By Paul Rozycki
Judicial elections are typically rather quiet, predictable affairs, with few challengers and frequent incumbent victories.
This year’s judicial election for the Genesee County 7th Circuit Court has generated more candidates than usual. In response, the League of Women Voters and the Genesee County Bar Association sponsored a forum for the judicial candidates July 11 at the Genesee County Administration Building. The event drew enough to nearly fill the Harris Auditorium.
Attending the forum were six of the eight candidates who were running to replace Judge Geoffrey Neithercut and Judge Judith Fullerton, both of whom are prevented from running due to the age limit of 70 in the Michigan Constitution.
Those running to replace Neithercut and Fullerton for six-year terms are: KC Baran, Chris Christenson, Glenn Cotton, Elizabeth Kelly, Marvin Jennings, Richard McNally, Brian Pickell and Stephanie Witucki.
Jennings and Witucki were invited, but unable to attend. The top four candidates in the Aug. 7 primary will run in November to fill the two seats.
In a second judicial race, incumbent Judge Celeste D. Bell is facing challenger Tabitha Marsh. They will not be on the August ballot, but will face off in November.
In a series of questions prepared by the League of Women Voters, the candidates were asked about their qualifications, personal legal skills, and community commitment. They were also asked about the greatest challenges facing the 7th Circuit Court, and how they would improve the functioning of the courts in Genesee County.
In a prepared booklet, the Genesee County Bar Association gave the candidates an opportunity to summarize their qualifications for the Circuit Court judgeship.
Briefly a few of the key qualifications for each are as follows:
K.C. Baran, Fenton, is a graduate of West Point Military Academy and the Michigan State University/Detroit College of Law. He has served in the Genesee County Prosecutors Office and with a number of area law firms.
Celeste Bell, Clayton Township, is currently a judge of the Circuit Court and is a graduate of Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She has worked with the civil division of the Genesee County Prosecutor’s office before she was appointed to the Circuit Court in early 2018. She will appear on the ballot in November, facing Tabitha Marsh.
Chris Christenson, Grand Blanc Township, is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Flint, and Cooley Law School, and has been elected to the State Bar Board of Commissioners.
Glenn Cotton, Flushing, is a graduate of the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Law, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has been practicing law in Michigan for several decades, and has served as a law clerk for a number of area courts.
Elizabeth Kelly, Linden, is graduate of Mott Community College, the University of Michigan-Flint, and the Michigan State University School of Law. She has worked with the Genesee County Public Defender Program, and was the first woman to represent indigent defendants in misdemeanor criminal cases.
Tabitha Marsh, Mundy Township, who is challenging Judge Celeste Bell in November, is a graduate of Kellogg Community College, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the Michigan State University College of Law. She has worked with the Ingham County Prosecutors Office, several area judges, and is in private practice with her own firm.
Richard McNally, Flushing, is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the Detroit College of Law. He has served with a number of law firms and area judges, as well as council for his family auto dealership.
Brian Pickell, Grand Blanc Township, is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Wayne State University, and the Michigan State University College of Law. He has worked with a number of law firms in south east Michigan, primarily in the area of patents, trademarks and copyrights.
Stephanie Witucki, Grand Blanc, is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Flint and the Wayne State University Law School. Most recently, she has served as a domestic relations referee for the Wayne County Friend of the Court Office.
Marvin Jennings did not submit biographical documents in time for publication by the Bar Association.
In the Aug.7 primary the judicial elections are on the non-partisan section of the ballot. Circuit Court judges are elected to six-year terms and cannot be elected or appointed after the age of 70.
Statewide, the 57 Circuit Courts and 221 judges deal with major crimes (felonies), civil suits over $25,000, some serious misdemeanor cases, titles and real estate, and some appeals from lower courts.
EVM political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.