Oct. 29 2008 12:00 AM

Ingham County voters see 5 hotly contested races

Supreme Court: Cliff Taylor and Diane Hathaway

Chief Justice Cliff Taylor is walking around the Hall of Justice, a political target pasted on his back. For more than year, Democrats have lobbed darts at the 11-year veteran. They claim Taylor, an old John Engler appointee, and three other likeminded Michigan Supreme Court justices are tools of hospitals, insurance companies and big business to the detriment of everyday citizens.

Taylor, 65, shakes his head. He said it’s bizarre, maybe a backhanded compliment, that state Democratic head Mark Brewer wants him off the bench almost as bad as he wants Barack Obama in the White House. Almost.

Justice candidates are technically nonpartisan. They’re nominated by the political parties, but they don’t appear on the ballot as Democrats or Republicans.

Taylor said he sees himself more as an umpire than an advocate. If Brewer and the Democrats don’t like a particular law, talk to the Legislature. He said he’s reading these laws to decide cases.

“This is not a Republican court, a Democrat court, a business court or a labor court,” Taylor said. “This is a court of law, and I think the pledge we should make to the people is that we’re going to follow the law. That’s what I try to do and what I think I have done.” The Michigan Supreme Court race involving Republican-nominated Taylor, Democratic Party-nominated Diane Marie Hathaway and Libertarian-nominated Robert Roddis tops a list of five competitive races at every judicial level.

It makes these races for slots on the Supreme, Appeals, Circuit, Probate and District courts the election’s most compelling in Ingham County outside of the presidential match-up.

Hathaway, 54, a Wayne Circuit Court judge, didn’t get into the Supreme Court race until early September when she edged out another Wayne County judge for the Democrats’ nomination, but she said she’s in to win. And she’s going with both barrels blazing.

Only moments after winning the nomination, Hathaway ripped Taylor for being a “walking conflict of interest” since his wife, Lucille Taylor, was a Engler-appointed staffer at the time of her husbands appointment.

Hathaway also has reportedly claimed the Taylor-led court signed opinions before hearing oral arguments on cases, a charge Taylor said “is a total lie.” She also claims Taylor slept during a case involving children who died in a fire. Taylor said all oral arguments are recorded by Michigan Government Television and demanded Hathaway to produce the evidence.

Meanwhile, Hathaway commonly repeats the common Democratic refrain: “We need justices that follow the rule of law and not the special interests of the insurance industry and large corporations.

We need a justice that’s fair and impartial.” Elected to the Wayne County bench in 1992 after serving five years as a trial prosecutor, Hathaway also worked as a law court for the former Detroit Recorders Court and the Circuit Court.

Court of Appeals: Judge Paula Manderfield and Michael J. Kelly

The race to replace Judge Bill Schuette on the 4th District Michigan Court of Appeals bench is a no-loser for Democrats.

Both Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Paula Manderfield and Flint trial attorney Michael J. Kelly were embraced by Democrats in the primary and both advanced by wide margins over a pair of Republican-leaning candidates.

The situation has the traditional Democratic interest groups split. The trial lawyers like Kelly. The labor unions like Manderfield. At stake is the chance to be one of 28 nonpartisan judges who hear Circuit Court appeals. The 4th District basically covers Lansing and all points north, including the Upper Peninsula.

Kelly, 46, opened his practice in 1994 after working as a research lawyer in the circuit court. Kelly boasts bringing forward four dozen civil-based appeals to state and federal courts. The Maple City resident specializes in negligence, worker’s compensation, personal injury and consumer protection issues.

Kelly came within a few percentage points of knocking off appeals Judge William Whitbeck in 2004 and was prepared to run against Schuette this year, even before the latter decided not to run for a second term. A deciding factor in Kelly’s decision was the current make-up of the Michigan Supreme Court, which he views as having strayed into being an agendadriven body. “I think the appellate courts need people whose experience has been in the courtroom and not with political agendas,” Kelly said. “The Supreme Court is being viewed that way. I have a deep respect for the law and court procedure and precedent. Time and time again you see a person receive a large verdict from their peers only to see it overturned for reasons that don’t seem to be there.”

