in the community."

Hines said she likes district court because she says it's something like the emergency room of the court system.

"All criminal cases start with us," she said.

As a relatively new judge, Burke said he's learned from Hines that treating everyone with respect is the answer to everything.

"She allows everybody an opportunity to tell her what it is they have to tell her," he said. "And she really listens. She doesn't just pretend to listen. And then she answers. It's not always the answer they want to hear, but it's delivered politely, sometimes firmly. But nobody leaves thinking they were denied an opportunity to speak."

"If I have anything to offer, I hope it's that people feel more comfortable and not afraid when they come to court," she said. "We all see hundreds of people each week, and many of them don't have attorneys. I just want to make sure they understand what's going on and have a fair shot, no matter what the situation is. "

She said she loves her job except for one thing.

"The only creepy part of the job is that people don't even know what to call you," said Hines. "I tell everyone and always have, 'Call me Libby.' Except in court, because that's formal. But otherwise, it's Libby."

Published: Thu, Dec 20, 2012

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