22nd Circuit Court: Four-Way Primary Race

Washington, McClure, Kuhnke, Fink vie for 2 slots on Nov. 6 ballot

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.

Mike Henry

Mike Henry, co-chair of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party, moderated a June 23 judicial forum for the 22nd Circuit Court, hosted by the Washtenaw County Democratic Party. (Photos by the writer.)

The fourth incumbent – Tim Connors of the 22nd Circuit Court – is facing Mike Woodyard, an Ann Arbor resident and attorney in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office.

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 McClureCarol 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.

In very broad strokes, circuit courts are the highest type of trial court in Michigan, handling felony criminal cases and civil cases involving amounts over $25,000. There are 57 circuit courts in Michigan. Locally, the 22nd Circuit Court is more commonly known as the Washtenaw County Trial Court, and includes two divisions: criminal/civil and family. The family division includes the juvenile court, probate court, and Friend of the Court program.

Mike Henry, co-chair of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party, moderated the panel with questions written in advance by the audience.

This report organizes the questions thematically, but gives the candidate responses in the order they were presented.

Opening Statements

Jim Fink began by thanking the Democratic Party for inviting him to participate. He said he’s a lifelong resident of Washtenaw County, and grew up in Ypsilanti. He lives in the same neighborhood where his father opened a law office in the 1950s and where he and his wife raised their six kids. He’s been an attorney since 1987, after going to law school while working in the county sheriff’s department where he served for almost 22 years. He started as an hourly marine deputy, and retired as a police services division commander, spending most of his career in Ypsilanti Township.

As an attorney, Fink said he represents municipalities and small businesses, some criminal defendants, and real estate transactions. He said he has broad experience and broad support from Republicans, Democrats, and “people who don’t care about partisan politics at all.”

Erane Washington

Erane Washington, candidate for 22nd Circuit Court judge, talks to Democratic Party activist Tom Bletcher at the June 23 judicial forum.

Erane Washington introduced herself as a University of Michigan law school graduate. Although she said she’s not a lifelong resident, she’s lived here since she was 11, going to school at Bryant Elementary, Scarlett Middle School and Huron High. She’s a first-generation college graduate – of Michigan State University – and a first-generation law school graduate.

Washington has been practicing law since 1993, with a diverse background of practice. That includes handling a lot of criminal defense work as a public defender for seven years. She then worked as a judicial attorney [for judge Donald Shelton] for another seven years, and more recently has been in private practice for the past five years. In the past two years her firm has handled over 700 cases, she said. Washington is past president of the Washtenaw County Bar Association, and noted that she has broad-based support.

Carol Kuhnke also told the crowd that she had lived in Washtenaw County most of her life, and grew up in Milan. She has lived in Ann Arbor for 16 years, and has practiced law for 18 years, pursuing justice for her clients in court, she said. It’s a great occupation and she’s passionate about it, Kuhnke said. She’s come to appreciate that the court is a place where everyone should have an equal voice. It should be the equalizer, but it isn’t always as perfect as it could or should be, she noted.

Kuhnke is seeking the position as judge because she knows she can help make the system a little more perfect, and can help a few more people achieve the justice that is promised to them by the law. She noted that she’s served on the Ann Arbor zoning board of appeals for 12 years, and also has served on the county board of election canvassers. Kuhnke mentioned that she has two children. She pointed to her endorsements by the UAW, several justices and judges, community leaders, and “a lot of the people in this room.”

Doug McClure said he was happy to be among Democratic friends, since he’d just come off of the first week of a two-week citizens lawsuit against a corporate polluter for a site in Saline. It’s been exhausting, he said. The judge in that case is a strong Republican and anti-EPA person, he said. The judge is fair, he added, but took a lot of convincing. McClure said he loves the law and has been practicing here for 22 years. He loves this community, and lives in Lima Township. He serves on the Washtenaw County brownfield redevelopment authority board, and is director at large for the Washtenaw County Bar Association. He’s also co-chair of the association’s public service committee. He teaches at Cooley Law School in Ann Arbor.

Every judge is sometimes assigned cases on issues that they don’t know much about, McClure said. So you need judges with agile, active minds, who want to understand what’s in front of them and who share your values – because in hard cases, he said, those values will inform their decisions. “I’m going to bring that to the bench,” he said.

Questions: Judicial System

Several questions posed by the moderator, Mike Henry, related specifically to the judicial system, including court decisions, the role of social service agencies, and possible metrics for evaluating judicial performance.

