22nd Circuit Judicial Race: Connors, Woodyard

Fourth election for incumbent judge brings first challenge

Earlier this month in the cafeteria of Bach Elementary School, four candidates for two spots on the 22nd Circuit Court fielded questions as part of a forum sponsored by the Washtenaw County Bar Association and the Old West Side Association. The nonpartisan judicial elections are for six-year terms.

Timothy Connors, Mike Woodyard

Candidates for one of two races for judge of the 22nd Circuit Court in Washtenaw County: Tim Connors (left) and Mike Woodyard (right).

This write-up includes some of the responses of candidates in just one of those races, described on the ballot at the “incumbent position.” The ballot itself also labels the incumbent, Tim Connors, as “Judge of Circuit Court.” Voters on Nov. 6 will have a choice between Connors and Ann Arbor resident Mike Woodyard, who has worked for the last 10 years as an attorney in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office. Before attending law school, Woodyard worked for a time as a newspaper reporter.

Connors was initially appointed to the 22nd Circuit Court in 1997 by then-Gov. John Engler, a Republican, to replace judge Karl Fink – the older brother of Jim Fink, who is running in the other race along with Carol Kuhnke for the non-incumbent 22nd Circuit Court judgeship. Before making the circuit court appointment, Engler had previously appointed Connors in 1991 to a seat on the 15th District Court in Ann Arbor.

Vacancies created by resignations, like that of Karl Fink, are filled through gubernatorial appointments – but judges must stand for election at the first opportunity to serve out the remainder of the partial term. After being appointed in 1997, Connors stood for election in 1998, and then again in 2000 and 2006 for successive six-year terms. On each of those three occasions, Connors was unopposed, which is fairly typical for incumbent judges.

At the forum, that’s one reason Woodyard indicated he’s running for judge – not to run against Connors, but rather to provide voters with the kind of contested judicial elections described by Michigan law. It emerged during the forum that in law school Woodyard had taken a trial advocacy course taught by Connors, and had received an A in the class. Woodyard mentioned the class as helpful in one of his first trials, which resulted in getting a “live nude girls” establishment shut down.

The WCBA had prepared questions for the candidates covering standard topics like judicial temperament, experience and what led the candidates to consider a career in law. During the second part of the forum, questions from the audience were entertained as well. The requirement that all questions be suitable for all four candidates led to some grumbling – based in part on the fact that not all four candidates were running against each other.

Local attorney Peter Davis, who indicated he had a question just for Woodyard, responded to moderator Steve Borgsdorf’s enforcement of the rule by saying ”So you want softball questions?” Borgsdorf responded with, “No, they can be fastballs, but everyone’s got to get a chance to bat.” The analogy was apt, as at the time of the Oct. 16 forum, the Detroit Tigers baseball team was handing the New York Yankees a 2-1 defeat in the American League Championship Series.

Woodyard and Connors had previously participated in a candidate forum in June, prior to the Aug. 7 primary and hosted by the Washtenaw County Democratic Party. They also responded to five questions for inclusion on the 411vote.org website. Responses from candidates in the other race – Carol Kuhnke and Jim Fink – will be reported in a separate Chronicle write-up.

The campaign finance filing deadline was Oct. 26. According to documents filed with the state, Connors has raised $95,090 in contributions and spent $84,765. Woodyard’s campaign finance report shows contributions of $7,266 and expenditures of $6,830.

These candidates will be on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election. To see a sample ballot for your precinct, visit the Secretary of State’s website. Additional information about local candidates and other voter information is available on the Washtenaw county clerk’s elections division website.


Mike Woodyard: His background as a lawyer goes back about 10 years, he said. During that time, he has worked as a prosecuting attorney in Wayne County. He began working there after he graduated from Wayne State University. Before he attended law school, he worked as a newspaper reporter for a number of different publications around the country, he said. Before that he was self-employed and “making his way.” He graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 1997.

Mike Woodyard

Mike Woodyard.

