Recently, Eaton County District court Judge Julie O’Neill sat for a Q&A to discuss her journey of becoming a District court Judge.
Judge O’Neil expounded upon her inspiration for wanting to become a judge and how it was not the path she expected herself to go down.
Judge O’Neil also spoke about her personal experiences growing up on a farm and also shared how she balances her emotions in the courtroom.
Spartan Newsroom reporter Anthony Brinsonn III spoke more with Judge O’Neil
Anthony Brinson III: What inspired you to pursue the judicial system and become a judge? Was it always something you wanted to do?
Judge O’Neil: “Well, that’s a big question. I graduated from Michigan State
“So… I started going to Law School at nights, on the weekends and around this time I also had my first two children
“I practiced throughout the state of Michigan and the last seven years of my practice I was on the Federal Public defender panel, so I was doing work in the federal courts, going to Grand Rapids as well. So, I had pretty good practice on a state and federal level.”
Anthony Brinson III: What was your reaction to finding out the Judge before you (Judge “Hoffman”) was stepping down after what she said was 24 or 25 years?
Judge O’Neil: “When that news came out, myself and a whole bunch of other attorneys were like, ‘what? Oh my gosh, what does this mean?’ He announced his retirement kind of last minute and I couldn’t have imagined him not being in that seat.”
“After that, we all started talking about who was going to run for the position and what was going to happen. Myself and another attorney were talking about it and he was thinking about running and I was going to support him. After talking to his wife and family, he decided not to run and he suggested I run for it. That was honestly the first time I had thought about it.”
Anthony Brinson III: You also mentioned you didn’t initially want to be a judge when you were growing up and you also lived on a farm with your dad when you were younger?
Judge O’Neil: “I never saw myself being a Judge. In fact, when I was young, I grew up on my dad’s farm and my dad was an attorney but I thought he was just a farmer. Once I figured that out, I still didn’t want to do what he did; he tried to fix problems before they happened, I wanted to fix problems before they happened.”
Anthony Brinson III : How do you balance expressing your emotions when dealing with a case?
Judge O’Neil: “Whatever I am thinking, I try to be as honest and transparent as possible and I tell people that all the time. ‘I’m concerned about you, I don’t think you’re listening, this is what I think is really going on’- whatever I’m thinking, I try to be honest with them.”
“But there is a fine line where you have to gauge yourself and make sure whatever you think doesn’t legally affect your decision.”
Anthony Brinson III: Could you talk about the time where you were “taken aback” by a person’s “behavior and disregard for people in general? ”
Judge O’Neil: “She was heinous, hid her crime, lied about it and showed a complete lack of understanding of how she affected so many people with her actions. All these things added up and led to me telling her: ‘this is my seventh sitting on the bench and never have I ever told another individual that I wished I could give you more time that is allowed by law; that is how I’m feeling right now.’
Judge O’Neil: “I wish I could give you more time than the 365 that’s legally given to me. So I’m giving you the whole 365 and I hope during that time frame, you think about ABCD, whatever. And I had a case after that, but you have to know yourself to know you can’t make decisions just based on emotion. So I took a minute to make sure all of that was gone before the next case.”