Some courts have adopted metrics to rate the quality of the judicial system. The state court administrative office is looking at such proposals. Is that a good idea? If so, which metrics are most important?

Washington: It’s very important to have a measurement system. Now, the focus is on whether cases proceed in an efficient manner, she said. Other than the public defense system, there’s not a review of whether the outcome is fair and just. Washington suggested finding a way to seek feedback from litigants about how they were treated in court. Another approach is to get information about pro se and pro per claims, as to whether they were handled fairly. Efficiency is very important, she said, but so is the outcome. It’s important that people feel they’ve been heard while they’ve been part of the judicial process.

Kuhnke: Saying she wasn’t familiar with the details of the proposal that had been mentioned, Kuhnke said it sounded very dangerous to her. The court of appeals is the place where incorrect decisions are corrected. The judicial tenure commission is the place to handle situations in which a judge has acted inappropriately, she said. The Michigan Supreme Court has handed down rules that limit judges’ ability to control their dockets. One example requires that every case be resolved within a year, or the judge is looked at harder by the supreme court’s administrative office, she said. That’s not the right way to manage the docket.

There are ways to help the court work more effectively and quickly, Kuhnke said, but to say that every case must be dealt with within a year doesn’t give a judge the proper authority, she said. Judges are elected, and their decisions are reviewed by the court of appeals and supreme court – and that’s where the review should be, she said.

McClure: An organization in this community – the Michigan League of Conservation Voters – did a study called the Green Gavels, McClure said, which focused on the environment. A University of Michigan law professor [David Uhlmann] and his students, along with MLCV staff, analyzed cases for the public – because people don’t generally read supreme court cases unless they’re having trouble sleeping, he joked. You can see how “green” judges are, based on their rulings. Those metrics are important, he said, and it’s a great project.

Fink: Saying he mostly agreed with Washington, Fink added that it’s important to monitor things, but there are a couple of concerns. The effectiveness and efficiency of a court are important, but each case is different. When a judge can’t move his or her docket, that can be a problem for the litigants – cases get backed up, and people are delayed in getting justice. On the other hand, some cases take longer.

Fink referred to an earlier panel with judge Tim Connors, who had mentioned a class action case that took 15 years to resolve. Part of the problem with metrics is knowing what to measure and how to give weight to those measurements, Fink said. It’s fine to collect data and use it, but you have to be careful about what you collect and what you do with that information.

What’s the proper role of social service agencies within the court system and how would you engage them?

Washington: Social service agencies play a valuable role in many areas, she said. The most important area is in the juvenile justice system, where such agencies play a role in helping parents and children as they go through that process. Agencies also play an important role in the criminal defense process, she said. Many people who are indigent come through the system, and have no means of complying with the orders they’ve been given. Social service agencies can help provide resources to comply, or at least send them in the right direction. These agencies are also important for dealing with mental health issues and drug addiction, Washington said, as well as for people who are in divorce court and need resources.

Kuhnke: Social service agencies are an important counterpart to a lot of the things that the court does, Kuhnke said, and Washtenaw County is fortunate to have the county board of commissioners’ strong support of social services. Everything is suffering from cuts, she noted, and everyone is looking to see how they can help a little more. The court is a great place to help people find the social services that they need and to make good use of everything that’s available. That’s important for litigants, victims – pretty much every individual who comes in contact with the court, she said.

Doug McClure, Tom Wieder

From left: Doug McClure, candidate for 22nd Circuit Court judge, talks with local attorney Tom Wieder.

McClure: He agreed that social service agencies are very important. He said when he volunteered for the public defender’s office in judge Cedric Simpson’s courtroom, McClure was very impressed with how Simpson tried to make available opportunities for people to get out of the cycle of being in the criminal justice system. Simpson tried to get at the root of what some of the problems might be, McClure said, and would encourage people to take classes at Washtenaw Community College, for example.

As far as drug problems, which McClure noted is the source of a lot of crime, there are some good organizations locally that can help. A judge has the option of not bringing up that possibility, he said, or can make it a condition of probation and require it – if the goal is to get a person out of the criminal justice system. McClure also said he thinks that lawyers can do a lot in this regard.

Lawyers are supposed to do pro bono work, as a service to society, McClure said. As a director of the county bar association and on the public service committee, McClure said his efforts have been focused on that. He urged people to go online and look at the articles he’s written on that topic. [For example, a column by McClure was published in the Jan. 23, 2012 issue of the Washtenaw Legal News, titled: "Pro Bono Work Helps Us All."]

