Circuit court judicial candidates discuss medical marijuana, same sex adoption at forum
John Counts | AnnArbor.com
Judicial candidates for two seats in the 22nd Circuit Court participated in a battle of legalese language at a candidate forum held Tuesday evening at Washtenaw Community College’s Towsley Auditorium.
Jim Fink, Erane Washington, Doug McClure and Carol Kuhnke are running for the seat being vacated by retiring Judge Melinda Morris. In a second race, Judge Timothy Connors is being challenged by attorney Michael Woodyard. Judicial elections are nonpartisan.
The five who participated were asked an array of questions, from what they thought about same-sex adoption to the hazy medical marijuana laws in Michigan. The questions were chosen before the event and were submitted by some of the many legal groups that sponsored it.
For more than two hours, the candidates had the opportunity to sell themselves to the public. The first few questions had to do with backgrounds and accomplishments. Moderator David Blanchard, an Ann Arbor attorney, then moved on to questions about how courts serve the community.
“We have people who can’t get appropriate counseling,” Connors said in response to a question about people having access to legal resources. “You might have a case that involves an institution against an individual. The individual has no ability to stand up to those resources unless the judge tries to make sure to level it to some extent.”
Woodyard, an assistant prosecutor in the Wayne County, said resources should be found for everyone in a bustling, sometimes overwhelmed court atmosphere.
“Caseloads are enormous,”Woodyard said. “They present an enormous burden on practitioners, the judge (and) the lawyers who appear before (them). In my experience, there are unfortunately some instances when litigants who manage to get their way into court aren’t given a fair hearing, or perhaps get short shrift by a harried court staff.”
Fink didn’t want to speculate on how to make the system more efficient.
“I’ve worked in and around government long enough to know that there are things that can be done to make any operation more efficient,” he said. “I’ve also taken over enough operations in different careers to know that it would be foolish for me to say, sitting here, what should be done (unless) I’m elected. I don’t have any suggestions.”
McClure has a different take on the question about how to make the court system more efficient.
“I think the judge can do a lot,” he said. “The judge is the main wheel on which the other gears turn. I would bring my experience and hard work and administrative abilities to that position. Also, technology is something we can certainly do better at.”
“To have an effective and efficient court, you need to have a staff that is well-trained and understands what needs to happen for the litigant,” she said. “You cannot cut the staff training that’s involved in making this process work.”
When asked about medical marijuana, many of the candidates echoed Connors' comment.
“On custody issues, the sole concern is safety,” he said. “If the child is safe, I don’t give a darn about that really.”
Woodyard, his opponent, agreed that the child’s well-being is paramount, but that because marijuana continues to be illegal by federal law, it’s a murky legal situation.
Fink was frank when asked about same-sex adoptions. He said they aren’t permitted by a court ruling.
“I think it’s really a matter for a legislature,” he said. “Whether it’s permitted by law, or not permitted by law, I’ll follow the law.”
McClure took a more personal approach.
“I think if a child could be placed in a loving family with two same-sex partners, I’d be all for that,” he said. “If there are legal impediments, the legislature, I think, should do something about that.”
The four-way race for Morris’ seat will be narrowed down to two after the primary Aug. 7. Connor and Woodyard won’t appear on the ballot until November.