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Don’t overlook the judicial races on your Detroit ballot this election. Here, we break down what you need to know about the courts and the candidates running for seats in two key races — Michigan Supreme Court and Wayne County’s 3rd Circuit Court.
As a refresher, the state court system consists of the Michigan Supreme Court, the Michigan Court of Appeals, the circuit courts and district courts (the major trial courts), along with administrative and specialized courts.
The judicial races on the Detroit ballot
These are the eight judicial races that Detroit voters will decide, falling under the nonpartisan section of the ballot:
- Justice of the Supreme Court
- Judge of Court of Appeals District 1, incumbent
- Judge of Circuit Court, 3rd Circuit, incumbent
- Judge of Circuit Court, 3rd Circuit, non-incumbent
- Judge of Circuit Court, 3rd Circuit, incumbent, partial term ending 1/1/23
- Judge of Probate Court, Wayne County, incumbent
- Judge of District Court, 36th District, incumbent and
- Judge of District Court, 36th District, incumbent, partial term ending 1/1/23.
However, except for the Michigan Supreme Court and the 3rd Circuit Court non-incumbent seats, the races are not competitive — ie, there are as many candidates running as there are open seats.
For the two competitive races, here is the role of each court and background information on the candidates.
Justice of Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in Michigan that administers all the courts and consists of seven justices serving eight-year terms. If there is a vacancy, the governor has the power to appoint a justice to serve until the next general election. The judicial branch is nonpartisan, so your ballot won’t show party affiliation of the candidates. However, political parties nominate candidates at their conventions, and we’ve noted each candidate’s party affiliation.
The Supreme Court receives roughly 2,000 cases in any given year. Though the Court hears many major cases, their decision in a recent case regarding Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus orders has brought increased attention to the court. In a 4-3 ruling on Oct. 2, the Supreme Court struck down the 1945 state law that gave Whitmer the authority to issue ongoing COVID-19 emergency orders, saying the original law was unconstitutional. The breakdown fell along party lines, with all four justices in the majority originally appointed by Republican governors, while the three dissenting justices were nominated as candidates by Democratic Party conventions.
This year’s race is pivotal because two seats will open up, with the potential to change the party majority if two Democratic Party-nominated candidates are elected. Republicans have dominated the court for two decades, except for 2009-2010. The two seats up for election are currently held by Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, who is running for reelection, and Stephen Markman, who is not eligible to run for reelection.
Here’s what you need to know about each candidate. You can vote for no more than two, and candidates are elected for 8-year-terms.
Susan L. Hubbard (Green Party-nominated)
For the past 10 years, Hubbard has served on the Wayne County Circuit Court. She’s known for developing the first instructional video for self-represented individuals in family cases who are unable to afford an attorney, as well as protecting neighborhoods as a member of the Dearborn City Council. She’s vocal about her agreement with the Supreme Court striking down Whitmer’s emergency orders. The granddaughter of former segregationist former Dearborn Mayor Orville Hubbard, she told Michigan Radio, “this idea that he was a racist and a segregationist is something really that I never witnessed.”
Mary Kelly (Republican Party-nominated)
Kelly served as a prosecutor for over 30 years in St. Clair County and has been a long-time advocate for victims. She has been in private practice, helping with domestic matters, criminal issues and civil litigation. She also worked at the St. Clair County Criminal Sexual Conduct Unit.
Bridget Mary McCormack, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Democratic Party-nominated)
McCormack served her first term on the Supreme Court starting in 2013 and was unanimously elected Chief Justice by the current Supreme Court justices in 2019. She’s talked about the need for the court to be more nonpartisan. With state Attorney General Dana Nessel, one of her big achievements was developing an Elder Abuse Task Force. She also co-chaired the state’s Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration that has recommended criminal justice reforms. According to her campaign website, she continues to teach at the University of Michigan School of Law in Ann Arbor and is a board member of the Washtenaw County Families Against Narcotics.
Kerry Lee Morgan (Libertarian Party-nominated)
Morgan has a 40-year background in law with expertise in municipal law, labor law, environmental law, educational policy and federal firearms law. According to BallotPedia, he is “passionate about Natural and Constitutional Rights.”
Katherine Mary Nepton (Libertarian Party-nominated)
Nepton is getting a high volume of press for reportedly being the first Indigenous person nominated to run for Supreme Court justice. According to her LinkedIn page, she is an attorney at Nepton Law Firm, LLC, which focuses on families and specializes in estate planning, Medicaid planning, social security, trusts and more.