Fink: A lot of work with social service agencies happens at the district court level, not at the circuit court, Fink said, although circuit court judges are involved in criminal cases and sometimes family law. He cited some of the agencies he’s involved with, including the nonprofit Dawn Farm, where people can get counseling and treatment while they’re under probation to the drug court in the 15th District Court. [Fink serves on the Dawn Farm board of directors.] He said he’s also on the Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment board, which administers state funds to programs statewide, including SafeHouse Center in Ann Arbor. Fink also mentioned that in Washtenaw County, there’s a program called JPORT – the Justice Project Outreach Team, where mental health workers will accompany people to court and help them through probation.

Which opinion of the Michigan Supreme Court in the last 20 years has been the most significant for Michigan jurisprudence, in a negative or positive way?

Fink: Noting that he’s “kind of a process and fairness guy,” Fink said the case that came to mind didn’t relate to a big case regarding the substance of law – it concerned process. [Maiden v. Rozwood] It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it clarified the issue of summary disposition, Fink said. Summary disposition means that a judge decides a case before it gets to a jury, Fink explained, based on the undisputed facts and the law. In this case, the Michigan Supreme Court clarified the rules of summary disposition and gave clear direction to the trial court judges and attorneys about when it’s appropriate for a judge to make that decision.

Washington: There are many significant cases, Washington noted, but she highlighted Kreiner v Fischer, which she said determined that if you’re injured in a car accident, you have to show that it substantially affected your livelihood. It had tremendous impact on the civil process, in terms of determining who could get past the summary disposition stage. For many people, it curtailed their right to have a civil case for auto negligence. That’s one of the most important cases, she said.

Carol Kuhnke, Margaret Connors

From right: Carol Kuhnke, candidate for 22nd Circuit Court judge, and Margaret Connors, a member of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party leadership and wife of Tim Connors, incumbent candidate for another seat on the 22nd Circuit Court.

Kuhnke: Alluding to the previous 22nd Circuit Court forum between Tim Connors and Mike Woodyard, Kuhnke said she wanted to speak to the issue of summary disposition. [Woodyard had stated that the majority of cases were handled through summary disposition, rather than a jury trial.] Kuhnke said she found that view to be patently wrong. The subtext of that view is that more than 50% of the cases are filed by lawyers who are filing frivolous cases, she said. That’s not so. Summary disposition should be an extraordinary remedy, she said.

To answer the question at hand, she said, there are so many cases that have come out of the Michigan Supreme Court in the last 20 years that have determined a person has no right to a jury, that it’s hard for her to say which one more significantly affected our judiciary and the rights of individuals in Michigan. Kreiner is one – and that case, she explained, involved a man who had multiple fractures in his spine and had not worked for six months. He was a builder who could no longer climb a ladder to get to a roof. When he ultimately got back to work, he could only work 4-6 hours a day. Yet the court ruled that he had no right to recover from the driver who rear-ended him and broke his back.

McClure: The case he cited was Lansing Schools Education Association v. Lansing School Board and Lansing School District. [The case restored a doctrine of legal "standing" that provides discretion to a court to determine that someone has standing to sue "... if the litigant has a special injury or right, or substantial interest, that will be detrimentally affected in a manner different from the citizenry at large or if the statutory scheme implies that the Legislature intended to confer standing on the litigant."]

In Michigan there are several statutes that use the words “any person may sue” – sometimes they’re called citizens suits, McClure said. The Michigan Environmental Protection Act is very broad in that respect. In the past, any person meant any person, he said. But the Michigan Supreme Court previously took that away. And as an indication of how political things can be, he said, when the political balance on court shifted, “we got that right back.” It’s an access to justice case, he said.

Questions: Personal Values, Political Leanings

A range of questions focused on personal qualifications, as well as each candidate’s position on certain issues like reproductive rights and political affiliations.

Why do you want to be a judge?

McClure: Until he can add value to the community overall, McClure said he didn’t think he could consider himself a success. He said he’s started to do that over the last 10 years in his practice and volunteer work. In addition to teaching and working with the Washtenaw County Bar Association, McClure said he takes cases from legal aid. As an example, he said he helped a woman who was losing her house to tax foreclosure.

A couple of years ago, he also volunteered with the public defender’s office, McClure said. “I want to bring that type of commitment to the bench.” Your shot at getting justice happens at the trial court level, he said, because most people can’t afford the cost to appeal a case. Through ways that might not be noticed, a trial court judge makes small decisions based on their values, he said, and that affects the outcome of a case.

