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Do You Ever Use Your Gavel? What's Strangest Thing You've Seen in Court?

If you could ask a judge any question, what would it be? Oak Ridge Elementary students gave Judge Derek Meinecke, of Royal Oak's 44th District Court, the third degree this week.

Judge Derek Meinecke explains the the basic steps used in court procedures to Oak Ridge Elementary students. Credit: Judy Daivds
Judge Derek Meinecke explains the the basic steps used in court procedures to Oak Ridge Elementary students. Credit: Judy Daivds

Thirty-six students from Oak Ridge Elementary in Royal Oak received a first-hand look at the judicial system this week with a classroom visit from a Royal Oak judge and a tour of the 44th District Courthouse and the Royal Oak Police Station.

Judge Derek Meinecke is quarterbacking a new program for Royal Oak schools that acquaints fifth-grade students with the basic steps used in both civil and criminal court procedures and demonstrates to them the responsibilities of citizens in the legal system.

Meinecke spent Tuesday afternoon in teacher Gail Granett's classroom prepping students for a Wednesday trip to the courthouse to witness real-life criminal court proceedings. At the end of the judge's presentation, students were given the opportunity to ask him any question they wanted. 

Here's what the students learned:

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in court?

Meinecke: I heard a civil trial where someone was suing someone else and they both were involved in the movie “Oz the Great and Powerful.” He was an actor and she was involved with the dance scenes and they wanted to start a business together. There was a dispute arising about the agreement they had.  It was a really interesting and unusual case because of the connection to a famous movie.

Do you ever use your hammer?

Meinecke: My gavel? I have some in my office on a shelf. Today, gavels are more ceremonial in nature. Most judges don’t use them anymore. In my case, if someone is acting unruly or disrespectful in court I can raise my voice and get the court officer to get involved. If someone is really disrespectful, I can have them escorted out of the court and they can be put in jail for a period of time. It’s called contempt of court.

What’s the worst case you’ve had?

Meinecke: Well since I have been the judge in Royal Oak – and I am very thankful for this – we have not had in 2013 too many very serious assault cases. When I was a prosecutor I dealt with some pretty bad cases. I had a couple of murder cases. It’s a sad situation because no matter what you do as a prosecutor or even as a judge, you cannot bring the loved one back. Those are very hard cases. As a prosecutor, I also had cases where people have targeted and assaulted senior citizens on purpose and those are really sad cases, too. So being a prosecutor or a judge you see some very sad situations but you also see some real acts of courage. You see people who despite having been assaulted or having their house robbed are still able to come back and recover and are strong despite what happened to them. So I see some bad things happen to people but I also see people stand on their two feet and get through it.

How many cases do have a day?

Meinecke: It depends on the day, but usually about 30 to 40 cases per day.

Do you have any kids?

Meinecke: I have three kids!  My son is in seventh grade. My daughter is in fourth grade and I have another daughter that’s 4 years old and in pre-school.

Have you ever dealt with gangs that tried to assassinate people? 

Meinecke: I have dealt with gangs that have destroyed property as a prosecutor but it didn’t happen here. Fortunately, I have not seen any gang crime here in Royal Oak…But we always have to be on guard for that and make sure that we are involved if it happens. 

Did you deal with the Heidelberg Project?

Meinecke: It didn’t happen here in Royal Oak so I didn’t deal with it at all but I am glad to see that you are up-to-date with the world around you and the news.

What college did you go to?

Meinecke: I went to Northwestern University just outside of Chicago and I came back to the Metro Detroit area and I went to Wayne State for law school. When I went to law school I started working for Judge Sawicki, the judge here in Royal Oak before me. I got to know the City of Royal Oak and what a great place it is to live and I wanted to stay here and raise my family and then become the judge.

Do police ever come in because they did something bad?

Meinecke: A police officer is just like anyone else. So if a police officer commits a crime then they would have to go in front of a court just like anyone else. I have not had a police officer that has been charged with a crime but I have had nine or 10 lawyers that have committed crimes who have come in front of me. I’ve also have four or five doctors and I’ve had teachers. The reason why I have to know all that is because if a teacher, doctor or lawyer commits a crime I must report it to a board.  

Do you watch crime shows?

Meinecke: I do! But let me tell you something, do you know how long it takes to get DNA in the state of Michigan? In many cases it takes almost six months! If the police take a blood test, it can take up to a year to get those results.

So TV crime shows are kind of exaggerated?

Meinecke: Yes.

Come back to Patch on Friday for a peek inside the 44th District Courthouse and the Royal Oak Police Station.

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