Judge takes oath after fireworks
Family members gather around Vicky L. Alspaugh of Hastings and Barry County Chief Judge William Doherty as he administers the oath of office shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day. (Photos by Rebecca Pierce)
Barry County’s newest circuit court judge was sworn in shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day outside the courthouse in Hastings.
Vicky L. Alspaugh of Hastings took the oath standing on the sidewalk on the east side of the historic building.
A small family group was among the New Year's Eve crowd, watching the ball drop from the Walldorff building and the fireworks display, then they quietly walked together to the courthouse where the oath was administered by Chief Judge William Doherty.
Her family, including two daughters and husband, surrounded her, illuminating the proceedings with the lights from their cellphones.
“If you would raise your right hand, please,” Doherty told Alspaugh. “Do you solemnly swear that you will support the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of this state and that you will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of circuit court judge to the best of your abilities?”
“I will,” she replied.
“Please sign here,” Doherty directed.
That was easier said than done, given the dark and cold.
The temperature was a crisp 29 degrees.
“I need a light,” Alspaugh said to family members, who promptly provided multiple lights from their cellphones.
“Oh no. The pen's frozen,” she said.
“I think your hand's frozen,” her husband, Micheal, said.
“I can't hardly write,” she replied.
Finally, the necessary signatures were on the document, so that Barry County Deputy Court Administrator Jan Otto could notarize it on the spot.
“Congratulations!” Doherty said. “Welcome to the bench!”
Her family cheered.
Alspaugh said the decision to have her swearing-in on New Year's Day was for family members from Memphis, who weren't able to stay for the official public ceremony that will take place later.
It took only a few minutes for the oath of office to be administered, the signing and notarizing of documents and some photos for the family.
It was a joyful moment for the group; and a remarkable way for Alspaugh to start the new year.
Alspaugh, 56, has been working for years in the court system in a variety of roles. The Michigan State University graduate, with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice earned in August 1985, earned her juris doctor degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School and was admitted to the state bar in June 1989.
Her title, prior to her appointment to the bench by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, was Quasi Judicial Officer II for the county’s trial court. That post formerly had been called an attorney referee, magistrate and probate register. She had served in that capacity since May 2000.
When Alspaugh's appointment was announced in December, Doherty praised her experience and performance in a variety of roles. “She's familiar with just about all aspects of the court system – and has done an excellent job all the way around.”
What Alspaugh did in her most current position was to preside over matters of custody and parenting time; establishment and modification. She conducted child support reviews, including calculation of guideline recommendations, uninsured medical reimbursement, and parenting time enforcement. She presided over preliminary hearing phases of neglect/abuse and delinquency proceedings, as well as over any phase of the process in which the sitting judge was unavailable or unable to hold, with the exception of jury trials. She was a backup magistrate for the district court division on warrant issuance, search warrant authorization, arraignments, small claims trials, and general civil scheduling and settlement conferences. Alspaugh also was in the weekly on-call rotation with the primary magistrate and probate register for the probate division, revising and approving or rejecting filings for probate, including deceased estates, guardianships, conservatorships, name changes and adoptions.
In addition, from May 2000 to January 2006, Alspaugh was assistant Friend of the Court, supervising support and casework staff, providing legal direction in drafting motions, interpreting orders and statutes, and addressing client complaints.
She also has experience as an assistant prosecutor, posts she filled from April 1991 to May 2000 in Barry County and from October 1989 to April 1991 in Ogemaw County. In that capacity, she reviewed requests for warrants from law enforcement agencies, drafted documents, prepared criminal cases for trial, motions and sentencings, and appeared for the prosecutor on all stages of case progression. She also worked on delinquency matters and represented and advised the Department of Health and Human Services in neglect and abuse matters, including appeals. She was the primary attorney assigned to paternity and child support actions, represented the prosecutor on community and law enforcement committees, and responded to legal questions posed by various county departments. In Ogemaw County, she was the sole assistant prosecutor.
The unified trial court is served by Judge Michael Schipper, Doherty and Alspaugh.
Alspaugh’s predecessor, Judge Amy L. McDowell, resigned Oct. 15, 2019. The vacancy was filled through December by visiting Judge Donald Johnston, a retired judge from Kent County, who commuted to Hastings several days each week.
Alspaugh’s term commenced on the day she was sworn in and the next day she was on the bench, handling cases.
If she wishes to seek a full six-year term, she would be required to run for re-election in November. Her term of office will expire at noon Jan. 1, 2021.