Fink: He said he wants to be a judge because he loves public service, he loves the law and he loves this community. His experience as a police officer, a lifelong resident of Washtenaw County, and as an attorney gives him a unique set of skills for this position. He said he thinks that’s why he’s supported by such a wide variety of people, from Republicans to Democrats to people who don’t care about politics.

Washington: She noted that she’s a first-generation attorney. Her father wanted to be a lawyer, but he didn’t make it past eighth grade. So she decided that she wanted to be a lawyer. She’s seen that there are areas that need improvement, and that she can add value to the system. She had heard some complaints, and at some point decided that she needed to step up and do something. She said she thinks she can help to add integrity to the system. She believes she can help the system so that everyone can be heard. She wants the community to have access to resources. She wants to bring fairness to all people. Washington said she believes she can add diversity for the community that’s needed on the bench at this time.

Kuhnke: She said she’s spent 18 years pursuing justice for her clients through the court. She’s gone from thinking that being a judge is the most boring job to thinking it’s the most exciting. The court has a tremendous opportunity to impact people’s lives. It doesn’t have anything to do with being fair or unfair, or biased, but it’s knowing that the court affects people’s lives in such a deep way, she said.

A judge should ensure that people who come before you are heard, understood, and treated as individuals and human beings, Kuhnke said. You should provide the very highest level of justice possible to the people in your court, and understand who they are and where they came from. Kuhnke also believes diversity is important in the court, as well as in all levels of leadership in government. She said she looks forward to being the next judge of the circuit court.

Which judges do you admire?

McClure: He said he’s impressed with how much judge Cedric Simpson [of the 14th District Court in Washtenaw County] cares about people as they work through probation. McClure also cited U.S. Supreme Court justice Earl Warren, noting that Warren was a Republican governor in California before he was appointed to the court. Not only did he rule on the separate-but-equal decision of Brown v. Board of Education, but he got a 9-0 decision, “and that was his doing,” McClure said. And Warren wrote a decision that people could read – you could read it in a junior high school class from beginning to end, and understand it, McClure said. That’s one reason why the decision has permeated our society. Those are skills he greatly admires, McClure said.

Fink: In his office, Fink said he has a transcript of a case that’s being appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Throughout the transcript, the judge addresses Fink’s opponent as “sir” or “Mr.” And when the judge asks the court staff for something, he says “Would you please get me this” and then says “thank you.” The person who lost the case went away knowing that he had been heard and treated respectfully. The judge happens to be judge Connors, Fink said. [Tim Connors, an incumbent running for re-election on the 22nd Circuit Court, had spoken on a panel earlier in the forum with his opponent, Mike Woodyard.] It was a case that Fink said he thought was frivolous, but the person got his day in court and was treated with great respect.

Fink also said he agreed with McClure about judge Simpson, saying that Simpson takes a personal interest in each case, whether it’s criminal or civil. Everyone who leaves his court knows that they’ve been heard and respected, Fink said, and that’s important. Later, Fink added that he admires his “big brother” Karl Fink, a former 22nd Circuit Court judge, and his father Robert Fink, who was a district court judge.

Washington: There are several people she respects, starting with judge Melinda Morris, because Morris was the first woman to serve on the circuit court in Washtenaw County. Washington also said she admires judge Donald Shelton. She knows that some people don’t like him and she understands that, but she admires him because he’s a very analytical and smart man. “He gave me an opportunity, and that’s why I’m sitting here today,” Washington said. She also admires judge Nancy Wheeler, the first female African American judge to be appointed to the Washtenaw County probate court – so Wheeler paved the way for her, Washington said.

Washington admires judge Tim Connors. She had her first bench trial in his courtroom, and he was very kind and considerate to her. Washington also mentioned Betty Widgeon, a former 14A1 District Court judge who was in the audience and had given Washington advice about running a judicial campaign. Finally, Washington cited U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, saying that but for him, “none of us would be here today.”

Kuhnke: Her favorite judge in Michigan is justice Marilyn Kelly of the Michigan Supreme Court. Kuhnke said she’s sad for the residents of Michigan, who’ll be losing a terrific jurist this year due to an archaic law that prevents her from running again after she turns 70. “We all know that we’re productive and able to do the job long after 70.”

The flip side is that the same rule that’s removing justice Kelly is the one that’s allowing all four candidates of the open 22nd Circuit Court to be there today, Kuhnke said – that judge Melinda Morris isn’t allowed to run because she’s turned 70. In terms of local judges, Kuhnke said the county is lucky to have a very good circuit court bench. “I don’t always agree with all of them, but that’s the law and that’s litigation and that’s how it goes,” she said.

