Different races to fill different judgeships
IRON RIVER/CRYSTAL FALLS—The question seems simple enough. Which candidates are running for what judgeships in the Nov. 9 election?
The answer is simple on its face, as well. However, because of a court consolidation project started by the Michigan Supreme Court nearly 20 years ago, the court system in Iron County can be difficult to understand.
Simply put, the candidates running on Nov. 9 are as follows (Note: all are non-partisan candidates).
-- Running for Iron County Probate Court are Roy Polich and Donald S. Powell for the seat that will be vacated by C. Joseph Schwedler.
-- Running for 95B District Court (which includes Iron and Dickinson counties) are incumbent Julie A. LaCost and Grant Carlson.
-- Running for 41st Circuit Court (which includes Iron, Dickinson and Menominee counties) is incumbent Christopher S. Ninomiya, who is running unopposed. Ninomiya will continue to serve on the Circuit Court with Mary B. Barglind, whose term ends in 2023.
There is no crossover in the actual races on Nov. 9. But things get murky when the duties of each of the judges are unpacked.
As a basic outline,
--the Circuit Court handles all felony cases, all litigation involving sums of more than $25,000, family law (divorce, child custody) cases and property cases. It is the trial court in Michigan with the broadest powers. Each Circuit Court judge is elected for six-year term.
--the District Court handles misdemeanors, litigation under $25,000, and small claims. Each District Court judge is elected for a six-year term. However, the seat being contested by LaCost and Carlson is actually a partial-term seat that will end on Jan. 1, 2021. LaCost was appointed to the seat by Gov. Rick Snyder in February to fill the vacancy created by the promotion of Ninomiya to the Circuit Court upon the retirement of Richard J. Celello.
--the Probate Court handles adoptions, probate estates, trusts, guardianships, juvenile delinquency, mental health petitions and neglect/abuse. All Probate Court judges are elected for a six-year term.
Where this all becomes unclear stems back to a decision by the Michigan Supreme Court in 1999 to study court consolidation, especially in rural counties, where multiple counties were served by the same court. That led to inefficiencies because judges lived in one county and served in others and were sometimes not available, especially in emergency situations.
An issue also arose locally because the judges were often all from Dickinson County because of various sizes of the county electorates.