In the Wayne County prosecutor’s office he’s been assigned to a number of areas, Woodyard said. He began on a civil docket that he described as a “quasi-criminal docket” – where he handled nuisance abatement, asset forfeiture, and things of that nature. He moved from there to the domestic violence docket, and was then assigned to the child-abuse unit. He worked for six years with the child-abuse unit, where he developed a specialty in infant head trauma cases. Two years ago he was assigned to the public integrity unit, he said. That’s a small unit handling cases involving wrongdoing by public officials, including police officers, he explained.

Tim Connors: He began by noting the venue, which was the cafeteria of Bach Elementary School. He had attended Pattengill Elementary – another Ann Arbor school. He invited the audience to look at the map of the United States rendered on the back wall, saying it was really kind of neat – because we get all wrapped up in our lives and we lose sight of the things that are really important.

The context of the elementary school cafeteria brought home something that Connors thinks is really important to consider when people visit the courthouse – because it can be really impersonal and scary, he said. It’s important to make it feel like a safe haven for people, he said, and it’s important to keep our humanity.

It’s been a real pleasure to serve the legal community as judge, he said. He stated that Washtenaw County is the envy of most of the state’s legal community. That is not by accident, but rather by choice and design, he said. Washtenaw County has some of the best lawyers in the state, he contended, if not the nation. He counted himself as lucky to be associated with them. It has been a pleasure to serve as judge for the last 20 years and he hopes that with voters’ support he would be able to serve for another 12.

Judicial Temperament

Question: What does judicial temperament mean to you? If elected, what type of judicial temperament would you most like to convey?

Tim Connors: He said the most important thing is listening. He said he’s learned to listen – and not just to what is being said, but also to what is not being said. There’s usually something else going on, he said. It’s important to try hard to be patient, compassionate and caring. But in terms of temperament, listening is the most important factor, he concluded.

Mike Woodyard: The two keys to judicial temperament, he said, are being respectful and predictable. Showing respect is related to listening and hearing people. Being predictable is related to human nature. People are who they are. It would be his hope that when people come into his court, they would know that he would act in a predictable manner.

Budgetary Challenges

Question: How do you perceive your role as circuit court judge in addressing budgetary challenges?

Mike Woodyard: He began by saying that the financial challenges faced by the Washtenaw County Circuit Court are not unique. The trial court is funded through a blend of different sources, he said. The state provides salary and benefits, and the local entity provides the physical plant and other support.

The court system works with the county board of commissioners, he noted. The court has an understanding with the board that includes receiving a lump sum allocation, which it has to work with. That lump sum has been decreasing, he said, and projections through the year 2015 are that it will continue to decrease. So the idea of doing more with less involves improving various practices, cross-training staff and exploring other efficiencies, particularly with electronic and digital technology.

Tim Connors

Tim Connors.

Tim Connors: He began by saying “I don’t think you can do more with less. I think that’s crazy. You can do less with less. And the question becomes what do you do with what you have.” He has a good history with judges in the county, he said. He’s handled every kind of case in every kind of courtroom in the county, he said. The flexibility and the work ethic among the judges allows work to be picked up and to be done so willingly.

As far as the budget goes, there will be a whole new group of nine commissioners after the election [down from 11 due to redistricting]. Having a personal relationship with the commissioners is important, so that they understand what the court does, he said. As judges, he felt that they need to fill the gaps. He suggested reaching out to law students to have them lend their efforts, given that there are two fine law schools right our own back yard, he said. Summarizing his thoughts in the budget, he said, “It is what it is.”

Experience with Types of Law

Question: The two seats on the court that are being contested are currently held by judges Melinda Morris and Tim Connors. Morris has a current docket that consists of criminal and civil cases, and Connors currently has a docket that consists of civil and family law matters. The chief judge could reassign those dockets based on the experience and expertise of the judges who are elected. Could each candidate please speak to their experience in each of those types of law and how you feel your experience would help you as a judge on the bench?

