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June 14, 1991 - Image 39

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-06-14

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


Breaking in the Bench

New Circuit Judge Deborah Tyner believes
in being decisive, fair and compassionate.


Assistant Editor


ounsel for the defense
is a stocky, bearded
man whose questions
sting like accusations.
"You say you didn't tell
him about the telegram, Mr.
Smith? Are you absolutely
sure you didn't tell him?"
The prosecutor is a woman
— petite, young, with long
dark hair. Beside her at all
times is a yellow legal pad
onto which she scrawls
A jury is on the right, a
diagram of the crime scenels
on the left, and in the center
of the courtroom is the judge,
Deborah Tyner.
It is a typical Monday in
Judge Tyner's courtroom.
There are no screaming
lawyers, no melodrama, no
shocking evidence to make
the jury gasp. It's business
as usual — details, legal pro-
cedure, a careful search for
the truth.
The newly elected circuit
court judge has been in the
spotlight the past several
months because of the Con-
flitti case, which just ended
in a mistrial. Linda Con-
flitti, 18, was accused of put-
ting LSD in her English
teacher's coffee. She pled in-
nocent. The trial ended — for
now — when the jury could
not come back with a ver-
But because the case is
still pending, which means
Deborah Tyner could find
herself presiding over an-
other Conflitti trial, the
judge will not discuss the
What she does discuss is
her goal on the bench: to be
fair, decisive and compas-
"The key word to describ-
ing a good judge is 'fair,' "
she said. "That means giv-
ing both sides the opportuni-
ty to be heard.
"Judges also must be cons-
cientious and dedicated be-
cause we have no boss except
the public."

The Oakland County Cir-
cuit Court is one of the
busiest in the country, with
16 judges handling some
1,110 active cases. The court
hears divorce, criminal and
major felony cases — serving
a population of more than 1
A native Detroiter who
holds a law degree from
Wayne State University,
Judge Tyner said her only
frustration with the bench is
the massive number of cases
she must hear. The newness
of the job doesn't bother her,
she said. "I don't think
about proving myself."
Fellow circuit court Judge
Edward Sosnick described
his new colleague as "very
serious and hardworking.
She really feels for the peo-
ple who appear in her cour-
troom. She believes the
courts exist for the people
and not the other way
In her courtroom, Judge
Tyner looks toward the jury
and listens attentively to the
lawyers. Her role in jury
cases is to serve as "an im-
partial referee," she said.
"I'm there to rule on legal
matters and to say whether
evidence is admissible.
"I never convey my feel-
ings; that would be very im-
proper. I don't want the jury
to look to me as siding with
one (position) or the another.
They should only look to me
to educate them about the
law, and the law doesn't
have sides."
Trials are generally held
on Mondays and Tuesdays.
On Wednesday Judge Tyner
hears motions — often as
many as 40 in one morning.
Sentencing is on Friday. In-
between are hundreds of
briefs, written by both pros-
ecution and defense, which
Judge Tyner reads before
hearing each case. She also
constantly refers to her law
Judge Tyner's private of-
fice, located behind her
courtroom, is decorated
mostly with family photos of
her daughter, Jacqueline,

and her husband, Richard
Herman. There's a large,
colorful painting by an
Israeli artist and several jars
of candy. Figuring promi-
nently in the room are two
large bookcases of law text,
Michigan statutes and Mich-
igan reports, which cite
Michigan Supreme Court
rulings. Like the briefs, they
are Judge Tyner's constant
The importance of prepa-

"As a judge, you
have to isolate your
personal self from
your job. There is
no room in court for
a judge's opinion."

— Deborah Tyner

ration cannot be under-
estimated, she said.
"There's not a lot of black
and white to the law, and the
law is constantly changing,"
she said. "That's why
prepared attorneys are so
Nor will any amount of
flash make up for a lack of
court readiness, she said.
"I'm able to deicpher style
from substance, showman-
ship from facts."
The best kind of trial is one
in which attorneys are
"prepared, civil, punctual
and professional" and where
the judge "does not have to
open his or her mouth."
In addition to serving as
the final word on legal
matters, Judge Tyner serves
as a diplomat in her cour-
troom. "It's - important to
make people feel comfor-
table," she said. "At the
same time, you have to re-
member you're in a court of
law and you have to abide by
the rules and allow every-
body a chance to be heard.
"It's a lot of negotiating
different interests. You've
got to maintain proper deco-
rum and keep the court in
order and balance the rights
of the prosecution, the
defendants, the jury and the
public's right to know"

—namely, reporters. Ubi-
quitous throughout the Con-
flitti trial, journalists have
interests that "aren't always
the same" as the court's,
Judge Tyner said. "But we
have a good working rela-
tionship." •
The one presence Judge
Tyner forbids in her cour-
troom when a jury is
deciding a case is her own
"As a judge, you have to
isolate your personal self
from your job," she said.
"That means making deci-
sions based on evidence pre-

Photo by Glenn Triest

Judge Deborah Tyner:
"People will get a fair
decision from me in the



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