Kelly tried selling state Democratic delegates at the September convention on his 20 years of experience representing ordinary citizens.

Meanwhile, Manderfield, of Meridian Township, holds 16 years of judicial experience in civil, criminal and family law . The Ingham judge also has dealt with the Court of Claims and Tax Tribunal appeals.

Locally, she’s known as the judge who put Lisa and Tim Holland behind bars for murdering their 7-year-old son, Ricky. In 2004, her ruling that Michigan Civil Rights Initiative’s language was deceptive kept it off the ballot that year. “You really should be a lower court judge before going to the Court of Appeals,” Manderfield said. “This isn’t an entry-level position.”

Manderfield, 55, stressed that the Court of Appeals judge is a nonpartisan post and she views herself as an independent. Although she’s given Gov. Jennifer Granholm and other Democrats money, she’s also cut checks to former Gov. John Engler and Republican-leaning Whitbeck.

She’s already won the backing of police organizations and one of her former opponents, former Republican state Rep. Jim Howell.

“I tell Republicans that I realize that I wasn’t your first choice, and I realize that I probably wasn’t your second choice, either.

But perhaps I can be your third choice,” she said.

Ingham County Circuit Judge: Judge Bill Collette, Judge Janelle
Lawless, Rosemarie Aquilina, Hugh Clarke, Beverly Nettles-Nickerson and
Frank Harrison Reynolds

This race is only a
race because former Judge Beverly Nettles-Nickerson’s wild racism
charge against Chief Judge Bill Collette spurred a Judicial Tenure
Commission investigation that ultimately found a closet full of
skeletons in Nettles-Nickerson's closet.

Once the Supreme
Court broomed Nettles-Nickerson for being “unfit to serve,” two local
barristers and a lower court judge raised their hands to take her

Collette and Judge Janelle Lawless are up for
re-election. And Nettles-Nickerson, too, opted to put herself back
before the voters to ask for forgiveness.

“I’ve made mistakes
and they were truly mistakes,” Nettles-Nickerson said. “They were not
done intentionally. Being a judge, you are held to a higher standard,
as you should be. “What I have learned through this public and
challenging ordeal is that you should have the inner strength to learn
from your mistakes, and I hope the community will accept my sincere
apologies. Ingham County is a caring and forgiving community, and I’m
asking that they return me to the bench.”

said she is getting encouraging support from those who remember her
past service. Also, despite media reports, Nettles-Nickerson said she
is not collecting unemployment benefits.

The state apparently
found she does not qualify and she will not collect it if she’s not
entitled to it. Meanwhile, Collette said the amount of community
support he received during the faux racism charge was “compelling.” The
local judge of 30 years said he feels like he’s receiving support for
his re-election “from just about everyone who could endorse me.” The
Nettles-Nickerson opening and the resulting flurry of interest means
Collette and Lawless could be knocked off the bench if either one or
both are not among the top three finishers on Nov. 4. Collette said he
hasn’t needed to campaign in 18 years, but he’s enjoyed knocking on
doors again.

“I’m sure that none of the challengers are
running with the mindset that ‘I’m out to get Collette,’ but if I
finished fourth, I’m sure the winning three will be happy to take my
seat,” he said. Ingham County’s chief judge said he brings stability to
the court, that he knows all of “ins and outs” or running an effective
system, which can be tricky considering the extra work the court does
being located in the seat of Michigan government.

also put in a word for Lawless, who was elected to the bench in 2002
after 12 years as the register for the Probate Court.

She is
currently the presiding judge of the Family Division, which handles
divorce, child custody, child protection issues and estate planning,
among other things.

Lawless has been a remarkably good judge,” Collette said. Lawless was
rated “exceptionally well qualified” by the Ingham County Bar last
August. The judge uses a judicial philosophy that she labels as being
“fairly basic and straight forward." “I would summarize it as ‘do the
right thing,’” she said. “A judge should be patient, courteous and
maintain control of the courtroom. There should be a willingness to
hear the unpleasant and unpopular cases and do so with the same
demeanor as the more positive matters.”

