Joseph J. Farah is a judge for the 7th Circuit Court in Genesee County, Michigan. He was appointed to...
Judge Joseph J. Farah of Michigan’s 7th Judicial Circuit Court shares how attorneys can prepare a proper motion. In this episode of On Balance from the NEXT Conference 2018, hosts Samantha Meinke and Rob Mathis talk to Judge Joseph J. Farah about lawyers’ motions being too nebulous. Judge Farah, who spoke at the conference, also describes a game he helped create to test judge’s and attorney’s knowledge of the rules of evidence.
Judge Joseph J. Farah serves on Michigan’s 7th Judicial Circuit Court.
State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast
State Bar of Michigan NEXT Conference 2018: The View From The Criminal Bench
Intro: Welcome to State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast, where we talk about practice management and lawyer wellness for a thriving law practice with your hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent, here on Legal Talk Network.
Take it away ladies.
Samantha Meinke: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on the Legal Talk Network. I am Samantha Meinke, sitting in today for JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent.
Today we are coming to you from the State Bar of Michigan’s NEXT Conference in Grand Rapids. You may notice some ambient noise in the background because this is our last podcast that we are doing from this conference and people are literally breaking down all the exhibits around us, so bear with us through this conversation.
Today I am joined by Rob Mathis, who works with me at the State Bar of Michigan.
Robert Mathis: Good afternoon.
Samantha Meinke: Thanks for joining us Rob.
Robert Mathis: My pleasure.
Samantha Meinke: And we are very lucky to have a very special guest this afternoon to round out this podcasting extravaganza, Judge Joseph Farah from the Genesee County Circuit Court.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: That’s correct. Thanks for having me. Nice to be here.
Samantha Meinke: Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and introduce yourself to us properly.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Surely. I practiced law for 18 years before I was appointed to the bench in 1998, have been on the bench since that time. First seven-and-a-half years of my service on the bench was in the family division, handling domestic cases and delinquency cases and child protective cases.
I then was transferred to the civil criminal bench, where I have been since 2005, handling serious criminal cases as well as civil cases were the amount in controversy is over $25,000. I have been doing that for the last 13 years and have been a lecturer for various judicial organizations in two or three different states as well as been an Adjunct Law Professor at Thomas Cooley Law School, where I taught maybe 15 evidence classes.
Samantha Meinke: Wow. So lots of places that our listeners could know you from.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Yes, as well as being on the Board of Law Examiners for 10 years, where I helped write and grade Bar exam questions over that period of time.
Samantha Meinke: Wow.
Robert Mathis: So that was you.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Yeah, that’s right.
Samantha Meinke: Now you know who to blame, listeners.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: That’s right. If you passed, you can congratulate me and if you didn’t, you don’t know me.
Samantha Meinke: So you have joined us at the NEXT Conference because you basically quarterbacked a very special section of sessions that we have had, the Judicial Perspectives Track. Do you want to tell us a little bit about the last session; we have had some other judges come and talk to us about other sessions, but we are curious to know a little bit more about the view from the criminal bench that you talked about in that track.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Well, myself and Judge Pam Lightvoet from Kalamazoo were asked to come in and give perspectives on a variety of topics in the 40 minutes that we were allowed. We did the best we could in spreading out our time on various topics, from handling competency questions, to motions, to experts, to the confrontation clause. It was sort of like a little bit of dabbling in a lot of different departments.
Each one of those could have been for 40 minutes, but instead we gave each one three or four minutes just to give the participants maybe one morsel of information that they could take home with them that would be of use to them.
In other words, it’s like a doggie bag at a restaurant, what can we send home with you that will be of use to you in your next case, your last case or a case you haven’t even encountered yet. So in a presentation, like that it has to be crisp, it has to be short and it has to be understandable so they can benefit from being there and we hope we accomplished that.
Robert Mathis: So what was one of the top tips to take away from that session?
Judge Joseph J. Farah: I thought one of the top tips was how to prepare a proper motion. Too many motions are nebulous in their nature and in their requests and they don’t give the judge enough to go on. So I tried to explain that you have got to give us the tools to decide your way.
If you file a motion to suppress evidence, for example, and you don’t tell us what the real basis is, then we are really at a loss to try to figure out how to analyze your argument.
A case that’s very familiar to all your listeners and most everybody who has even watched Law and Order is Miranda v. Arizona, about Miranda warnings. And many times, for example, we will get a motion that says there has been a violation of my client’s Miranda rights. As I just explained to my law school class on Wednesday, there is five or six ways that Miranda warnings can be violated. It would be a good idea to tell me which one of those five or six you are talking about.
Robert Mathis: That makes sense.
Samantha Meinke: Excellent tip. So judge, in addition to what you have done here today, Rob and I have heard a rumor that you have been involved in creating something to help judges along the lines of a television show.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Yes, we have created a game, it’s an evidence game and it tests the participants in the game’s knowledge after they break into teams. And we do use information that we are able to put into play in the game and we do demand that the participants in the game be able to give us answers as quickly or pretty close to the time they would have in the courtroom to respond to a particular evidentiary question.
The game has been very popular. We have given it across State of Michigan to judges, lawyers, and law school students alike, because let’s face it, if you can present an educational opportunity or an informational opportunity in an enjoyable setting, it’s that much more likely that the participants are going to remember it.
We can all think back to a lot of lessons we had in school, in elementary school, junior high, even high school and we remember a little bit about it. Well, what do you remember better, what you learned there or a song you heard then? Probably the song, you can probably tell me the words of most of the songs that you heard when you were in high school. If someone can start singing, you could sing along with them.