Tim Connors is one of the best judges in Michigan, Kuhnke said. She noted that when he handled the long and difficult trials for the female prisoners’ lawsuit against the state Dept. of Corrections, not only did he lose sleep, but he would throw up before going to court in the morning, she said. That demonstrates a deep passion for the law and for justice, she said. “I hope that I can be that good.”

How would you describe your judicial temperament and philosophy, and how do you stand out?

Kuhnke: The judiciary is co-equal with the executive and legislative branches, she said, and it’s not often given the respect that it deserves in terms of people knowing what goes on in the courts and who their judges are. The fact that so many people came to this forum on a beautiful Saturday in June is wonderful, she said. As far as her judicial temperament, her colleagues would describe her as calm, cool, collected and kind, she said. Those are the right qualities in a judicial temperament, she added – someone who is patient, who can listen and be considerate, and who can ensure that everybody is heard.

McClure: What he would bring to the bench is independence, he said. McClure said he’s not beholden or tied to a particular  individual or interest group. That’s very important, he said. He described his temperament as one of patience, interest and curiosity about a case to get the right result. His philosophy is “Do the right thing.”

Fink: His judicial philosophy is that a judge should follow the law, even if the judge disagrees with the law. A judge is bound by the law and should apply it to the facts of the case, he said. His judicial temperament is that everyone should have equal justice under the law, Fink said. The best way that people can see how his temperament would be to ask people who knew his work as a police officer. He said he was known to be someone who is respectful, even to people he had to arrest or charge with crimes. Someone’s station in life should not make a difference as to how they’re treated. Everyone is entitled to respect and equal treatment under the law, he said.

Washington: Her judicial philosophy is that a judge has to follow the law. You apply the facts to the law, she said, and you reach a conclusion. You need to try to be as fair to everyone as possible. Her temperament is to make sure that the process is completely fair to everyone, whether it’s an individual or someone representing a corporation. Everyone needs to understand that they’ll be heard in court. Washington said she’ll be patient and kind, but there will be times when she needs to be direct.

Have you ever been disciplined, suspended, or disbarred from the practice of law, reprimanded by the attorney general, or brought before an attorney grievance commission?

All four candidates answered the same way: No.

Do you support a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion?

Kuhnke: She responded by saying she is the product of an unplanned pregnancy when her mother was 19 – Kuhnke said she’s grateful her mother didn’t abort her. She’s also the parent of two adopted children whose parents didn’t want to raise them. She said she’s adamantly pro-choice.

McClure and Washington both said they are pro-choice.

Fink: Most people in the room would classify him as pro-life, Fink said. As a judge, he’d follow the law. The question had been phrased in an important way, he said – in that it’s a constitutional right, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s not up to a judge to make the law or insert his or her personal opinions into things. “We have to follow the law,” Fink said. “That’s what I’ll do.”

Would you accept a campaign contribution from an organization like Right to Life or any group that opposes a woman’s right to choose?

Fink was the only candidate who answered yes.

Jim Fink’s political contributions are described in a handout that was distributed today. Where do your values lie in terms of supporting political candidates?

[By way of background, before the start of the June 23 forum, a one-page handout had been placed on the audience chairs, 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.]

Cleveland Chandler, Jim Fink

From left: Cleveland Chandler, chair of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party, talks with Jim Fink, a candidate for 22nd Circuit Court judge.

Fink: He began by joking that if he ever reaches a point when he needs someone to write his biography, he might hire whoever wrote the handout. There are things in it that Fink said he didn’t know or had forgotten about. It’s incomplete, though, he said. Those who know him also know that he has supported Democratic candidates often, he said, including some people in this room, both financially and publicly.

Now that he’s a candidate for judge, there won’t be any partisan signs in his yard, Fink said, but he didn’t think there’s been an election cycle in the last 20 years when there wasn’t at least one Democratic sign in his yard. Two years ago, he supported Dave Rutledge. Four years ago, there was a Jerry Clayton sign in his yard, and there may have been others, Fink said. [Rutledge won a race for state representative in District 54; Clayton won the race for county sheriff. Both are Democrats.]

Those who know him also know that he’s been associated with the Republican Party, Fink said. If you didn’t know that, you could read the handout, he joked – it’s partially true. If you look at his website, you’ll see he’s supported by many prominent Democrats, Fink said. The reason is that people understand that judicial races aren’t legislative races, he said, “and they trust me.” On his website, he said, you’ll see pro-choice Democrats, Republicans and people who don’t care about politics. People trust him to set aside his personal opinions and follow the law, Fink said, which is what each candidate has to do, no matter which one of them is elected judge. He thanked Mike Henry for the opportunity to respond, and received a round of applause.

