By Paul Rozycki
After one of the most visible and competitive judicial campaigns in Genesee County, on election day voters chose the four candidates who will compete for two open Circuit Courts seats in November.
The winning candidates were: Brian Pickell, Elizabeth Kelly, Chris Christenson and Richard McNally. In November, the voters will select two of the four to replace Judge Judith Fullerton and Geoffrey Neithercut, who were prevented by age from seeking additional terms.
The results were:
Brian Pickell 21% 21360 votes
Elizabeth Kelly 18% 18677 votes
Chris Christenson 16% 16522 votes
Richard McNally 14% 14197 votes
Stephanie Witucki 11% 11614 votes
Marvin Jennings, Jr. 9% 9508 votes
Glenn Cotton 6% 6291 votes
K.C. Baran 5% 5266 votes
Unlike most other candidates, those running for judicial positions typically can’t take positions on issues, or indicate how they might rule on a particular case. Judicial elections often turn on the relative experience of the candidates, their personal backgrounds, name recognition and endorsements from others in the legal profession.
In their campaigns the winning candidates relied on all of those factors.
Brian Pickell, the son of Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell, earned his law degree from Michigan State Detroit College of Law, and has specialized in intellectual property and patent law. He also underscored his experience with elder abuse cases in his campaign literature. He has been endorsed by ten area judges, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, as well as the Police Officers Association of Michigan, and the Michigan Association of Police. Pickell’s campaign was one of the most visible, not only because of the well-known name in Genesee County, but because of his very visible campaign headquarters located just north of the Flint City Hall.
On his Facebook page, he thanked his supporters saying, “While I could not be happier with the results of yesterday’s vote, a new election puts the total votes back at zero. We need everyone’s support even more during the months leading up to the general election to ensure the same result then.
“With sincerest gratitude, I thank each and every one of you and look forward to forging ahead with you to November 6th!”
Elizabeth Kelly earned her law degree from Michigan State University. She emphasized her extensive experience with family law, and proposed the creation of a “baby court” in Genesee County to better advocate for children and families. She has worked for greater court attention to mental health issues and opioid addiction. She has been endorsed by three current Genesee County judges, the UAW, the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, the AFL-CIO as well as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSME).
On her Facebook page she said, “After this election, there will no longer be a woman judge on the Family Court bench. I feel it’s important that at least one of our four Family Court judges be a woman and certainly one with experience.”
Chris Christenson is a graduate of Cooley Law School, with 18 years of legal experience. He has served on the Board of Legal Services of Eastern Michigan, the Genesee County Defender Program as part of a Child Abuse and Neglect Panel, and has been on the Board of Commissioners for the State Bar of Michigan. He has also earned the endorsements of a number of groups—The AFL-CIO, AFSME, the UAW, the Builders Association of Michigan, Plumbers Local 370, and the Michigan Association of Police Officers.
In his comments in the League of Women Voters Guide, he addressed his view on the major problem with the courts. He said, “Ibelieve that there is a perception that the courts are not available to everyone – and that pursuing a matter is too expensive…I would make sure that the court functioned as efficiently as possible by respecting and maintaining regular known hours- making decisions in a timely manner and ensuring that anyone that enters my courtroom believes that they have a fair opportunity to be heard.”
Richard McNally is a graduate of the Detroit College of Law and has 39 years of Circuit Court experience. He has also provided legal counsel to his family business—McNally Buick-Chevy. His classic Buick has been a visible mainstay of his campaign. He has served as assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Grayling Michigan and was chosen as the Flint Trial Lawyers Advocate of the Year in 2015. He is also a founded member of the Autism Support Group of Genesee County. He has been endorsed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 332 and the Michigan Association for Justice.
On his website he said, “A generation of Flint children has been poisoned by lead in the city’s drinking water. For years to come, our county will be dealing with the effects of the neurological damage they have suffered. Having an adult son with Autism has taught me first hand the patience and compassion these challenges pose, and the importance of fighting for those without a voice of their own.”
Two others, Bell and Marsh, to appear on November ballot
In addition to the four candidates competing to fill Judge Fullerton’s and Neithercut’s positions there will also be another Circuit Court election in November. Incumbent Judge Celeste Bell, who was appointed by Gov. Snyder in March of 2018, is being challenged by Tabitha Marsh. Since there were only two candidates for that position, Bell and Marsh were not on the primary ballot and will only appear on the November ballot.
Judicial race unusually visible, competitive
The primary campaign for the Circuit Court seats was one of the most visible and competitive judicial contests in Genesee County. Several forums were held by the Genesee County Bar Association, the League of Women Voters, and the Genesee County Democratic Black Caucus, where all of the candidates had the opportunity to address voters. Compared to past judicial elections, more campaign literature was mailed out than the county has seen years. Several of the candidates used television ads as well—very unusual for a judicial campaign of this type.
About Circuit Courts
Michigan Circuit Courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction. In Michigan Circuit Courts have jurisdiction over all felony cases, civil cases where the amount is over $25,000, some serious misdemeanors, cases involving title, or real estate and injunctions. Genesee County currently has ten Circuit Court judges. They are elected for six-year terms, and cannot be elected or appointed after the age of 70.
EVM political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at email@example.com.