District Court Judge
Rosemarie Aquilina is making it clear that she isn’t interested in
unseating either Collette or Lawless. She said she’s running for the
open slot, and she said she has the education and experience to be
elected to it. First elected to the District Court in 2005, Aquilina is
a former Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer who served in Desert
Storm. Before taking the bench, Aquilina was a lawyer in private
practice whose cases mainly dealt with matters before the Circuit
Court. Once on the District Court bench, she founded the “Sobriety
Court,” in which she used probation, treatment and the threat of jail
time to sober up drunk drivers. The effort has made the county roads
safer at a fraction of the cost with better-than-national-average
statistics to back it up, said Aquilina, a 24-year veteran of law.
“We’ve had problems with integrity on this bench, and it erodes faith
in the process,” she said. “I’m not going to add to that. My goal is to
cure it.” Also making a run is Lansing school board President Hugh
Clarke Jr., a known quantity, who’s racked up the support of the Who’s
Who in local Democratic Party circles and the Lansing community. Three
sitting Circuit Court judges support him, as do the mayors of Lansing
and East Lansing, four countywide officials and a bevy of locally
elected officials, pastors and bar members.

reputation as a criminal attorney was greatly enhanced by his role in
overturning the wrongful conviction of Claude McCollum in the killing
of Lansing Community College Professor Carolyn Kronenberg.

has worked in private practice since 1981. He’s volunteered for several
State Bar committees, including the Attorney Grievance Committee. His
current appointment is the Committee on Character and Fitness. Locally,
Clarke volunteers in youth sports, among various community boards.

said he knows the Lansing area and the Lansing area knows him and the
type of job he could do on the Circuit Court. The final candidate,
Frank Harrison Reynolds, is a 30-year attorney with roots in Ingham
County dating back to his Michigan State University days when he pumped gas at the Sunoco on Harrison and Michigan, where a Quality Dairy sits today.

string of special assignments has included helping the governor make
judicial appointments through the Judicial Qualifications Committee and
training new magistrates at the request of U.S. Supreme Court Chief
Justice William Rehnquist.

Reynolds said he recognizes the
Circuit Court has had some issues and feels he’s in a position in his
career and life to help fix them. When told one of his opponents had
labeled him the Republican of the field, Reynolds rhetorically asked
why he’d been endorsed by all three county Democratic state
representatives and Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth.

“People will think what they want to think, but if they suggest I’m a right-wing conservative, they’d be wrong,” Reynolds said.

Ingham County Probate Judge:Judge Richard Garcia and Gregory Crockett

can question Judge Richard Garcia’s passion. Having specialized in
family court issues since former Gov. John Engler appointed him to the
probate bench in 2000, Garcia has taken pride in diving into his work.
Garcia founded Ingham County’s teen court in 2000 and the Truancy Court
in 2001. He fought to pass a special county millage to help create
juvenile justice programs and created a family support services
program. He even eats a Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at the youth
home. This enthusiasm has boiled over in the courtroom. Garcia
acknowledges that he’s not one to pull punches.

“Yes, my
courtroom can be a cross sometimes between Judge Judy and the Jerry
Springer Show, but nobody can say I’m not prepared or compassionate,”
Garcia said. “Look, I’ve only got a short period of time to change
behavior. I’m going to show a little passion. Sometimes people need to
be told that what they are doing is not respectful behavior, and I’m
direct and passionate.”

This approach, however, has rubbed
defendants and their attorneys the wrong way, which has given rise to
the candidacy of Okemos attorney Gregory Crockett.