Have others supported Republicans?

Washington and Kuhnke: Both said they had nothing to do with the literature on the chairs, and had not supported any Republican candidates.

McClure: He began by saying “I’m not crazy about this whole question – Jim’s a good man and it’s a little too personal.” He said he votes Democrat and has been a lifelong Democrat.

Fink joked that McClure didn’t say he hadn’t distributed the handout, which drew laughter from the crowd. McClure replied, “I didn’t put that out.” Mike Henry noted that McClure also hadn’t answered whether he has supported Republican candidates. “Not that I remember,” McClure said. “You can check my voting records.”

Regarding the adoption of children by same sex parents: In Washtenaw County, we haven’t allowed two same-sex individuals to adopt. How would you deal with this in your courtroom?

Kuhnke: Same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt, she said. It’s important to encourage people to adopt, and to allow any committed couple to have a child. Kuhnke said she currently represents one of the partners in a same-sex relationship. The couple is trying to get both of their names on their child’s birth certificate. One partner was the egg donor, and the other woman carried and delivered the child. Only the mother who carried the child is listed on the birth certificate. The other biological parent hasn’t been allowed to have her name on the certificate, even though the couple is raising the child together in a committed relationship, Kuhnke said. That’s wrong – courts should allow same-sex adoptions, she said.

McClure: He believes same-sex adoptions should be allowed and encouraged. If a child can be placed in a loving relationship – “whether it’s lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, whatever,” he said – there shouldn’t be any legal impediment. If there is, he hoped the legislature would do something about it.

Fink: In Washtenaw County, same-sex adoptions are not currently allowed by court rule, he noted. If the law changes, he said, he would follow the law. If the law allows it, he would not prohibit it.

Washington: Same-sex adoptions should be allowed, she said, but at this point the rule in Washtenaw County is that they can’t be allowed. There was a time when it was allowed, she noted. That’s why voters should be very aware of who they elect as a judge, she said, because judges have the ability to speak with Michigan Supreme Court justices and administrators and set out rules that are specific to a court that would prevent this from happening. That’s what happened in this county, she said.

Some of the local judges lobbied to prevent same-sex marriages, Washington said. So it’s important that citizens are aware that the personal views of judges do affect outcomes in the court. She would support same-sex adoptions if it were to return as an option for the court.

Closing Statements

The panel concluded with closing statement from each candidate.

Fink: “You would not even think about voting for me if this was a state rep race,” Fink said. “I understand that, but it’s not.” It’s a judicial race, and he’s said he’s supported by many Democrats, including pro-choice Democrats, because they trust him to be someone who will follow the law and set his personal opinions aside. He noted that Janis Bobrin is an honorary co-chair of his campaign. [Bobrin, a Democrat, is the long-time county water resources commissioner.] Lore Rogers, a former ACLU litigation chair and an opponent of his brother Karl Fink 18 years ago, is working on his campaign, Fink said.

Fink told people that if they look at the list of supporters on his website, they’ll see he has broad support, which is what a judge should have. A judge should not be political, he said. A sitting judge told him recently that no matter what path a judge takes to the bench – whether appointed by a Republican governor, a Democratic governor, or elected – it stops at the bench and everyone gets equal treatment. “That’s my pledge,” Fink concluded, “and I’m asking for your support and your trust in that position.”

Washington: She said she was honored to be there, and honored to have the support of many people in the audience. It’s been a long haul to get to this point, she said. She’s qualified, and passionate about justice in this county. If elected, she’d set aside any Democratic leanings and apply the law fairly to each individual. She thanked the Teamsters, the 15th Congressional District Democratic Organization, and former Michigan Supreme Court justice Conrad Mallett for endorsing her. She also thanked her significant other who was in the audience, and her children, ages 16 and 22, for supporting her. “I hope to see you on the campaign trail, and I hope to get your vote.”

Kuhnke: She said she’s very excited to be running for circuit court judge. It’s an exciting race and exciting time in Washtenaw County, because it’s been so long since a new judge has been elected by the people. [Other judges were initially appointed, then subsequently re-elected as incumbents.] This is our opportunity, she said. Judge Melinda Morris is the only judge sitting on the 22nd Circuit Court who was originally elected to her seat, Kuhnke noted. The rest of the judges were appointed by governors.

