New 32A District Court judge adjusts to life on the bench in Harper Woods

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published March 21, 2021



HARPER WOODS — The responsibilities of being a judge can be intimidating, but Rebekah Coleman says she is adjusting to her new role as judge of the 32A District Court in Harper Woods.

Having been elected to the bench in November, Coleman was sworn in Jan. 1 for a seven-year term. After more than three months of administering the court and rendering decisions, she said she is settling into the position.

“There is always a little bit of a shock coming into it and meeting new people,” she explained. “I’m used to asking for certain decisions being made, and I am now making those decisions. It’s a constant learning experience. Laws are always changing. It’s been really great and I am really enjoying it.”

Her hope was to effect change on a wider level, and she believes that sitting as a judge will be a way to do that.

“I was in private practice. I did a wide range of things to see what I really liked,” she said. “I did mostly criminal defense work, probate work and finance work. What I really enjoyed was criminal law and probate law. That led me to seeking a judge position.”

Coleman comes from a family deeply rooted in the law and is a second-generation judge.

“I am a 36th District Court judge in Detroit,” said her father, Donald Coleman. “Being a judge for 29 years and being in the practice of law for 25 years, there’s a lot of respect for the law and the rigor and the study for the process of maintaining the law. This includes things like wisdom and empathy. To see my daughter having grown to serve people in that way makes me very proud. … (32A District Court) is the first court I ever handled a case in, so now to see my daughter as a judge there is incredible.”

“Growing up in a household with a judge, I knew I wanted to do it from a young age,” Rebekah Coleman said. “This was a city where I saw there needed change, so I wanted to run here.”

Rebekah Coleman even had the rare honor of being sworn in by her father.

“I am extremely proud,” said Donald Coleman. “She is my firstborn, so it has been incredible to see her journey and see her diligence pay off and her maturity and growth. Her mother was the first lawyer in the family, and I married her when I was still in law school. Her mother passed away several years ago, but to see our daughter practice law and then become a judge has been phenomenal.”

He went on to say that he is impressed but in no way surprised that his daughter has achieved this accomplishment.

“A commitment to public service is a trademark of our family. She stepped into this role for all the right reasons. I got to swear her in, and it has been a time of enormous excitement and celebration,” he said. “She’s always been a hard worker from elementary school to grad school. She was a nose to the grindstone kind of kid. … She’s the first African American and first woman to hold this judge position. That’s very significant.”

Rebekah Coleman said now that she is done settling in, her hope is to begin progress on new measures and innovations in the court.

“I definitely had multiple programs I wanted to start,” she said. “I have been using the first 90 days to get to know the office and know the people, but I have been exploring options. This includes more treatment programs such as sobriety programs, literacy programs, and getting additional local community service resources for people on probation in Harper Woods.”

She added that taking up her new duties in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, but so far she and the rest of the court have been able to make it work.

“Just being able to adjust to COVID and doing things over Zoom (was difficult),” she said. “I came in when we were in the middle of the pandemic, so making sure people have what they need while in a virtual setting and making sure it’s not slowing things down has been challenging.”

Rebekah Coleman said she is very happy that voters had confidence in her and is hoping she will be able to pay them back with hard work and diligence.

“I really feel like I’ve been able to help some people and make sure they are heard. I’ve been able to give people what they needed,” she said. “I thank everyone for their support and belief in me. I look forward to bringing resources to the community and being a beacon of change to the city, with the city’s help.”