Narrowing the Circuit field

By Andy Balaskovitz

Two of five candidates for an open 30th Circuit Court judgeship will advance to the November election

The speed and the cost of going to court, explaining the process to voters and generally “doing more with less” are concerns of all five judicial candidates looking to fill a vacant seat on Ingham County’s 30th Circuit Court.

The race filled up when Judge Paula Manderfield announced her retirement after 12 years on the bench. The Circuit Court hears felony criminal cases, civil cases involving more than $25,000 and family matters. Ingham County’s Circuit Court is unique in that general trial judges preside over the state Court of Claims, which hears complaints brought against the state.

The candidates are local attorneys Jim Jamo and Charles Ford, Ingham County assistant prosecutor Ayanna Jones, former state insurance commissioner Ken Ross and state Assistant Attorney General Wanda Stokes. The top two vote getters Tuesday face each other in November in the nonpartisan race.

Ford, 57, originally filed this year to run as a Democrat in the packed 68th House District primary. He switched branches of government upon learning of Manderfield’s decision to retire. Ford is a Lansing School Board member who has run for mayor of Lansing and served on the City Council — all nonpartisan races and offices. He also ran unsuccessfully for the 68th House seat in 2006, but did so as an independent. Ford said his political resume shows that he’s “never really run as a partisan person” and that he won’t bring a certain party affiliation if elected to the bench.

Ford has practiced law for 23 years in a variety of areas, including criminal defense, civil litigation and real estate. He’s a Sexton High School graduate and has been recognized for his sports career there. Ford has degrees in business administration and labor relations and earned a law degree from Cooley Law School in 1988. He’s received the endorsement of Mayor Virg Bernero.

This is Jamo’s second run for a vacant Circuit Court seat. Jamo, who lost a 2010 primary to Billie Jo O’Berry and Judge Clinton Canady III for former Judge James Gidding’s seat, is a partner in the local firm Grua, Jamo & Young. Most of his 28 years practicing have been focused on civil litigation.

Jamo, 54, has extensive backing by active and retired local judges, including Circuit judges Rosemarie Aquilina, Laura Baird, William Collette, Joyce Draganchuk and Manderfield, as well as Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth and the Greater Lansing Labor Council.

Jones, 37, has spent eight years as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III. She’s a Sexton High School graduate and earned degrees from the University of Michigan and Cooley Law School. Jones has also spent time as a substitute teacher in the Lansing School District, an assistant librarian at the Capital Area District Library and as an attorney in civil litigation. This is her first time seeking an elected office.

Ross, 45, is the assistant general counsel for the financial services firm Citizens Republic Bancorp. He formerly served as the state’s insurance and banking commissioner, where he specialized in consumer protection cases. He was also hired as an assistant attorney general by Attorney General Frank Kelly and served as vice president for the Michigan Credit Union League.

Ross, an openly gay candidate, was the only one in the field to receive a “positive” rating from the Lansing Association for Human Rights (Jones, Jamo and Ford all received “mixed” ratings; Stokes did not return a questionnaire) and is endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a nationwide political action committee. Ross has also racked up union endorsements by the UAW Region 1-C, Michigan Education Association, Michigan Nurses Association and the Lansing firefighters union.

Stokes has worked at the state Attorney General’s Office since being appointed by then-Attorney General Jennifer Granholm in 1999 and is the first African American chief of staff in the AG’s office. She is a former adjunct professor at Cooley Law School and earned degrees from Michigan State University and University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. Stokes has 20 years’ worth of criminal and civil litigation experience in Ingham County.