New District 54B Judge Introduces Herself to the Community

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Alice Dreger for ELi

Judge Molly E. Hennessey Greenwalt and Court Administrator Nicole Evans of East Lansing's 54B District Court (Sept. 2021).

Judge Molly Hennessey Greenwalt introduced herself at East Lansing’s City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7, expressing her excitement about serving her community in a new role, particularly in her capacity overseeing District 54B’s sobriety and drug courts.

ELi reported in July that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had appointed Hennessey Greenwalt to replace Judge Andrea Larkin – the first woman to serve in District 54B Court – following Larkin’s retirement. Hennessey Greenwalt is now the second woman to serve in the court.

Judge Richard D. Ball spoke first at Council to introduce Hennessey Greenwalt, pointing out that she is only the seventh judge to serve on the bench of the District 54B Court in its 50-year history. Ball noted that Hennessey Greenwalt’s first day in her new role was Aug. 18 and, while praising her, he expressed his gratitude to have her serving alongside him. Attending with Ball to mark the occasion was 54B’s Court Administrator and former City Clerk Nicole Evans.

When Hennessey Greenwalt herself spoke before Council, she recounted her path to her new position. Originally from Minnesota, she relocated to East Lansing when her husband was hired by the Michigan State University College of Education after completing his doctorate. She was enrolled in law school and transferred to MSU’s College of Law, from which she graduated.

After completing her degree, she served as a law clerk for a judge on the Michigan Supreme Court and then an assistant prosecuting attorney for the Ingham County Prosecutor before returning to the Michigan Supreme Court as a commissioner, a staff counsel job in which attorneys advise the court on civil, criminal, and administrative matters.

“I’m just so very proud to serve this court, this City, and this community,” said Hennessey Greenwalt before describing her family’s deep ties to the community.

Hennessey Greenwalt told Council that her family has now lived in the Bailey neighborhood for 14 years. She and her spouse have three children – one each in Marble Elementary School, MacDonald Middle School, and East Lansing High School.

“I’m so very proud of the tradition of mutual respect that this Council and the Court have for one another as two coequal branches of government, and I fully intend to do everything I can to continue that tradition,” said Hennessey Greenwalt.

In her new job, she said, she is most excited about the Court’s treatment courts: the veterans’ court, the drug court, and the sobriety court. Hennessey Greenwalt will preside over the sobriety and drug courts. (Read more about those programs from ELi here.) As of 2020, she told Council, only one percent of those courts’ graduates had gone on to commit another crime within three years after completing the program. None went on to commit another drug or alcohol offense.

“One thing about 54B, which you know is so remarkable, is that they have these treatment courts where so much time and attention is given to individuals who come before us,” she said.

“In being a district court, I feel like we have to potential to at least have a goal of having every person who comes before our court to try to make this their last interaction with the criminal justice system in that capacity,” said Hennessey Greenwalt.

The new judge thanked Council for making provisions in its Fiscal Year 2022 budget that directed marijuana excise taxes to help low-income individuals cover probation costs, like drug tests. She also expressed pride about the adaptability of the Court, which continued to serve the community virtually during the pandemic.

Hennessey Greenwalt closed by lauding justice system reforms at the state and local levels, something she sees as having “the potential to do some good.”

Those attending the meeting at the Hannah Community Center broke into applause to welcome Larkin’s successor.

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