A possible fix for faulty judicial ballot advice

A package of bills reported out of the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee last week is coming too late to help the judicial candidate whose plight prompted the legislation in the first place.

Chris Martin was knocked off last November’s ballot. State election officials gave him faulty advice concerning how many signatures he needed on his nominating petitions.

The Michigan Lawyer followed Martin’s on-again, off-again ballot saga here, here and here.

Recall that Martin wanted to make a three-way race for two seats on the 23rd Circuit bench by running against the incumbents, Judges William Myles and Ronald Bergeron. The Secretary of State told Martin he needed between 100 and 200 signatures on his nominating petition.

This was bad advice: the actual number was between 200 and 400, which the incumbent judges strategically pointed out after the filing deadline passed and Martin submitted only 158 signatures.

The Secretary of State threw Martin off the ballot at the incumbents’ urgings. The Court of Appeals put him back on the ballot in a split decision. The Michigan Supreme Court tossed him back off.

Martin ran as a write-in candidate and received 11,011 votes, just 1,301 shy of knocking off Bergeron.

Senate Bills 0021 through 0024, sponsored by Senator Tony Stamas (R-Midland), would let judicial candidates for circuit, district, probate and municipal courts seek equitable relief if state or local election officials give them incorrect information that keeps them off the ballot.

No word on when the full Senate will consider the bills.


Martin removed from judicial ballot again: Down but not out

How’s Tawas attorney Christopher Martin doing since the Michigan Supreme Court halted his 23rd Judicial Circuit election campaign dead in its tracks?

“I’ve been better,” he told me a few days ago. “I guess the Michigan Supreme Court invoked the little-known incumbent judges’ re-election act.”

Well, not exactly, but who could blame Martin for being a little bitter about the whole affair? The order that ended his campaign exalted the exacting standards of Michigan election law over an application of equity.

Martin decided to make a three-way race for two seats on the 23rd Circuit bench by taking on the incumbents, Judges William Myles and Ronald Bergeron. He checked with the Secretary of State and was told he needed to submit between 100 and 200 signatures on his nominating petition. He was also told he could be prosecuted if he submitted more than 200.

This turned out to be bum advice because the 23rd Circuit was enlarged a while back. With more people living in the bigger circuit, the actual signature requirement jumped to between 200 and 400, which the incumbents dutifully noted after Martin submitted 158 signatures.

Since then:

  • The Secretary of State removed him from the ballot;
  • A trial court, invoking equity, ordered the SOS to give him a shot at making up the deficit with more valid signatures (which Martin had) and to put him back on the ballot;
  • A split Michigan Court of Appeals panel let the trial court decision stand. The majority, Judge Stephen Borrello, joined by Judge Donald Owens, ruled that the incumbent judges were not “aggrieved parties” and therefore lacked standing just because they had to campaign harder. Judge Peter O’Connell, dissenting, opined that the aggravation and expense of running a contested campaign is aggrieving enough, and that the incumbents had a right to complain when equity is used to permit “an end run on election law statutes” and
  • A divided Michigan Supreme Court adopted Judge O’Connell’s view on the standing and equity issues, and reinstated the SOS’s decision to keep Martin off the ballot.

Martin is understandably disappointed with the whole affair. He’s spent more in attorney fees to get on the ballot than he cares to talk about. And there are 800 not-so-inexpensive campaign yard signs, which, as of Monday, Martin told me “are still out there.”

He told the Oscoda Press that he’s thinking about a write-in campaign but admitted that would “be really tough to pull off.”

Martin is down but he’s not out. The top voter-getter in the 23rd Circuit election wins an eight-year term, the runner-up gets a six-year term.

“So, what about the next time around?” I asked him. “Will you go for it?”

His quick and emphatic reply: “Absolutely.”