2008-08-30 / Columnists

Women Make Inroads on Judicial Benches

Michigan Politics
By George Weeks


The seal of the Michigan Supreme Court and other judicial bodies features a robed woman with a blindfold holding the scales of justice. But getting women elected to actually judge from on the bench has been a slow process.

Of Michigan's 105 justices since statehood, only six have been women, the first elected being Republican Mary S. Coleman of Battle Creek in 1972. She later became chief justice.

Three of the six currently sit on the court, former chief justices Betty Weaver of Glen Arbor and Maura Corrigan of Grosse Pointe Park, both Republicans, and Democrat Marilyn Kelly of Bloomfield Hills.

Of 27 current Court of Appeals judges (there's one vacancy), seven are women.

After the August 5 primary, general election local ballots from the Upper Peninsula to Metro Detroit are replete with female candidates for judge.

Most notable: Ingham Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield, one of 12 children born and raised in Atlantic Mine near Houghton in the Keweenaw Peninsula, who contends for the sprawling, 58- county 4th Court of Appeals District that includes all of the Upper Peninsula.

She's in a face-off with Flintbased attorney Michael Kelly, who has a magic name in downstate politics and qualifies for the district because he has a residence in Leelanau County. (Flint is in the 2nd District). In the four-candidate primary that included two other men, Kelly outpolled Manderfield, 89,566 to 73,238, and swamped the two other guys.

One of the defeated men was Eric Doster, the Michigan GOP legal counsel favored by party bigwigs. They unwisely persuaded popular state Representative Kevin Elsenheimer (R-Kewadin) to step aside for Doster for the appeals seat being vacated by Judge Bill Schuette, a former congressman, state senator, and state ag director who was a high achiever except for his failed 1990 challenge of Senator Carl Levin.

In Marquette County's 25th Circuit Court, assistant prosecutor

Jennifer A. Mazzuchi and Negaunee attorney Kevin Koch outpolled two others to compete for an open seat.

There's an interesting faceoff between two Sault Ste. Marie women to replace retiring 91st District Judge Mike MacDonald, who, says Inside Michigan Politics (IMP), "is off to run an apple orchard on Drummond Island."

Emerging from the five-candidate primary were Leanne Barnes Deuman, with 1,926 votes, and Elizabeth L. Church, with 1,575.

Deuman, as quoted in The Evening News, well articulated how judicial candidates must run in light of the fact that they cannot prejudge issues on which they must later judge:

"You have to run on who you are."

Good advice for all who run for all offices.

State House Races

It's unlikely that Republicans, who rule the state Senate, can seriously erode the 58-52 edge that Democrats have in the House. But some of the most competitive races, including chances for Democrats to take seats now held by Republicans, are Up North. Some races to watch:

101st : Representative David Palsrok (R-Manistee), now termlimited, had a scare two years ago from Northport lawyer Dan Scripps, who is again the Democratic nominee and last week had a Benzie County campaign event boost from ex- Governor Jim Blanchard.

Manistee County grocer Ray Frantz won the GOP primary by a mere nine votes over Leelanau County farmer/educator Mike McManus, who seeks a recount and promises to support Frantz if the original count holds for this toss-up fall race.

106th: Running again for this now-open seat of term-limited Representative Matthew Gillard (D-Alpena) is ex-Representative Andy Neumann. The Republican nominee is Presque Isle Township Supervisor Pete Pattalia, who defeated two primary opponents. It is, says IMP, "one of the very few seats House Republicans feel they have a chance to recapture from the Dems."

108th: Judy Nerat of Menominee County, the 2006 Democratic nominee, won nomination again by 76 votes and faces Republican Mike Falcon of Gladstone in what IMP calls "one of the most Democratictilted districts currently represented by a Republican."

The term-limited incumbent is Tom Casperson of Escanaba, who is challenging U.S. Representative Bart Stupak (DMenominee).

U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-Holland), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, made a mid-August campaign swing with Casperson.

In a visit to The St. Ignace News, Hoekstra observed:

"Four dollars per gallon is a hardship for a lot of people, and the further north you get, the more rural you get and the more miles that people drive."

George Weeks retired in 2006 after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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