Applicants Line Up for 15th District Judgeship

In phone interviews with The Ann Arbor Chronicle, local attorney Tom Bourque, assistant Washtenaw County prosecutor Eric Gutenberg and district court magistrate Colleen Currie all confirmed that they have met the Dec. 9 deadline to apply for appointment as a judge in the 15th District Court. That is not necessarily an exhaustive list.

They’re applying to fill a vacancy left by Julie Creal, who recently resigned from the bench, citing health reasons. With the vacancy left by Creal, the two judges for the 15th District Court are Chris Easthope and Elizabeth Hines. The district court serves Ann Arbor and handles all civil claims up to $25,000, including small claims, landlord-tenant disputes, land contract disputes, and civil infractions.

Bourque is partner in the law firm Eby Conner Smillie & Bourque, PLLC. He ran as a Republican in Ward 2 for Ann Arbor city council in 2005, and lost that year to Stephen Rapundalo in a close race.

Gutenberg is assistant prosecuting attorney for Washtenaw County. In 2008, he ran for election to the 15th District Court (the same position he’s now applied for) in a close race that was won by Easthope.

Currie is magistrate with the 15th District Court. She’s held that position since 2008, when she was appointed by then chief judge Creal.

The opening for the vacancy left by Creal on the 15th District Court was posted on the Michigan Bar website. [.pdf of Michigan Bar website job posting][.pdf of application form] The process for making the appointment includes review and interview of candidates by a committee of the Michigan State bar, which then forwards its assessment to Gov. Rick Snyder.

From the governor’s appointments division website: “Candidates who merit consideration will be interviewed and rated by the State Bar’s Judicial Qualifications Committee, which will conduct a thorough background check of the applicant’s fitness to serve as a judge. Certain candidates may then be selected for further consideration by the Governor’s Office before the Governor makes an appointment.”

The process used by the Michigan State Bar’s Judicial Qualifications Committee to conduct interviews and develop ratings, which are passed along directly to the governor, is described by the Michigan Bar as “confidential.”

In more detail: “Prior to the interview, one Committee member contacts lawyers in the community to obtain background information regarding the candidate. The Reporter, a staff attorney with the Attorney Grievance Commission, presents grievances and disciplinary history, if any, and information obtained from local judges. All interview sources are kept confidential. A representative from the Governor’s Office and the State Bar staff liaisons are also present during the interview. The Committee meets on the second Tuesday of the month and/or as needed.”

The second-Tuesday schedule means the next regularly scheduled meeting is Jan. 10, 2012.

Kathleen Bogos, a partner with Bogas Koncius & Croson PC in Bingham, Mich., is co-chair of the Judicial Qualifications Committee. Bogos told The Chronicle that the committee’s ratings are assigned on a scale with five options: exceptionally well-qualified; well-qualified; qualified; not qualified; and not qualified due to lack of experience.

At a Feb. 7, 2011 Ann Arbor city council session on the upcoming budget, Easthope described the result of a recent study that concluded that the number of judges statewide should be reduced. And he described some scenarios that could be explored in the future to consolidate some district court operations in Washtenaw County. That’s part of the context for the 15th District Court appointment. [For more context on operation and funding of the 15th District court see Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor 2012 Budget: 15th District Court"]

Updated on Dec. 16: Sara Wurfel, press secretary for Gov. Snyder, emailed The Chronicle addressing a question about the possibility the spot on the 15th District Court would be left vacant: ” … [W]e are in fact planning on filling this seat based on analysis and recommendations from the State Court Administrative Office regarding judicial need in this court.” As for an exhaustive list of applicant names, she wrote: “I cannot share the names of the applicants, but can say the interest was strong.”