Profile of Judge Craig Alston
The Samuel N. Hecsh Window on the Working World of Law
The Story: To be successful as a blind person you need to do the same things that bring sighted people success but do more of it. It is interesting to look back on the things that brought me success in the legal field, but the more interesting question for me at the moment is what does my future hold?
At the age of thirteen, I was demoralized from years of poor performance in school and sports. That year an ophthalmologist informed me that I had an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which was causing my vision to be seriously impaired. Further, he said that I would be losing all of my sight and that I should go into law or something like that. So, at that moment law became my major life goal. I determined that academic studies, specifically the seven years of college required to become an attorney, would be the key to my success.
Later in high school, I was heavily influenced by my economics teacher, Clair White. He taught me the value of economics as a discipline and inspired me to major in economics in college. Mr. White also influenced me to attend Michigan State University where he was a Trustee. Throughout the years, we kept in touch and he remained one of my sources of inspiration and encouraged my self confidence.
During my two years at the University of Illinois Law School, I was fortunate to meet the person who would become my wife. I also met the professor who would introduce me to computers and technology. Professor Maggs, who taught me intellectual property law, was an inventor who developed (possibly the first) screen reader for the blind. I became convinced that one day, talking computers would be the key to high productivity and resolved to one day study computer science.
In my last year of law school (1978), I enthusiastically scheduled job interviews. I was stunned at the time that many interviewers were put off by my dog guide and blindness. After numerous rejections, I once again sought the wisdom of Mr. White. He advised me to move back to my hometown, set up a law practice, and run for judge when the first judicial vacancy became available. This seemed a farfetched idea to me but as months without employment offers passed, it became an ever more splendid option! During the Christmas season of that year, he arranged a meeting between me and a Bay City Times reporter to begin the necessary PR to build name recognition. The "media spin" was that I was coming back home to practice law to help the poor...little did I know that it would come true!
Per Mr. White's instructions, I joined every service group that I could in order to increase my name recognition. In the Jaycees, I chaired many projects and was a board member for several service groups. From the Bay City Lions Club came an individual who would later become my campaign manager and bring necessary people to my aid. As the years went on, through work and community service, I became addicted to motivation. My experience as a trial lawyer taught me self discipline, strategy, and the joy of ethically taking an opponent out.
Three years after beginning my law practice, my nearly two-year campaign for a 1984 District Court vacancy began. By this point, my life's experience coupled with mentoring had seen me evolve from an insecure person into a polite but aggressive, self-assured young man. I'm very thankful that at the time I didn't comprehend my lack of resources lest I not have been able to successfully move forward. During the campaign, many talented persons appeared to teach me about working with the media, public speaking, advertising, and campaign momentum. Mr. White even taught me the art of the political handshake, which had to be accomplished different ways for different voters. Finally, after working tirelessly for nearly two years, with my wife, family, and friends at my side; I, the dark horse, won by over a 9% margin.
In 1985, I took the bench at age 30 not realizing how much I would have to learn about people, organizations, and myself. Studying addiction and other disorders became important to my growth as an empathetic judge who could guide persons as I had been guided by others through life.
This also became a time for increasing my skills in fields that I had explored in the early 1980s such as woodworking and computer programming. By the late 1980s, I developed a software package to run my church's membership and track contributions. After becoming Chief Judge and negotiating labor contracts, I took an interest in court administration and workflow design. The 1990s found me doing more intense computer programming such as the creation of an application that computerized the law of judgment interest in Michigan and the planning and financing of a new court facility for Bay County. I also became a faculty member at the Michigan Judicial Institute, teaching judges various areas of law and developing practical reference materials. Perceiving the need to become aware of my inner body and movement, I formally studied song and tap dancing. In 2000, I redesigned the financial portion of the District Court's case management system and wrote a grant in collaboration with others to fund the project.
In 2003 after my youngest graduated from high school, I went back to college to update my computer programming skills and studied C++ and web page authoring to give me a knowledge base to pursue self study. Once again, I was inspired by a particular professor to explore the use of abstract data structures to solve nonlinear problems. Currently I am involved in many projects and committees, including the Michigan Court Collections committee, Michigan Drug Court Data Standards Committee, Michigan Technology Committee, Bay County Treatment Court (a drug court for drunk driving offenders), and a research project with the State Court Administrator's Office and the Michigan Office of Highway Safety to evaluate the efficacy of the Sobriety Court concept. I am also developing a software package to assist the Bay County Treatment Court and the 74th District Court probation department operationally and to perform an outcome evaluation. Finally, I am studying C#, a programming language on Microsoft's new Visual Studio.net 2005 platform using a video series and online books.
My goal is to establish a software company that provides solutions to justice systems and justice system users. Artificial intelligence and dynamic templating will make my systems unique among existing products. I rarely think of my disability, but instead always think of which ability I will use for recreation or problem solving. The United States in the 21st century is wonderful because if you are productive, people see you as a productive person instead of as a blind person. In conclusion, life is good and has taught me:
- High levels of self confidence and motivation are essential for success.
- Guidance, encouragement, and mentoring are important for learning new skills and setting goals.
- Blindness is an asset as it fosters a different way of seeing.
- Understanding and serving others is more important than being served.
- Becoming excited about the work you are doing, is crucial to excellence.
- Developing diverse and eclectic skills is needed for creative problem solving.
- Theories learned in college courses are relevant as one defines and solves real world problems.
- Spirituality provides a foundation and balance in the physical world.
- If I can be successful, nearly anyone can be successful!
The contact: Craig Alston.
The American Foundation for the Blind is pleased to present the "The Samuel N. Hecsh Window on the Working World of Law" series, funded by the Samuel N. Hecsh Fund at the American Foundation for the Blind. A new article in memory of Mr. Hecsh will appear annually.
After losing his vision, Mr. Hecsh attended law school—with some help from a scholarship from AFB—and had a satisfying career. Feeling he could not continue his previous employment, he met with many lawyers who were blind and attributed his success as a blind attorney in part to his encouragement from these mentors. We thank his wife, Muriel O'Reilly, and daughters, Janet and Caitlin Hecsh, for choosing to honor his memory in this special way. The Samuel N. Hecsh Window on the Working World of Law is designed to encourage other people experiencing vision loss to choose to enter the field of law.