But if somebody comes in and starts talking about the Gettysburg Address, you are good for about five words and you are done. So because how you learned it was not in the most communicative way.
So when we developed this game concerning evidence, a very tough topic for practitioners and judges alike, I thought if we could do this in a more interesting and fun way, it might be better remembered.
Samantha Meinke: Do you find that people make mistakes because you are making them move so quickly through this game and then they learn from those mistakes more quickly than they would otherwise?
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Yes Sam, they definitely learn from it, because after each question and answer, I give an explanation as to why the answer is what it is or why it isn’t what they said it was. So we are definitely not trying to embarrass people, nor just tally up points, there is explanation I would say after about 75% of the questions and answers.
Robert Mathis: Can you give us an example of a question or an answer, I guess?
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Sure. Yes, we would say — for example, we would have a topic, hearsay, if somebody picked a topic called hearsay and they picked a low-level difficulty question, all right. Well, obviously, you are going to get less points for that low level difficulty question.
So for example, if I were to say during a trial there is an objection concerning hearsay when an officer is asked what radio traffic he heard, for example, armed robbery ongoing 123 Main Street? The defense objects claiming that the statement would be hearsay. The prosecutor responds that it’s not being introduced for the truth of its content but rather just to show officer behavior. The judge nevertheless sustains the hearsay objection. Was the judge’s ruling correct or wrong?
And I would say, Sam, you are on the board, what’s your answer, okay? After the answer is given and it’s right, we show the answer and give the explanation. If it’s wrong, we go on to the next table.
Robert Mathis: I am thinking I need to go review my rules of evidence.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Yes, most people want.
Samantha Meinke: You should have done that before sitting down for this podcast today.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Well, the first time we showed it to judges, after an hour and 15 minutes those three teams of judges, 48 judges, three teams tied at 900, so I declared it a tie. And they basically said like hell, it’s a tie, we want one more question, so we had one more question for them.
So it’s a very popular game and I think it’s — so far people still want it so I have already been asked for two more presentations in 2019.
Samantha Meinke: That’s fantastic.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Yeah.
Robert Mathis: So I am really curious, so what happened that made you decide we have got to come up with this game?
Judge Joseph J. Farah: I was at my Inns of Court Meeting and they had a similar game, but it wasn’t just about evidence, it was about a variety of topics; Michigan Constitution, evidence, statutes, different things, Michigan history. And so I took a look at that and I said well, you know, that might be very conducive to an evidence type game.
So I was assigned that project and myself and five other people on my team met five weeks in a row and every week we looked at the questions, tore them down, put them back together, with the rule being they have to be able to be read in 30 seconds and answered within 45.
It sounds like it would be easy, it’s not, because we have to make sure that they were accurate and we had to make sure they were understandable and answerable in the time period allowed.
Samantha Meinke: That’s a lot of work and a lot of vetting.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: It is a lot of vetting.
Samantha Meinke: Fantastic.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Yes Sam, it is.
Samantha Meinke: I am curious, so you do all this education, what motivates you to do this? What’s driving it?
Judge Joseph J. Farah: I feel it’s a wonderful obligation being a veteran judge and before that an experienced lawyer to impart to those who want to learn what little knowledge I might have in these domains, because as a result it improves the practice of law as a whole and it as well improves judicial decision-making in particular.
Rob Mathis: Well, is there anything else you’d like to touch upon?
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Well, I’d like to commend your network for being here because the more that we can take what we do in the courtroom and at seminars like this, out in the public and whether it’s the lawyers that hear it or non-lawyers or paralegals, I think it’s so important for folks like you and to benefit folks like the rest of us to put these things out there in the public so it’s better understood.
I once heard a criticism of the OJ Simpson trial being on TV and how so much fanfare was paid to it, and one of the lawyers said, you know, that may be true but let me ask you this, have you heard more of the citizenry ever talking more frequently about the Fourth Amendment as you are right now, about the whole idea of the glove and where bloodstains were found and was there a warrant? That is what the public display of legal cases, controversies and information do for the public as a whole. They make the public more aware.
So you’re coming here to Grand Rapids and being involved in the interviews of various people, I think to me is very salutary and I commend you for doing so.
Samantha Meinke: Well, thank you so much, Judge Farah, for joining us today.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Sam, my pleasure. All right.
Samantha Meinke: If people want to reach out to you to have you come and bring one of these fabulous educational opportunities to them, can they find you online?
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Yes, they can find me online. I’m in the Michigan Bar Journal, you can find me there.
Samantha Meinke: Are you on Twitter or LinkedIn at this point?
Judge Joseph J. Farah: No, I’m not on any of that, but I’m told if you Google me, my name will come up so that you could do that or just have them call my office and if they would like to involve me in anything that they want to present I’d certainly consider it and be happy to do so if I can.
Samantha Meinke: Fantastic. So you’ve got good Search Engine Optimization, Google, you heard it here, folks.
Judge Joseph J. Farah: Yeah, I think so, that’s right.
Samantha Meinke: All right. Thank you all for joining us here on the Legal Talk Network for another edition of the On Balance Podcast from the State Bar of Michigan.
Rob, thanks for co-hosting with me.
Rob Mathis: My pleasure to be here today.
Samantha Meinke: I’m Samantha Meinke, standing in for JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent.
If you’re interested in finding the podcast, it’s available in the Apple Podcasts app or you can find it online, legaltalknetwork.com.
Until next time, thank you so much for listening.
Outro: Thank you for listening to the State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast, brought to you by the State Bar of Michigan and produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network.
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