No disrespect to judge Connors, Kuhnke added, but it’s nice once in a while to have a judge selected by the people. She said she’s worked for the people for 18 years, in Washtenaw County, Livingston County, Lenawee County, and many other Michigan counties, as well as all over the state of Illinois. She said she’s the people’s candidate. The judiciary is the third branch of government that belongs to the people, where the people come in and are heard and understood, and cared for in a fair way, she said. “That’s what the court should be, and that’s what I intend to do as a circuit court judge.”

McClure: God bless everyone who came out on a beautiful day to spend two hours hearing about summary disposition and things like that, McClure said. He’s grateful, because he wants people to pay attention to this race. The position of judge is one of trust. That judge will make decisions, and the community wants to know they can trust in that judge. “In a room full of Democrats, you can trust that I share your values and also that I know the law,” he said. McClure said he’d work hard to ensure that their values are represented in court and that the law is efficiently and correctly applied in a way that’s compassionate.

McClure also gave a “shout-out” to his wife Catherine McClure, who couldn’t attend the event. She started out as an independent, he said, but he turned her into not only a Democrat, but she now also works on the senate central staff for the 12 “lonely” Democratic senators in Lansing. She works very hard to get Democratic values some voice. McClure noted that the state senate minority leader, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, is one of his supporters. He also cited Mike Garfield [director of the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center] and Congressman Hansen Clark as other supporters, and concluded by thanking everyone for coming.

Election Information

The last day to register to vote for the Tuesday, Aug. 7 primary is July 9, 2012. Information on voter registration can be found on the Washtenaw County clerk’s elections division website. To see a sample ballot for your precinct, visit the Secretary of State’s website.

The last day to register to vote for the Tuesday, Nov. 6 general election is Oct. 9.

The Chronicle survives in part through regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of local government and civic affairs. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.


  1. By cosmonıcan
    July 1, 2012 at 10:45 am | permalink

    Beware of those Absentee Ballots. At 1.15 ounce, my 5th Ward envelope costs 65¢ to mail back, or a Forever stamp plus 20¢ — or does the Clerk cover it if you don’t have enough postage?

  2. July 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm | permalink

    No, the clerk doesn’t pay the difference. Return ballot envelopes used to indicate the amount of postage, but I’d guess they got tired of having to guess how long a particular rate would be current.

  3. July 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm | permalink

    Re: [2]

    In response to an emailed question, city clerk Jackie Beaudry gave an answer confirming Aermentrout’s description:

    Years ago, we stamped them with a message that said, “Please use $.65 postage” (I think at the time it was $.63), but sometimes the Post Office would weigh a voter’s ballot and only charge the 1st class rate (Forever stamp) … [T]heir rates are always changing … so we stopped with the note and if we get calls, we encourage voters to check with their Post Office. We see most ballots come back with $.65 postage and a few with only the Forever stamp. I’m not aware of any being returned to sender for Postage Due, but you might check with the Ann Arbor Post Office to see if there is an official policy. Unofficially, I think they are pretty good about getting us the returned ballots quickly.

  4. By ScratchingmyHead
    July 2, 2012 at 11:26 am | permalink

    I’ve now had a chance to reviewed how each of these candidates approach to the law will be. For example,and I don’t have any preconceived notion as to whether same sex couples should be able to adopt, Fink was the only candidate that pointed out that same sex adoption is not law in Michigan st this time but if it became the law he would enforce it. The other candidates took on a more activist role which means that they will interpret the law as they see fit. I like Finks integrity and his approach to the law.
    If we want to change the law, then we as citizens should work to change it not the Judges who are are suppose to demonstrate an impartial attitude toward they are judging.

  5. July 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm | permalink

    The moderator of the circuit court candidates’ forum asked the candidates a valuable question about whether courts should adopt metrics (also known as performance measurements). Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what court performance measurements are and how they might be used.

    First, court performance measurements are not a new idea; in fact, the National Center for State Courts first proposed a set of performance measures, “CourTools,” in 2005. The 10 performance measurement headings include “access and fairness,” “time to disposition,” “trial date certainty,” and “effective use of jurors,” among others.

    Why have performance measurement for courts? True, we may not be able to measure the quality of justice — a fear voiced by some who are skeptical of performance measurement. But we can and should measure the many areas that affect the quality of the public’s experience, as well as the court’s efficiency.

    Consider, for example, some of the possible metrics under the heading of “access and fairness.” The NCSC’s suggested survey asks participants to agree or disagree with such statements as “Finding the courthouse was easy,” “I was able to get my court business done in a reasonable amount of time,” “The judge listened to my side of the story before he or she made a decision,” “As I leave the court, I know what to do next about my case.”