The former law clerk for Ingham County Judge Peter Houk and special deputy of the Ingham County Sheriff ’s Department said he was asked to
run by local attorneys who feel Garcia’s courtroom antics cross the
line into being “disrespectful,” “arrogant,” and “sarcastic.”

short, Garcia’s rap sheet is that he lacks the empathy to be judge,
Crockett said. Crockett said he’s appeared before Garcia early in the
latter’s tenure. He recalled the experience as being “unremarkable” and
has not taken family cases being heard before Garcia since.

believe that a family court judge has a job to do, but human dignity
must be preserved,” he said. “When I’m working with clients in their
family issues, I really try to leave the relationship a little better
than when I got it. I try to remain calm when other people are not.”
Garcia said he’s not sure how Crockett has developed such a harsh
critique. He hasn’t seen Crockett in years, even though Crockett’s name
was on the court’s list of area family-court barristers. Garcia’s point
is this: If his opponent feels so strongly about overseeing Ingham
County’s family court, why hasn’t he taken any of those cases to his
courtroom in the last six or seven years? Meanwhile, Garcia said his
hard work is evident in his tenure: Juvenile petitions have been
reduced by over 50 percent since 2002; and the county’s new truancy
court has turned around reckless behavior in 70 percent of its

That means the teens in question get their lives
straightened out before they dive into theft or drugs. As far as
endorsements, Garcia has the backing of Republicans and Democrats on
the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, at least four area judges and
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. The UAW and AFL-CIO are behind him, as is
the Police Officers Association.

the other side, Crockett has highrollers state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer,
state Rep. Joan Bauer, state Rep. Mark Meadows and the Ingham County
Democratic Party in his camp. His campaign treasurer, he points out, is
a conservative Republican.

Crockett said he believes attorneys
and judges are peacemakers who create environments where highly
emotional issues can be resolved respectfully.

“I believe that
a judge should leave their ego at home, and focus on a commitment to
public service and great civility in the courtroom,” Crockett said.

55th District Court: Judge Tom Boyd and Billie Jo O’Berry

Billie Jo O’Berry insists she wasn’t going to run again.

years after losing her fourth attempt at the bench, this time by 426
votes to Gov. Jennifer Granholm-appointee Tom Boyd, O’Berry said she
was mentally and physically exhausted. She needed a break.

came the Mary Pulliam case. The Leslie teenager had been so badly
beaten by Anthony Marshall, 15, that the girl needed to relearn how to
walk and talk. Boyd released Marshall to house arrest with a tether,
although prosecutors and community members thought the boy belonged
behind bars, O’Berry said. Circuit Court Judge Paula Manderfield later
opined, “Just looking at the seriousness of the offense and the
seriousness of the injury to the victim, I think it’s clear that the
district judge abused his discretion in granting personal recognizance
bond.” “My concern was over the lack of a connection with the
community,” O’Berry said. “That young teen girl was assaulted, beaten
and left for dead. He was charged with felonious assault and released?
“ . . . I said, ‘You know what, I have to do this again. I’m a part of
this community.

I’ve worked closely with Ingham County for
close to 30 years and I am very connected with the people.’” Boyd said
it’s unfortunate that his opponent is taking advantage of personal
tragedy for personal benefit. He noted that the suspect in this case
was 15 and was being closely monitored. Most important, he believed
Marshall would not reoffend on his watch, and he did not.

the part of the story that nobody ever tells,” Boyd said. “There’s an
implication that something h a p p e n e d , when nothing did. If
you’re campaigning to win as opposed to campaigning to serve, bad
things will happen.”

Jennifer Granholm appointed Boyd in 2005 to replace former Judge Pamela
McCabe. The District Court handles smaller criminal matters and
preliminary hearings in major cases for all of Ingham County with the
exception of East Lansing and Lansing.

Boyd won the right to
serve the rest of McCabe’s term in 2006 when he defeated O’Berry 50 to
49 percent. Currently, Boyd is supervising a special “domestic violence
court” that’s designed to stop repeat offenders. The program’s basic
tenants are extra reporting to the court and immediate jail time for
anyone who drops the ball. The strict limits are designed to break
spouse beaters of their need to control, he said. Boyd, the former
executive director of the Michigan
Democratic Party, is endorsed by a long list of elected Democratic
officials, union groups, police organization and grass roots activists,
although he said his humbled by the support of those of various
political ideologies.