Trial court elections: Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on

Ann Arbor attorney Doug Shapiro is all dressed up for the November circuit court election in Washtenaw County but says he doesn’t want to go anywhere, at least not to the bench.

Earlier this year, it looked to be a no-challenger contest for incumbent judges David S. Swartz and Donald E. Shelton. Then, word got out that Shelton was on the short list of candidates for the vacant presidency of Eastern Michigan University. At the time, Shapiro said, according to an Ann Arbor News report, that “he would not enter the race until and unless Shelton got the EMU job.”

But shortly thereafter, he filed candidacy petitions with almost double the signatures needed to get on the ballot. Time went by, along with the May 2 deadline for withdrawing from the race. Several days later, EMU chose Susan Martin as its new president.

So, now it’s a three-way race for two seats on the Washtenaw circuit bench. But Shapiro hasn’t raised any cash for his campaign. He says he’s not asking people to vote for him because there’s no opening “and we have two good judges.”

Despite that statement, the Ann Arbor News says Shapiro is interested “in appearing in voters’ guides and making himself available for other pre-election news-gathering efforts.”

Shapiro says it’s all a dress rehearsal for when there is an opening on the bench.

Over in Ingham County, there’s a decidedly different situation in November. Voters will choose among six contenders to fill three seats on the circuit bench: incumbent judges William Edward Collette and Janelle A. Lawless; Rosemarie Elizabeth Aquilina, who’s looking to step up from her job as chief judge of the 55th District Court; Hugh B. Clarke, Jr.; Frank Harrison Reynolds and Beverley Nettles-Nickerson.

Nettles-Nickerson would have been running as an incumbent judge but the Michigan Supreme Court removed her from office last month for several instances of misconduct. At the time, Nettles-Nickerson, who remains on the ballot, said that the voters would have the final word on the matter.

The Judicial Tenure Commission, acutely aware of that possibility, asked that she be removed from office and conditionally suspended without pay for six years in the event that she is re-elected in November. The supreme court removed her from office and made it clear that she was not an “incumbent” in the November election, but declined to impose the conditional suspension.

In Kent County, the Grand Rapids Press is reporting that the JTC is taking a similar stance in the case of Rockford District Court Judge Steven Servaas, who is running unopposed for re-election in November. The JTC has charged Servaas with living outside of his district, drawing two sexually related doodles and making a comment to a court worker that she said was sexual harassment. The JTC wants the Michigan Supreme Court to strike Servaas from the ballot. If that’s not possible, the JTC wants Servaas removed from office at the beginning of his new term, Jan. 1, 2009.

A JTC hearing on the charges against Servaas is scheduled for July 14.

Meanwhile, over in the 23rd Circuit Court, which covers Arenac, Iosco, Alcona and Oscoda counties, incumbent judges Ronald Bergeron and William Myles are in a heated court battle with Tawas attorney Christopher Martin to again get him removed from the judicial ballot.

The Bay City Times reports that the Secretary of State removed Martin after reviewing Bergeron’s and Myles’ claims that Martin filed too few signatures to appear on the ballot. An Ingham County Circuit Court judge overruled the SOS and put Martin back on. The incumbents have filled a 200-page brief with the Michigan Court of Appeals, seeking to once again bounce him from the ballot.

No word on when the COA might issue a ruling.