    Other performance measurements do concern a court’s efficiency, but usually in ways that affect public service. For example, by measuring case age at disposition, a court can tell whether it is resolving cases in a timely way. We can also measure whether courts are making good use of jurors. A court that “over-summons” prospective jurors, only to send most of them home or delay their service until another day, wastes its own resources and the potential jurors’ time.

    The forum moderator asked an excellent question: what metrics should courts use? A series of focus groups, including 100 Michigan judges and court administrators, addressed that same question this spring and it is still under discussion. The performance measures that Michigan courts adopt will not, however, be about moving cases through the system as fast as possible. Performance measurement is really about the quality of service to the public.

  6. By Mary Morgan
    July 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm | permalink

    Re. [5]:

    For readers who don’t know Marcia McBrien, she serves as public information officer for the Michigan Supreme Court.

  7. July 2, 2012 at 6:34 pm | permalink

    Thanks, Mary; I should have included that information in my comment.

    For more on court performance measures, see this report: [link]

    Marcia McBrien
    Public Information Officer, Michigan Supreme Court

  8. By ScratchingmyHead
    July 3, 2012 at 10:15 am | permalink

    Marcia. You did a very good job of explaining the courts metric. Thanks.

  9. By Mike Woodyard
    July 4, 2012 at 10:59 am | permalink

    Thanks to the Ann Arbor Chronicle for thorough, accurate coverage of the judicial forums.

    I wanted to take an opportunity to amplify and clarify one of the points of discussion that seems to have generated a bit of confusion: the role of summary disposition in civil litigation. Although my background is primarily in criminal law, I have practiced civil litigation, and I am well-familiar with the role of summary disposition as a fundamental and, I thought, relatively non-controversial aspect of law.

    Basically, summary disposition is a method by which the lawyers file a motion asking a judge to determine – often before the lawyers go through the expense of engaging in discovery, taking depositions or retaining experts – whether the other side’s case is strong enough to continue. The judge considers the information presented and decides whether there are sufficient facts to create a genuine question that a jury should decide, or whether a party even has a legal right to the remedy it seeks. If, in the judge’s determination, there are no genuine questions of fact, or there is no legal basis for the claim, the case is dismissed.

    During the first panel, in response to a question about the relative merits of jury trial versus summary disposition, I mentioned that the majority of civil cases are dismissed by a judge ruling on a motion for summary disposition. During the second panel, one of the candidates said she felt that view was “patently wrong.”

    In fact…

    A 2011 study (1) by the Michigan Supreme Court Administrative Office looked at 93 randomly selected cases in Kent, Macomb and Oakland counties that were ordered into mediation of their dispute, and in which the mediator valued the case at $25,000 or less. Of those 93 cases, 77 settled, 9 were subject to summary disposition, and 7 went to trial. So – aside from those cases that settled – the majority of cases in this study were disposed of by summary disposition.

    In a separate 2011 study (2) of 396 Michigan civil cases in which neither case evaluation nor mediation were relied upon to resolve the dispute, 86 percent either settled or were dismissed. Eleven percent of the cases were disposed of by summary disposition and 3 percent were disposed of by court verdict (either after jury or bench trial, presumably).

    A paper prepared by the Michigan Legislature in 2007 (3) recounted the history of Michigan’s courts and found that, in 2006, “the majority (40.4 percent) of civil cases were disposed of by default, consent judgment, settlement, or summary disposition. Over 35 percent were dismissed by the plaintiff. Two percent resulted in a jury verdict or bench verdict.”

    The premise of the question my opponent and I addressed was the value of jury trials in resolving civil litigation. My response accurately stated the fact that most cases which do not settle are resolved by the court on a motion for summary disposition. But perhaps more importantly, I highlighted the fact that, while it is an essential feature of civil jurisprudence, hardly any cases are resolved of by a trial.

    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify this important question.


    1 – [link]

    2 – [link]

    3 – [link]

  10. By David R.
    August 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm | permalink

    I think McClure came out the strongest candidate because he was willing to rule favorably on adoption for gay families, has worked a great deal in environmental issues, has done volunteer work as a public defender, and seesm the most open minded and intellectual.

  11. By Voting Citizen
    August 7, 2012 at 3:27 pm | permalink

    To: ScratchingmyHead

    You are incorrect in your statement regarding Fink. Look closely, Washington clearly stated that she would support it IF it became an option. She also clearly gave the background on the law stating that it was a law and was no longer. I think your biased statement is showing.