Mike Woodyard: He reiterated from his introductory remarks a description of his experience with the prosecuting attorney’s office in Wayne County – he felt he has a depth of experience in criminal law. What that teaches, he said, is not just the intricacies of the process of a criminal case – motions, trials, juries. It also teaches you a good deal about human nature, and how people behave one to the other, he said. Having spent some time in court, he’s come to learn a little bit about that.

With respect to the civil docket, Woodyard mentioned that he’d had an opportunity to handle a civil docket early in his career – dealing with assets foreclosure and nuisance abatement. He allowed that he did not have any specific experience in family law. But he observed that the child abuse cases that he’d handled as a prosecutor generally had a parallel case that was proceeding at the same time with the department of human services involving custody. And through that experience, he was able to gain an understanding of that aspect of family law.

Tim Connors: His docket is a civil and family docket, he noted. In the civil arena, he’s assigned a large portion of the docket because that is his specialty, he said. That was his background as a trial attorney. He said that Carol Kuhnke – in her remarks made in response to the same question – was exactly right about civil trials being complex and complicated.

He has been teaching civil trial skills for 19 years and he enjoyed that very much. In the area of family law, anyone has the right in the juvenile court to demand a judge, and if there is a demand for a judge, then he is that judge, Connors said. He’s also been involved with a specialized child welfare docket, he said, and he’s also very much involved in trying to bring peacekeeping principles to the family court. That’s been successful in the tribal community, he said.

Connor’s has become convinced over the years that advocacy in the family court is very different from advocacy in the criminal and civil court. He and his wife, Margaret Connors, have designed a class to teach at the University Michigan law school on that topic.

Experience with Trials

Question: What is your experience as a trial attorney? What’s your experience in civil versus criminal trials and bench versus jury trials?

Tim Connors: As a civil trial lawyer, he tried hundreds of cases, Connors said. He was proud of the fact that as a civil trial lawyer there was a no-fault case he’d tried that resulted in a new interpretation of the law that is still the law today.

Mike Woodyard: He said he tried about 100 cases. Most of them had been jury trials and some of them had been bench trials. When he was assigned to the civil docket in nuisance abatement, as an intern he had worked on a nuisance abatement for an old-fashioned “live nude girls”-type facility. It was one of the last such establishments like that in southeast Michigan, he said, describing it as a really filthy place. So as an intern, he was trying that case before judge Michael Sapala on the 3rd Circuit Court. The defendant brought in a high-profile defense attorney, he said, but the case all boiled down to the evidence. He said he was able to muddle through the rules and present the case, and the establishment was shut down.

Woodyard added that he owed a debt of gratitude to Connors, because he had taken Connors’ trial advocacy course at Wayne State University – and had received an A in the class. And he was able to take the skills he learned in that class and apply them to that case. He had experience in criminal cases, he said, and he had developed a real expertise in child abuse head trauma cases. Such cases are incredibly and extraordinarily complex, he said – involving a social work aspect, search and seizure issues, and access to medical records and issues of that nature.

Vocation to the Field of Law

Question: Why are you a lawyer? Why did you choose this profession? As part of your answer, identify a mentor or a role model who ought to be credited with where you are today.

Mike Woodyard: He began by saying that he did not have any lawyers in his family. He’s a lawyer because of his father, he said. But his father is not involved in the legal profession – rather, he’s a professor at Wayne State University. Ever since he was old enough to accompany his father to Detroit, his father would take him along to participate in programs involving food distribution or helping people in other ways. His father had taught them how important it is for people who are lucky – like all of the people in the room, Woodyard noted – to give back and to devote themselves to the improvement of others. So to that extent, he would identify his father as his role model.

Tim Connors: When he was growing up, he said, his mother was a TV anchor. And he recalled a TV program he participated in, when the moderator had gone around and asked all the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. His answer was “a lawyer,” and his parents about fell over, he said. They asked him where that answer had come from. He told his parents that they’d never asked him that question. He said he had no idea why he wanted to be a lawyer, but for some reason he just had the sense that that’s what he was supposed to do.

