A discussion last week at the University of Michigan Dearborn with the three women seeking terms on the Michigan Supreme Court asked students to consider the role the court plays in making law and Michigan, and how the decisions handed down by the court affect residents seeking their day in court.
Judge Connie Marie Kelley, a Wayne County Circuit Court judge; and Bridget Mary McCormack, a U of M law professor and dean, child advocate and founder of the Pediatric Advocacy Clinic; are seeking the seat of Justice Stephen Markman, who is running for a second term, and the seat being vacated by Justice Marilyn Kelly, who is retiring.
Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Colleen O’Brein, Kerry L. Morgan, Bob Roddis and Doug Dern are also seeking the seat. The terms are for eight years.
Judge Sheila Johnson, the chief judge pro-tem at the 46th District Court in Southfield, also spoke at UM-Dearborn.
She is seeking to serve the final two years of former Justice Maura Corrigan’s term, and will face off with Justice Brian Zahra, a former Wayne County Circuit Court and Michigan Court of Appeals judge who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011, and Mindy Barry.
All three women are Democrat-backed; if they are successful at the polls on Nov. 6, it would change the makeup of the court from a 4-3 Republican majority to a 4-3 Democratic majority.
At UM-Dearborn, the candidates discussed what made them seek a judgeship in the first place, and why turning the court into one with a liberal majority is a priority.
Kelley, who practiced family law and employment law prior to her election to the Wayne County bench, said she simply believed that she could do better than some of the judges she appeared before.
“I can remember being in court, and the judge asks, ‘What is your case about?’” she recalled. “I can’t think of anything more disconcerting for a client.
"There came a time that I said to myself, ‘I can do better.’”
Johnson, a civil and criminal litigator prior to being elected to Southfield’s district bench, said she feels a judge is in a unique position to have a positive impact on the community.
“As an attorney, you are in a position to advocate for your client, who may not have the education you have,” she said. “But after so many years, and seeing inequities, I knew that I could do better."
During the forum, the candidates did not speak about their Republican opponents, but all indicated a change is needed on the high court that will benefit Michigan’s residents.
“As a judge, you have a chance to make decisions that will affect the people of Michigan,” McCormack said. “When I saw that two other strong women (Kelley and Johnson), were running, I thought we could better by the public and by Michigan.”