DELAWARE DOCKET PROFILE: JUDGE MICHAEL K. NEWELL
This is the first article of a new feature profiling a member of the Delaware Judiciary that the Delaware Docket anticipates continuing in each issue.
When Judge Michael K. Newell became a Family Court judge in the fall of 2004, he was returning to a familiar place. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s he had spent several years working at the Court, first as an executive assistant to former Chief Judge Robert Thompson and later as a master. Judge Newell credits his work in the Court for his eventual choice of a family law practice. Between the time of his early work in Family Court and his appointment as a judge, he developed a busy practice in that area of the law - working first with the Bayard Firm and later with Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz. A highly regarded attorney, he received the first Delaware State Bar Association Family Law Section “Family Law Practice and Professionalism Award” in 2001 and was voted best Divorce Lawyer in 2004 and best Family Law Attorney in 1996 by Delaware Today Magazine. In addition, he was listed in “Best Lawyers in America” from 1989-2004 and received the top peer review rating from Martindale Hubbell.
Over the years, while practicing family law, the idea of becoming a Family Court judge was always present. Friends encouraged him to apply for the position he currently holds. Now, he is able to help children and families from the “other side of the bench,” and hopes that through his decisions he is able to guide families through their troubled times.
Making the transition from attorney to judge was interesting, according to Judge Newell. Having spent approximately 20 years as a family law practitioner, he was well acquainted with the legal issues facing a Family Court judge. However, he says that the unique skills needed to be a good judge take time to develop, and he has enjoyed focusing on continually refining these skills. When he first came to the bench, Judge Newell also reports the number of unrepresented litigants was a big surprise to him. He says that “coming from private practice, I had no idea how large the population of unrepresented litigants was in Family Court” and that “it was important to learn how to handle cases when there is an attorney on one side and an unrepresented litigant on the other in a way that both are treated appropriately and fairly.”
While serving on the bench in Family Court requires addressing many emotionally charged situations, chief among the rewards Judge Newell cites is the sense of satisfaction he feels when he is able to help a family or when a litigant tells him that they feel that a decision, not necessarily totally in their favor, is still a fair one. Another very satisfying aspect which he mentions is “the wonderful collegiality among the members of the Court and the Judiciary as a whole.”
A Delaware native, Judge Newell is a graduate of the University of Delaware and has a master’s degree in criminal justice administration from Northeastern University and a law degree from Widener University Law School. In his spare time, he enjoys relaxing by reading, exercising, and spending time with his family.