This year, five local judicial seats will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. Incumbents will be running for four of those positions, and three of those incumbent judges – Cedric Simpson (14th District Court, Washtenaw County); Joe Burke (15th District Court, Ann Arbor); and Darlene O’Brien (probate court, Washtenaw County) – are unchallenged.
Another position on the 22nd Circuit Court is currently held by judge Melinda Morris, who is ineligible for re-election because of her age. The state constitution requires that judicial candidates at the time of election must be younger than 70 years old. The race for that non-incumbent judicial seat is a crowded one, with four candidates: Erane Washington, Doug McClure, Carol Kuhnke and Jim Fink. All four will be on the Aug. 7 primary ballot as non-partisan candidates, with the top two vote-getters facing off on Nov. 6.
On June 23, the Washtenaw County Democratic Party held a judicial candidate forum in Pittsfield Township hall. A previous Chronicle report covered the panel with Connors and Woodyard, as well as a presentation by 46th District Court judge Shelia Johnson, one of three Michigan Supreme Court candidates endorsed by the state Democratic Party.
This report focuses on the four-way non-incumbent race for 22nd Circuit Court. Questions covered a wide range of issues, including metrics for evaluating judicial performance, views on significant Michigan Supreme Court decisions, and descriptions of each candidate’s judicial philosophy and temperament.
Circuit court judges are elected to six-year terms and run as non-partisan candidates. But partisan politics was a significant part of this panel discussion, spurred in part by a handout had been placed on chairs in the audience prior to the start of the forum, titled ”What Washtenaw Democrats Should Know About Jim Fink.” [.pdf of handout text] At the start of the forum, Cleveland Chandler, chair of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party, announced that the WCDP had nothing to do with the handout, and the other three candidates made that same claim.
Some of the questions posed to candidates – specifically related to reproductive rights and the right for gay couples to adopt – highlighted the differences between Fink and the other candidates. With his Republican affiliations, Fink acknowledged during the forum that if this were a legislative race, ”you would not even think about voting for me.” But he vowed to follow the law and set aside his personal views as a judge, and noted that he has broad support from both parties, as well as ”people who don’t care about partisan politics at all.”
While not mentioning Fink directly, the other candidates noted that values do inform judicial decisions, and implied or stated directly that their positions on issues would align with those of Democrats.