The 47th District Court, now located at 31605 W. 11 Mile Road, moved to the then-newly built courthouse on West 11 Mile Road in 2003.

The 47th District Court, now located at 31605 W. 11 Mile Road, moved to the then-newly built courthouse on West 11 Mile Road in 2003.

Photo by Deb Jacques


District court celebrates 50 years serving Farmington, Hills

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published June 5, 2018

 Frederick L. Harris is one of five judges to have served the 47th District Court in its 50-year history.

Frederick L. Harris is one of five judges to have served the 47th District Court in its 50-year history.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — The 47th District Court is now in session, and it has been for five decades, serving the cities of Farmington and Farmington Hills.

The 47th District Court, now located at 31605 W. 11 Mile Road, opened in 1968, utilizing Farmington City Council chambers to operate. In 1979, the court moved to a spot on 10 Mile Road, east of Farmington Road. 

In July 2003, the court outgrew the 13,000-square-foot 10 Mile Road facility, a former school building, and moved to the then-newly built courthouse on West 11 Mile Road.

“(We) expect this building will be in use 50 years from now,” longtime Court Administrator Dave Walsh said of the over 40,000-square-foot courthouse. “The district court has changed alone in my 22 years.”

He said that in the court’s 50-year-history, there have been only a handful of judges.

“Five judges in 50 years — that is pretty amazing,” he said, noting that that the record of longevity is kind of unique in comparison to the other nearly 100 district courts in the state.

Michigan’s district court system was created in 1968, according to the state’s court website, courts.mi.gov. 

According to the website, the effective date was June 17, 1968, and most courts began their operations on Jan. 1, 1969. 

District courts are known as “the people’s court” because the public has more contact with district court than with any other court in the state, and because many people go to district court without an attorney, the website states. 

Walsh said that, unlike other courts that were created by the Michigan Constitution, district courts are statutorily based. 

“At the same time, the (Michigan) Constitution gives authority to (the state) Legislature to create other courts as they saw fit,” Walsh said.

He said that before district courts, there was a municipal court system, and before that, a justice of the peace system presided in many local communities.

Walsh said that there are still a few municipal courts, all of them located in the Grosse Pointe area in Wayne County, and they have more limited jurisdictions than district courts.

Walsh said that federal law now dictates that all judges must be attorneys.

“So at that point, the justice of the peace system sort of went out of play because not all (of them) were all attorneys,” he said. “They just created a more structured process for handling the limited jurisdiction cases that the district court was designed to handle.”

The 47th District Court has jurisdiction over cases in Farmington and Farmington Hills, including felonies through preliminary examinations, misdemeanors, traffic and zoning infractions, general civil lawsuits up to $25,000, landlord-tenant disputes and small claims lawsuits.

Two judges, Judge James Brady and Judge Marla Parker, serve at the 47th District Court.

Brady, elected in November 2002, said that he sees the future of the courts as including a regional consolidation because different district courts face different issues.

“We find some courts not busy, as others are far busier,” he said. A regional consolidation would not surprise him as a way to better serve the public and to save tax dollars.

Walsh said that he doesn’t see a consolidation happening anytime soon, but it could be a logical move over the next 50 years.

Brady said that he has worked at the court in a couple of different capacities, including as a state prosecutor in the early 1980s and as a part-time magistrate until 2002.

“The most important thing for people to get out of district court … is (it is) the people’s court,” he said. “When most citizens in Farmington-Farmington Hills are going to go to court … chances are they are going to go to district court.”

He added that whether they win or lose their court case, he hopes they walk away feeling like they were heard.

“We’re here to serve the public — it’s their court,” Brady said.

The court takes part in a number of community outreach programs, including a sobriety court run by Parker. The mission of the sobriety court is to protect society and to reduce crime by targeting substance abuse through intervention, treatment and accountability.

Under strict court supervision, eligible participants in the 24-month, four-phase sobriety court program must comply with court-ordered requirements, including substance abuse treatment, alcohol and drug testing, and education and life skills development, according to www.fhgov.com. The program also aims to prevent substance use through a strictly enforced drug/alcohol testing regimen for participants. The Community Work Program, initiated in 1986 between the court and the Farmington Hills Police Department, offers a sentencing alternative to jail. 

The court also participated in mock trials for 20 years, which allowed elementary school students to learn about courtroom operations.

Brady said that while the most memorable cases are usually very serious, there are some cases he cherishes.  

One involved a woman who had a severe alcohol problem, and she was jailed after failing probation. Months after her sentencing, she came across Brady at a school event his daughter was attending.

“I saw the woman coming across the auditorium, (and) I thought ... this can’t be good,” he said, adding that the woman ended up thanking him because she had turned her life around. 

“(She) said (her sentencing was the) best thing that ever happened to her.”

Another time, a man went up to Brady at a gas station and, in colorful terms, declared him the best judge.

“Evidently, I must have positively touched his life in some respect,” Brady said.

Walsh said that Parker — the longest-serving judge in the 47th District Court, elected in 1993 — also helps others through the sobriety court.

“Obviously, those are the kinds of things that fill you with positive purpose and make you feel good about ... what we do here in the district court and how we influence people in the community,” he said.

Parker said that one of the most exciting things about the 47th District Court is its evolving nature.

“There are always different implications, and I can see so many changes coming for the future,” she said. “For example, cases like drunk driving and driving with a license suspended — well, when your car drives for you in the future, will we have such a thing as drunk driving cases?”

She said that while change is the new norm, some things remain the same.

 “Things are always changing, even though our values and the (U.S.) Constitution remains the same,” she said. 

For more information, go to www.courts.mi.gov/mdja50.

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