Mecosta, Osceola County circuit judge to retire after 17 years

Scott Hill-Kennedy: 'It became clear to me that I needed to be a better family man'

MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — After serving Mecosta and Osceola County as a judge for the  49th Circuit Court since 2005, Judge Scott Hill-Kennedy will be retiring June 10.  

“I actually hadn't planned to step down from this position for at least a couple more years, maybe more like three or four," Hill-Kennedy said. "It became clear to me that I needed to be a better family man and pay more attention to things that have to do with my family, which are super important. It just made sense. Now after talking with folks, I want to put that time and energy into my family, my spouse, my children and grandchildren.” 

Hill-Kennedy first landed in Mecosta County through Ferris State University where he worked from 1991 to 2005, serving a multitude of roles, including being interim president for the university from May to July in 2003. In 2005, he was selected by Governor Jennifer Granholm to be a judge for the 49th Circuit Court in Mecosta and Osceola County.

His role as the 49th Circuit Court judge provided Hill-Kennedy with a vast array of experiences, presiding over cases that ranged from felony cases, civil cases over $25,000, or even equity jurisdiction where someone can ask Judge Hill-Kennedy to order someone off their property. 

Hill-Kennedy noted a few challenges, with the most difficult being emotions. Emotions are a part of the human condition, thus it can become challenging for judges to be what the law requires them to be: impartial, rational, objective. 

“The most difficult part of the job is, even as I do my job I think correctly, and hopefully correctly, is that whatever I decide, there are some people that are negatively impacted." Hill-Kennedy said. "I find that challenging, because if you have any compassion, if you care about folks at all, which I think most of us do, it is hard sometimes.

"I can be objective, I can be rational, be the judge, but occasionally I look over and realize ‘my goodness, that person just lost everything,’ or ‘that poor victim was so abused by this person who was convicted of a crime.’ It's just awful. But you have got to get past that. You have got to be rational and objective and do the right thing as a judge.” 

'EVERYONE GETS A FAIR SHAKE' 

While it is challenging to be impartial to all parties of a given situation, no matter the emotions, Judge Hill-Kennedy said he always embraced the challenge of listening to all sides of the cases he was presented with. Every case would require him to study and prepare, educate himself on matters he didn’t have previous experience working on, and work with colleagues to make the right decision. Hill-Kennedy said he took pride in treating everybody in the courtroom with respect.

“I get to be the person to keep calm, to be appropriate, to be objective and make decisions that aren't biased or not prejudiced to one person or another. Everyone gets a fair shake." Hill-Kennedy said.

One issue that Judge Hill-Kennedy has begun to notice resides in the attorneys. Many counties in Michigan struggle to have good attorneys representing poorer citizens in the community. According to Hill-Kennedy, while Mecosta and Osceola counties have been blessed to have many talented attorneys, many of the most experienced attorneys are either moving on or retiring. Thus, there is becoming a gap that is struggling to get filled. 

"We had a great talent base of attorneys, but I am concerned for the future that we need to make our community continue to be attractive for legal professionals, and I think we're probably an attorney or two short right now in our communities to really be staffed fully to serve all of our community members.” Hill-Kennedy said.

Hill-Kennedy's solution would be to introduce more attorneys to the different lifestyle that Mecosta and Osceola counties represent compared to the lifestyle around larger cities. 

“We just need to have attorneys that like our lifestyle here, we've got such great outdoor opportunities. We've got a nice group of people that live in our community. I think just we need to expose folks more to what the practice of law can be like here." Hill-Kennedy said. "There's a particular duty and specialness of a community like this.” 

Judge Hill-Kennedy explained that while he intends to move closer to his kids, who live in Detroit and Toledo, he intends to be involved in the communities he will be living in. 

“I have a lot of energy left, and I'm retiring earlier than I thought to attend to family matters. So, I'm seriously looking at where we're going to move to and what active roles or even leadership roles I can play with nonprofits," Hill-Kennedy said.

"I plan to be busy, and either to be a volunteer or have a paid position with a group or several groups, because there's a lot I'd like to offer," he added. "I think I've been blessed to have the opportunity to do a lot of things that I like in my life, and I think I need to contribute in some other ways.”