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October 20, 2011 - Image 13

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-10-20

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protect the community and what it is
going to take to change this person's world,
to put him on a more empowering path:'
she said.
If Small does not agree to recuse her-
self from the case involving the driver
from West Bloomfield, the motion filed
by Mogi11 and Larin will be heard by 48th
District Court Chief Judge Marc Barron. If
Barron agrees with Small's decision, the
attorneys have the option of taking the
issue to Oakland County Circuit Court.
Small did not rule on the matter at the
Oct. 13 hearing, but said she will issue a
written ruling.
"OWI (Operating While Intoxicated)
in Michigan is a violation of the law, and
Judge Small does her job in administer-
ing that law:' Barron said. "I've sat in her
courtroom, I've seen what she does, and
that's a whole lot different from the public
Michigan law allows a jail sentence of 0
to 93 days for an OWI conviction, a guide-
line Small has never violated.
Despite the recent negative publicity,
Small describes herself as "an incurable
optimist." She admits this may be unusual
given that she spends her days dealing
with the darker side of human behavior.
"I'm still an idealist," she said. "I genu-
inely want to see the good in people. I
believe that people, as a whole, are gen-
erally good, even the people who stand
before me

Choosing The Law
Although Small comes from a long line of
lawyers, including her father and grand-
father, her original plan was to attend
medical school after graduating from the
University of Michigan.
"When I got hit with biochemistry, I
decided my talents must lie elsewhere
she said, smiling.
She attended Detroit College of Law
(now Michigan State University College of
Law) while working full time for the late
George La Plata, a circuit court judge and
retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.
"He taught me so much about life, about
God, country and family:' she said. "He
was one of the most humble, dedicated
men I've ever met:'
After law school, Small became a staff
attorney in U.S. District Court in Detroit
and later moved to Oakland County
Circuit Court where she served as an assis-
tant prosecutor, focusing on sex crimes
against children.
"It was difficult to leave that work
behind:' she said. "I wanted to take every
kid home with me; it was very draining."
She spent some time in private practice,
specializing in medical malpractice and
divorce. After her daughters were born,
one year apart, Small returned to Federal
court. It was during this time that she

Small's desk in her 48th District courtroom contains inspirational items that help her
stay centered.

began practicing meditation, which helped
her stay centered, even as a sleep-deprived
new mother.
In 1996, she was encouraged by some
colleagues to run for judge in the 48th
District Court in Bloomfield Township. She
won that election and has maintained the
office for the past 15 years, serving three
terms as Chief Judge. Small has had the
same assistant, Debbie Albano, for more
than 25 years.
She enjoys working at the district court
level because it allows her to reach people
while they still have a chance to change
their lives.
Small met fellow 48th District Judge
Diane D'Agostini during the 1996 cam-
paign when both women were running for
judge. D'Agostini lost that race, although
she was subsequently elected in 2000. The
two women have remained friends as well
as colleagues.
"She takes great care in addressing
the individuals' needs to help those with
addiction, while at the same time address-

ing public safety:' said D'Agostini. "In
addition to her work as a judge, she is a
great and dedicated mom who has raised
two wonderful daughters."

Staying In Balance
One of Small's favorite tools for maintain-
ing a positive attitude is exercise. She
enjoys practicing yoga, cross-training,
weightlifting and kickboxing. During the
week, she works out at night, typically
between 8-10 p.m. She finds it helps her
get rid of the stress that accumulates dur-
ing the day.
"I'm addicted to exercise she said. "If I
go a couple of days without it, I really feel
Music is another tonic, everything from
classical to funk. She still meditates daily
and finds that even a few minutes can
relieve stress or provide an extra boost of
"Sometimes during a recess, I'll go into
my office and tell my secretary that 'I'm
going under:" Small said. "She knows what

I mean."
She also finds pleasure in nature;
she enjoys walking on the grounds
of the nearby Cranbrook Educational
Community, especially when the tulips are
in bloom.
Small is no stranger to pain, as she fre-
quently tells the defendants who appear
before her. She understands the feelings
they wish to escape, but insists that using
drugs or alcohol is not a viable solution.
"I was in tremendous pain as a child:'
she said. "I was heavy, I had no confidence;
I felt like I wasn't smart enough or pretty
enough. I was wracked with insecurity,
feeling like I wasn't worth much."
In an effort to find healthy ways to deal
with her despair, Small started reading
every self-help and inspirational book
she could find. She resolved her weight
problem by following the Weight Watchers
program for a year. She practiced medita-
tion, listened to self-improvement tapes
and studied Torah, searching for "anything
that could give me a nugget." She made a
gratitude list and posted it on her bathroom
mirror, a practice she continues to this day.
Small began learning about addiction
during her teens because of someone close
to her. She studied the 12-step program
outlined in the classic book by AA founder
Bill Wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous, also
known as the "Big Book." She believes the
12 steps provide moral guidelines that
can benefit anyone, even those who do not
struggle with addiction. At least twice a
year, she performs Step 4, which involves
taking a "searching and fearless moral
"I've been doing that for decades:' she
said. "I believe it's our obligation to look
at ourselves and shed light — that's how
we grow."
On Small's courtroom desk are three
stones that bear the words "faith;' "truth"
and "wisdom"; a butterfly pin to remind
her of Anne Frank, who focused her mind
on butterflies to ward off fear; a mug
made by her daughters; a violet pen to
symbolize her Higher Power; and a photo
of herself jumping from a 50-foot pole
during a training exercise.
She says that these items help her stay
centered and positive in an environment
that is often stressful and contentious.
Her office contains photos of her daugh-
ters and an assortment of inspirational
"The prism reminds me that everything
is infinite; the heart is here because every-
thing comes from the heart; and the clown
helps me remember never to take myself
too seriously:' she said.
A Lego Yoda figure constructed by her
daughter stands for the Star Wars charac-
ter's belief that there is no such thing as
trying, only doing.

Beyond The Bench on page 14

October 20 2011


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