Brock Swartzle (Republican Party-nominated)
Swartzle serves as a judge on Michigan’s State Court of Appeals and was appointed by former Gov. Rick Snyder. He describes himself as a “proven rule-of-law conservative.” In an interview with Michigan Radio, Swartzle stated he remains “blind to the parties in any case” and emphasized this in the context of policing issues: “So, if you have an incidence where someone is claiming that the police overstepped their bounds and may have violated somebody’s constitutional rights, I think you look at that and rule solely on that, not any kind of outside influences,” he said.
Elizabeth M. Welch (Democratic Party-nominated)
Welch is an attorney who works with nonprofits and small businesses, and told Michigan Radio much of her current work is helping clients navigate COVID-19 issues. She is committed to protecting voters’ rights and is keen on protecting the environment, as evidenced by her past leadership role with The Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
Judge of 3rd Circuit Court, non-incumbent
The circuit court has the most extensive powers among the trial courts, and the Third Judicial Circuit is the largest in Michigan. Michigan circuit courts typically handle felony cases and civil cases with claims above $25,000, in addition to cases involving family matters and personal protection orders. Among these candidates, you may select two. The non-incumbent circuit court judges hold six-year terms.
Chandra W. Baker
Baker has been a prosecutor for roughly 12 years, with experience litigating felonies involving homicide, armed robbery and narcotics. She prides herself on being an experienced trial lawyer as well as a Lead Attorney with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. She currently leads the Wayne Arson Reduction Unit (W.A.R.) and aims to expand the mental health court to include arson defendants.
Nicholas John Hathaway
Hathaway specializes in cases involving child abuse and neglect cases and juvenile criminal cases in the Wayne County Circuit Court’s Family Division. Shortly before he launched his campaign, he added his wife’s surname, “Hathaway,” to his last name, sparking politico speculation that it was a strategic decision to align himself with the handful of other local judges named Hathaway.
Shakira Lynn Hawkins
Hawkins is a Detroit native who has practiced criminal law for a decade, beginning her career in Legal Aid and briefly serving as executive director of a Detroit domestic violence shelter. The bulk of her work is serving as a defender in court-appointed criminal case assignments from the 3rd Circuit Court. Her mission is to push for criminal justice reform, eliminate cash bail, seek alternatives to mass incarceration and educate at-risk youth.
Mary Beth Kelly
Not to be confused with Supreme Court candidate Mary Kelly, Mary Beth Kelly worked at the Wayne County Circuit Court for 11 years. She received the most votes when she was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2010 (originally nominated as a candidate at the Republican Party convention). She stepped down to return to private practice in 2015 with three years remaining in her term. Kelly has been active on numerous statewide committees on child welfare and family matters, and was selected by former Gov. Rick Snyder as chair of the Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice. She serves as a Wayne County Circuit Court Visiting Judge.
Other judicial races
There are five more judicial races on the ballot for Detroit voters. In each race, the number of candidates is equal to the number of open seats.
Judge of Court of Appeals
Court of Appeals District 1
- Karen Fort Hood
- Anica Letica
- Christopher M. Murray
Judge of Circuit Court
3rd Circuit Court
- David J. Allen
- Mariam Bazzi
- Chris Dingell
- Charlene M. Elder
- Helal A. Farhat
- John H. Gillis Jr.
- Noah P. Hood
- Edward J. Joseph
- Don Knapp
- Cylenthia LaToye Miller
- Lynne A. Pierce
- Lawrence S. Talon
- Carla G. Testani
- Margaret M. Van Houten
- Shannon Nicol Walker
Judge of Circuit Court
3rd Circuit Court
Partial term ending 1/1/23
- Darnella Williams-Claybourne
Judge of Probate Court
Wayne County Probate Court
- David Braxton
- Judy A. Hartsfield
- Terrance Ashworth Keith
Judge of District Court
36h District Court
- Nancy M. Blount
- Demetria Brue
- E. Lynise Bryant
- Ronald Giles
- Adrienne Hinnant-Johnson
- Shannon A. Holmes
- Patricia L. Jefferson
- Kenneth J. King
- Michael E. Wagner
Judge of District Court
36th District Court
Partial term ending 1/1/23
- Kristina Robinson Garrett
- Jacquelyn A. McClinton