Argument for Yourself, Against Opponent

Question: What do you see in yourself – in quality or experience – that you would bring to the bench that’s either absent in your opponent or that you’d be better at than your opponent. What’s unique to you that you would bring?

Mike Woodyard: He stated that “I really appreciate the question and I will absolutely not answer it!”

Woodyard stated that he’s not running against Connors. Rather, he’s running because he’s qualified. He’s running because since 1954, Michigan law has contemplated contested judicial elections, he said. If the elections are not contested, he felt that sets up a disservice to the community.

If the community has an opportunity to look at his commitment to public service, and his commitment to justice and his commitment to the rights of people who appear before the court – plaintiffs, defendants or people in family court – and they think that Connors would do a better job, then they should vote for Connors, Woodyard said. But if people think he would be a person to better serve the community than Connors, then they should vote for him. Serving as judge is a terrific opportunity to give back to his community, Woodyard said, in a meaningful personal and professional way.

Tim Connors: He said he was taught that you shouldn’t talk about yourself and why you are better than somebody else, so he indicated he wouldn’t be elaborating more than that.

Judicial Bypass: Abortion

Question: An audience question came from local attorney Tom Wieder. Wieder noted that one of the matters that can come before the circuit court is a so-called “judicial bypass case.” Those are cases where a minor wants to have an abortion and cannot obtain the consent of a parent or guardian, he explained. There’s been about 125 of those cases in last four years, Wieder said, which were decided on the circuit bench. Wieder then framed a question specifically for Jim Fink: “Mr. Fink, you’ve been endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan, a condition of which is that you agree to oppose abortion except in cases where the life of the mother is at stake. Given that pledge, aren’t you effectively saying to any young woman who came before you in a judicial bypass case, unless her life were endangered, you would not grant a bypass?”

[Fink's response was essentially that he'd not pledged that, and is described in more detail in the separate report of his and Kuhnke's responses. Other candidates responded to the general topic of the kind of judicial bypass case that Wieder had highlighted.]

Tim Connors: He noted that on the 22nd Circuit Court, the waiver of parental consent questions are handled by judge Donald Shelton. Connors is the backup judge for those questions, Connors said. He noted that he had never turned down a request. In every case, he felt that there had been good counseling given – and because such cases were held in closed session, he did not want to provide a lot of details about those cases.

Mike Woodyard: He brought the question back to one of the keys that he identified for judicial temperament – respect. A young woman who has the courage to ask the court to support her decision deserves respect. The law sets up a model to be followed and it needs to be followed, he said.

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  1. By Mark Koroi
    October 29, 2012 at 7:16 pm | permalink

    Mike Woodyard has done a splendid job at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in the anti-corruption unit. In a recent case that was reported in the local media he convicted a police officer of dishonest conduct. He has been endorsed by a number of judges and prominent members of the bar and from law enforcement, including Kym Worthy.

    Many Ann Arborites and other Washtenaw County residents are assisting him in his campaign. His campaign website is: [link]

  2. By Steve Borgsdorf
    October 30, 2012 at 11:12 am | permalink

    Thank you to the Chronicle for covering the panel discussion! In my opinion the most revealing answers were in response to the softest softball of all: to name your favorite Washtenaw County restaurant that no longer exists. (Tim Connors said Bolger’s Dairy, Mike Woodyard said the Ugly Mug, Carol Kuhnke said Drake’s and Jim Fink said the Cracked Crab.) I haven’t polled the other circuit judges but imagine I would hear some votes for Maude’s or the Whiffletree.

  3. By Jerard A. Saffold
    October 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm | permalink

    This letter is in regards to Judge Timothy P. Connors. I went before Judge Connors for 14 years until I had him recuse himself off my case on August 2, 2012. Judge Connors has caused a great deal of harm to my children by taking away parenting time unjustly from the children and their father. Also, when I brought before him the mothers bad behavior and non-compliance to the court order, he did nothing with the Show Cause motion before him. He’s bias and nothing more than a “thug” and a “bully” in a black robe. I have lost all confidence in the judicial system in Washtenaw County.

