Brian Hartwell for 43rd District Court Judge

  1. NAME: Judge Brian Hartwell




  1. Why are you running for 43rd District Court Judge?

When Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed me to this position, she said she picked the kindest applicant with the most diverse and relevant government experience. The governor was concerned that other applicants would not bring the same amount of patience and respect for the average person.

In my first 100 days as judge, I formed one of the most innovative task forces in Michigan with HAVEN and city council to identify domestic violence survivors who are facing escalating violence. This group will save lives by going above and beyond the typical court procedure. We are leveraging relationships with community, charity, women’s groups, detectives, and court staff to monitor and offer services to women in abusive relationships in between episodes of violence.

We also are making the court easier to use for workers and busy parents. The pandemic forced changes to courts nationwide but those basics, like Zoom hearings, will be here to stay for minor matters. Why should someone take a day off work to fight their speeding ticket? We will continue allowing virtual hearing even though we are now opening up for in-person hearings on some cases. Also, we surveyed court users and identified areas of improvement. We are launching a virtual court clerk kiosk for people to handle most minor matters, like payments, without waiting in line. The court has become compassionate, proactive, and efficient.

  1. What specific experience have you had that prepare you to serve as 43rd District Judge?

As the current judge, I oversee hundreds of cases every week by approaching each person’s needs individually.

Judges need leadership experience to manage a busy courtroom and staff. I was the mayor and council member for 13 years, and a deputy county treasurer. These experiences gave me valuable insight in managing a local government office with compassion and efficiency.

As an attorney, I formed a free law clinic for low income families in Ferndale, Hazel Park, and Madison Heights. I handled hundreds of cases for free.

Also as a lawyer, I fought for my clients in 100 different courts before 200 different judges. I received an award for my civil rights work in housing discrimination. I am a litigator, handling trial work in criminal, civil, landlord/tenant, traffic, probate, bankruptcy, tribal law, and federal civil rights.

  1. What is your approach to determining bail for criminal defendants?

We look at the likelihood of that person returning to court for the next hearing, connections to family and the community, the danger to alleged victims, and the seriousness of the charges. We also perform a structured analysis of the offender’s ability to pay by looking to their assets and income. We rely on advice from Oakland County pretrial services. I have changed past practice in regards to tethers. I only order GPS or alcohol tethers in limited cases, and I tailor a drug testing regimen to cases involving alleged drug abuse.

  1. What is your position on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, such as drug rehabilitation programs?

The most challenging part of being a judge is incarceration. The pressure from police and prosecutors to jail is strong. The prosecution tends to over-recommend jail. For example, I sentenced a man to time-served for the weekend he was held in lockup when he was arrested for drinking a beer on his front yard sidewalk then charged with misdemeanor open intoxicant in public. It was recommended he serve 30-40 days in jail. Another file saw two men arguing in the police parking lot then arrested for domestic violence. The vocal argument could have landed him in jail for 30-40 days per the recommendation. Instead, time served by my order. Many times, the district judge is the last line of reasonableness in dealing with our neighbors who are not bad people but may have done something bad.

In my court, we refer criminal offenders to veterans court, mental health court, and sobriety court. Rarely do we sentence non-violent offenders to jail without first trying to rehabilitate the person with treatment, counseling, classes, and probation. In extreme cases of addiction, we send individuals to in-patient treatment.

As an illustration of my belief, when I started as judge, I reviewed all people who were in jail on an order by a previous judge. Non-violent offenders went home or transitioned immediately from incarceration to probation and therapy. One woman was locked up for steeling food for her family. She didn’t need jail, she needed impulse control classes and a job.

  1. How can a District Court Judge contribute to creating a safer community?

The judge has the power to order people to therapy, training, or jail. Drug therapy protects the community by empowering people suffering from addiction to get clean. Training, like impulse control classes or driving lessons, protects the community by filling in the education gaps left by insufficient schooling or parenting. Jail, in the rare case, protects the community by removing a violent person from his or her victims. A judge must follow the letter of the law, but when it comes to sentencing, much discretion is employed.

  1. Did you receive campaign contributions from donors in the bail bond industry?


  1. Can you describe an important case you worked on and the significance of the case?

As a lawyer, I practiced civil rights. I represented a family who was evicted on the day they moved in because the landlord discovered they were Black. This was outrageous and sickening, and happened nearby. I fought for this family by finding alternative housing, suing the discriminators and their agents, and compensating the family through a significant settlement. In another civil rights matter, I represent a disabled woman who was evicted and made homeless because the landlord “had enough” of her disability. We found this woman and her minor child a new home, won a financial settlement, and obtained a court order to force the landlord to change its policies.

As the judge, every week, I’m helping individuals navigate the judicial system. District court handles everyday matters from small claims, landlord disputes, credit card debt, traffic tickets and small misdemeanors. Many people need a little guidance, kindness, and patience, and in the end they will get a result that is fair.