DETROIT - Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans doesn't hold back.
She has a reputation of using bold and colorful statements, sometimes controversial, to tell every single person who comes into her courtroom exactly what she's thinking. She's also been in the news for presiding over some well-known cases, including the recent Bob Bashara murder trial.
But before she made it to the bench, she went through a tough time in high school.
"I wanted to be a social butterfly. I wanted to hang out in the street and do things. Skip school. Have boyfriends and do all that fun stuff. Party," Evans said.
The daughter of two teachers, Evans flunked 10th grade at Henry Ford High School.
That experience changed her life and motivated her to use her courtroom to help others straighten out their lives.
"What I tell people all the time is that failure teaches you about life more than all your successes combined. When I found out that I had failed that year, I realized, ‘Wow, you really have to take your life seriously, because this may be where you'll be forever,'" Evans said. "I realized the only person who was really in my race was me."
She finished high school and college, and eventually decided to go on to Cooley Law School. She worked in the prosecutor's office and made an unsuccessful first run at becoming a judge in the 36th District Court. She lost in a close race to the now-retired Judge Greg Mathis.
"To be that close, it was a top 10, and to be No. 11, really taught me that it's not about falling down, it's about getting up. And that no matter what happens, if you believe in whatever it is that you're going to do, you can't stop trying. To me, being a winner is never feeling like a failure and never giving up. That's just how I felt," Evans said. "The difficulty was that I had a family. I could not put my family through that again. So, the second time, it had to work."
With the support from her family, she went for a seat in 3rd Circuit Court, formerly Recorder's Court, and won.
She uses her own life experiences to connect with those who end up in her court. She's known for delivering powerful messages from the bench.
"They become my responsibility to receive a fair trial. They become my responsibility to train them, to show them that live does not end here, that life goes on. And that the reason the rear-view mirror is smaller than the windshield is because what's behind you is not important. It's what's in front of you that counts," Evans said. "It's an opportunity to share my testimony to let them know that just because you fall down doesn't mean you can't get up."
Evans said she applied that principle to strength her bond with lifetime friend Monica Conyers, the former Detroit City Council member who was sent to prison after she pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery.
Evans visited Conyers while she was imprisoned.
"It was challenging … but the beauty of it was that I knew it was only temporary," Evans said.
Evans spent months on the Bashara trial.
"It was different, but I'm going to say this to you. I have presided over thousands of cases. When I tell you it was an honor for me to preside … the lawyering, it was the best. I mean, absolutely. It was like being a referee at Wimbledon," Evans said.
The Grosse Pointe Park man was found guilty of murder and other charges in his wife's death, but not before hours of testimony were heard regarding his involvement in sadomasochism, a subset of BDSM, and his "sex dungeon."
"You know what was so weird? We never did see the dungeon," Evans said.
Evans said she'll continue to give her advice freely because she feels strongly about helping people.
"My whole style of being a judge is different, and to me appropriate, and to a lot of people, effective," she said.
Web extra: Interview with Judge Evans' daughter
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