  4. October 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm | permalink

    I don’t trust any prosecutor as a judge. The bias is obvious.

    Judge Connors, on the other hand, rules against the government without batting an eye. He ruled in favor of a bunch of women prisoners who had been abused by guards several years ago.

    The people deserve a level playing field. Judge Connors gives it to them.

  5. By Mark Koroi
    October 31, 2012 at 4:11 pm | permalink

    @David Cahill:

    You should disclose you are a re-election campaign committeeman for Timothy Connors.

    You cite the Neal versus MDOC prisoners suit. Check the Woodyard campaign website at http://www.woodyard4judge.com under “My Opponent’s Record” and it reveals that Judge Connors was reversed by the Michigan Court of Appeals in that case for shielding the identities of prisoners receiving settlements from persons attempting to collect restitution for crime victims and child support.

    Recently disclosed campaign contribution reports reveal that Deborah LaBelle and Richard Soble gave the statutory maximum of $3,400.00 each to Timothy Connors re-election committee at a time that the Neal case is still having matters being heard. Does this raise red flags of a possible appearance of impropriety? Did Connors or his wife put any of their own money to fund his re-election campaign?

    I was quoted by annarbor.com in an article about ethics issues related to Judge Connors in the Jenny’s Market case.

    I believe that Michael Woodyard is a candidate who rigorously observes ethical rules and is dedicated to advancing the public interest.

    @Jerald Saffold:

    I appreciate your comments regarding your observations of Judge Connors.

  6. By John Shea
    October 31, 2012 at 6:21 pm | permalink

    On this one (meaning, unlike in connection with his comment regarding Jim Fink), I agree with my friend Dave Cahill. First, I’m not involved in Judge Connors’ campaign, although I do support him. Second, in the last couple of years I have bench-tried two difficult civil cases to him. I lost one, I won one. His demeanor, fact-finding methods, and and overall judicial evenhandedness were the same in each. The fact that lawyers are willing to let him be the fact-finder in their trials speaks volumes about his fairness and competence. Third, Judge Connors’ opponent chooses to publish the names of 21 case-reversals by the Court of Appeals, without important context such as how many appeals of his judgments were AFFIRMED; how does this record of reversals stand up against that of other circuit judges; and how does this record stand up when measured against the years Judge Connors has served. Frankly, for a guy who has been a judge since 1991 (and a circuit judge since 1997), I’m surprised that the COA has disagreed with him only 21 times. The fact that his opponent, an attorney who should know better, publishes this kind of out-of-context information causes me to question his above-supporter’s intimations that the opponent occupies some kind of moral high ground. Fourth, Judge Connors has a tremendous amount of local support. Are there local folks who are disappointed, perhaps severely disappointed, by his rulings? Of course, and I know some of those people. But the kind of widespread local support he enjoys comes only from honest respect, honestly earned. His opponent’s support, at least from the look of his website, appears entirely to be from Wayne and Oakland Counties. He may be a swell guy and a great prosecutor, but I would like to see a whole lot more engagement with and connection to Washtenaw County before considering such a candidate for this job.

  7. By Mark Koroi
    October 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm | permalink

    @John Shea:

    “….Judge Connors has a tremendous amount of local support.”

    Were you at the September 15, 2012 Ann Arbor Democratic Party membership meeting where Judge Connors’ bid for an endorsement by that group was rejected by a 47-8 vote? Your friend David Cahill was there.

    I see more “grassroots support” for Mike Woodyard.

    Connors, per his statutory disclosures, has a tremendous amount of campaign financial assistance from the personal injury bar, many who have donated the statutory maximum of $3,400.00. I have never seen so many $3,400.00 maximum individual contributions accepted by a local judicial candidate in any Michigan race.

    You speak of the plethora of Michigan Court of Appeals reversals of Connors listed on the Woodyard website – but you fail to comment on the Judicial Tenure Commission citation of Timothy Connors that Mike Woodyard alludes to therein.

    Mike Woodyard is the better choice.

  8. By Tom Hollyer
    October 31, 2012 at 9:45 pm | permalink

    Mr. Cahill, based on your posts, former law enforcement officers are “contaminated,” and you don’t trust former prosecutors. So who is qualified to be a judge?

  9. November 1, 2012 at 8:51 am | permalink

    Re (7) Mark, the Ann Arbor Democratic Party did not reject “Judge Connors’ bid for an endorsement . . . by a 47-8 vote”. I offered a motion to not endorse either candidate in the election. I explained my motion as an attempt to not favor one Democrat over another.

    The resolution to remain neutral is in stark contrast to the Party’s overwhelming endorsement of Democrat Carol Kuhnke over Republican Fink in the other circuit court race. While Carol shares the values of the Democratic Party and deserves the support of all Democrats, the choice between two the Democrats Connors and Woodyard does not have that clear distinction.

    I would also note that the first person to speak in opposition to my motion was Mr. Woodyard’s campaign manager (who later changed her position). Mr Cahill also spoke against the resolution, apparently in hopes of acquiring an endorsement for Connors. In the end, the party took a position of neutrality by passing my resolution.

  10. November 1, 2012 at 10:34 am | permalink

    While it’s nice to hear from a member of the Wayne County Bar, I must point out that I am not a member of Judge Connors’ campaign committee. I am, of course, an endorser.

    I’m glad Mark is using his real name here.

  11. November 1, 2012 at 10:48 am | permalink

    [10] Dave, with respect to membership on Connors’ campaign committee, it’s worth pointing out that the contention you’re a member might have been based on the fact that you’re listed as such on Connors’ website – but that’s along with 98 other people. That large a group seems to strain the semantics of “committee.” So it looks like Connors may have decided to label a group of individual endorsers as a “committee” in some sort of honorific sense, or perhaps the maintainer of the website just mislabeled that page. Presumably there’s some smaller group of folks who might be functioning as an actual campaign committee.

  12. By Mark Koroi
    November 1, 2012 at 1:24 pm | permalink


    Is Timothy Connors a Democrat?

    He was appointed to the bench initially in August of 1991 around the time he was donating $1,000 to the Michigan Republican Party on the sixth the same month, per Federal Election Commission records.

    He also made substantial donations to the Clifford Taylor and Engler campaign committees – both conservative GOP heavy hitters.

    Mr. Jerald Saffold has made some good points, above and I safely assume could be labeled the type of grassroots supporter that Mike Woodyard could draw upon for support from a “moral reserve” of disgruntled Washtenaw County residents.

  13. November 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm | permalink

    Re (12) “Is Timothy Connors a Democrat?” It depends on how pure you expect him to be. I know Judge Connors has been to at least as many local Dem meetings in the last two years as I have. But if you are going to count everything you cite against him, you may conclude otherwise.

    I am a Democrat who periodically is accused of not being a real Dem. I voted for Marcia Higgins when she was still a Republican. I endorse Republican John Floyd any time he runs for any office. I endorsed former Republican Jane Lumm last year when she ran as an Independent. Am I a Democrat in your scheme of judging past behavior?

    I take Judge Connors at face value and accept that he considers himself a Democrat. Is he the right Dem for you? I’ll leave that up to you. That was the basis for my resolution calling for no endorsement.

    I believe the best way to grow the Democratic Party is to attract those who have voted otherwise in the past. I refuse to engage in name calling to malign Dems with whom I disagree or those whose past is sullied with (R)s.

  14. November 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm | permalink

    FWIW, I gave Judge Connors an Obama tee shirt this spring at his request. That makes him a Dem in my eyes.

    Dave Askins, you’re right on the Connors “campaign committee”. I haven’t been to Connors’ website in months. Nor have I been to any campaign meetings or strategy sessions.

  15. November 5, 2012 at 12:51 pm | permalink

    Earlier David Cahill wrote, “Judge Connors, on the other hand, rules against the government without batting an eye. He ruled in favor of a bunch of women prisoners who had been abused by guards several years ago.”

    The Wayne County prosecutor filed a motion late Friday asking for Connors’ recusal from that case. [.pdf of entire filing] The motion relates in part to Connors’ attitude towards “the government” as expressed during the case.

    In broad summary, the Wayne County prosecutor’s office – which is where Connors’ opponent in the race Mike Woodyard works as an assistant prosecutor – is acting as an intervener in the case. The Wayne County prosecutor is pursuing possible victim restitution owed by women prisoners to victims of their own crimes from their settlement obtained from the Department of Corrections for crimes committed against the prisoners.

    One focus in the motion are issues related to campaign contributions made to Connors campaign by plaintiff’s counsel in the case.

    But included in the motion is essentially the contention that Connors has expressed bias against the government in this case. I bring this up because it relates indirectly to Cahill’s comment, which analyzes Connors’ willingness to rule against the government as a positive – but presumably without bias against the government.

    From the motion filed on Friday:

    7. This disdain was vocalized by the trial court on June 10, 2011, when the Court, in an open hearing referred to the Intervenors as being from the same government

    The missing punctuation suggests it could be an unfinished thought. The sentence seemed to be headed towards something like “… the same government that committed crimes against the women prisoners.”

    That would be consistent with the transcript from the June 10, 2011 hearing, which has Connors saying:

    The record had established that the class action involved individuals who were victims of sexual abuse by the government. Three of the — all of the interveners are a portion of the government who committed, on behalf of the government, part of that same entity. So when we start balancing those who were victims, it seems to me that the people who have been sexually abused at the hands of the — under the authority of the government, certainly that seems to me to be something I ought to balance as against someone that says we don’t really understand our computer information and we’re upset about how this resolution of 13 years of litigation occurred, and we want to come in after the fact and ask you to modify it.

    I certainly understand that if the campaign contributions are perceived as problematic, then they could only be known with the filing of the campaign finance statements. And when the Wayne County prosecutor’s office then acted on whatever duty it had regarding that perception of impropriety I can conceive of an argument that the “natural” result of the timing turned out to be just before the election.

    But what’s not clear to me is why the contention that Connors made biased remarks over a year ago, at the June 10, 2011 hearing, did not come until now. Reading the transcript, I don’t think it’s insane to contend that they reveal a bias by Connors against the intervenors, essentially lumping them together with the Department of Corrections as “the government” that perpetrated crimes against the women prisoners. But if someone is convinced that the remarks reveal bias, is there not a duty to convey that concern to the court in a shorter timeframe than 16 months? Or is this fairly analyzed as a case where it’s not any one of the points by itself that is sufficiently problematic, but rather the cumulative effect of all of them that finally resulted in action?

    Perhaps some of the attorneys who’ve weighed in on this thread previously can shed some light on various duties to act and the timing of that action.

  16. By Mark Koroi
    November 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm | permalink

    @Dave Askins:

    Thanks for the link to the actual court papers.

    MCR 2.003 of the Michigan Court Rules require that a motion to disqualify be filed within 14 days after the moving party discovers the ground for disqualification. Untimeliness is a factor in deciding whether a motion should be granted.

    I speculate that the plaintiffs in opposing this motion may cite the fact that they had notice of Connors’ questionable statements long ago and did nothing. On the other hand, you are correct in that there is a body of legal authority that indicates that the “cumulative effect” of multiple acts can form the threshold basis for asserting disqualifying bias. Also cited is the “appearance of impropriety” test set forth in the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct. The sheer fact of receipt of $8,000.00 in campaign donations by members of the prisoner-plaintiffs legal team, the Wayne County Prosecutor contends, creates an appearance of impropriety even absent a showing of actual bias.

    I would say it is extremely unusual for a judge in a local race in Michigan to receive any $3,400.00 donations from other attorneys, let alone many of them in an election cycle.In contrast in the Dearborn District Court race, the incumbent and challenger in the general election have raised about $140,000 between them and few if any were greater than $1,000.00. Mike Woodyard’s top donor gave only $1,000.00.

    It will be interesting to see how Connors rules on the motion.