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Posted on Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 9 a.m.

Joe Burke on becoming Ann Arbor's newest judge: 'This is like being traded to the Yankees'

By Ryan J. Stanton

Joe Burke, who will be sworn in as Ann Arbor's newest judge soon, used a sports metaphor Tuesday night to describe his excitement as he prepares to step into a new role.

"For me, this is like being traded to the Yankees," he said. "Unless you're a Red Sox fan, then it's like being traded to the Red Sox."

Gov. Rick Snyder announced the appointment of Burke, Washtenaw County's chief assistant prosecutor, to Ann Arbor's 15th District Court last week. Chief Judge Elizabeth Hines introduced Burke to the Ann Arbor City Council Tuesday night.


Joe Burke appears before the Ann Arbor City Council Tuesday night for the first time since being appointed the city's newest judge.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"I know Joe, and as those of you who know him also know, he is already very honorable, but he will officially gain that title at his investiture on March 16," Hines said.

"It's just a wonderful opportunity for me," Burke told council members. "I'm very humbled and honored to be able to serve the city that I love and where my wife and I have lived in our starter home in the 5th Ward for the last 23 years."

During the recent interview process, when asked why he wanted to be a judge, Burked said he told his interviewers he didn't want to be just any judge.

"I want to be a 15th District Court judge," he said. "Because Libby Hines, Julie Creal and Chris Easthope have put together a wonderful court with innovative programs. The street outreach program, the sobriety court, the designated domestic violence docket. I mean, these are things that other courts just aren't doing and it's made it so that it's a nationally recognized court."

Snyder chose Burke from a large pool of candidates to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Creal, who stepped down as chief judge for health reasons.

Burke began his legal career as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Washtenaw County in 1982. He then went into private practice in 1986 as a partner at Burke & Rennell PC.

In 1993, he returned to the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office as the chief assistant prosecuting attorney, where he has remained since.

A graduate of Howell High School, he earned a bachelor's degree at Michigan State University and a law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

He is married to Marilyn Eisenbraun.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 4:21 p.m.

Not only is he a fine litigator, but more importantly he blows a mean trumpet! Blow your horn Judge Joe!


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 6:44 p.m.

According to the online campaign finance records maintained by the Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum downloadable at <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Mr. Burke was the long time treasurer of the Prosecutor Brian Mackie campaign committee. In 2008, one week before the November election, the &quot;Citizens For Justice&quot; political action committee made a contribution of $12,000.00 to Mackie's aforesaid campaign committee. That political action committee was and is had its registered office the Ann Arbor home of another high-ranking member of Mackie's office, who served as an official of that PAC. Mackie had no primary or general election opponents in 2008 and presumably had no need for campaign financing at that time. Most of the monies funding that PAC have been members of Mackie's office or local attorneys, including those who have a history of doing criminal defense work. I want to stress that there is nothing inherently improper about the $12,000.00 transfer but that the transaction is highly unusual - especially given the fact that Mackie was unopposed and may never be opposed in his carrer as County Prosecutor in the future. While I respect Mr. Burke and am willing to give him the benefit of any doubt in the matter, I believe the principals involved in this unusual transaction should explain the reasons for the its consumation. Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga was acquitted after a federal indictment involving alleged payoff monies the U.S. Attorney claimed were funnelled via campaign contributions to his campaign committee. I spoke with a juror in that case who believed Marlinga was innocent. The questionable transactions, however drew FBI scrutiny in that case due to alleged links to those monies and criminal cases prosecuted by Marlinga's office.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

My Dear Governor Snyder, being a resident of Washtenaw County yourself, I am disappointed that you didn't appoint anyone to reflect the racial diversity of this county... maybe you are doing the best you can, but as our governor we expect you to be more developed than this. Please, for future referrence, try to be racial conscious especially, when it comes to appointing someone to our judicial branch of the government...


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 2:38 p.m.

Also, didn't Judge Creal come down with some type of illness/disability? Or, are disabled people not part the categorization of minorities? I know they are a protected class. What we really need are more judges like John Collins, he was a great jurist.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 12:56 a.m.

Yeah, Kurtis has been on the Court of Appeals so long, I forgot he served on the circuit court bench way back in the 1990s. He was one of the youngest Michigan Court of Appeals judges but was quick to concede that Judge Brian Zahra was an appeals court jurist that was a bit younger than he. Both ascended to the Michigan Court of Appeals while in their late 30s. Both are highly capable jurists.

Michigan Reader

Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 12:15 a.m.

Kurtis Wilder. Don't forget about him. A very capable judge on the circuit court bench.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 7:44 p.m.

Forgot about Cedric! Nancy has been in the Probate Court but has been on leave as of late. But none in the circuit court nor any on any of the outlying district courts.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

Uhm, Cedric Simpson is on the bench right now, and then there was Nancy Francis in the not so distant past. But feel free to change the facts.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 6:48 p.m.

Governor Snyder had many minority candidates he could have picked locally - but did not. Washtenaw County has not had a minority on its bench since Betty Widgeon in the 1990s - and she has been the only one in the county's history.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 6:36 p.m.

I'm sorry, but I think he just needs to pick the best person for the job. Race, sex, or any other catagory should not be considered. No bias of any kind.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 5:20 p.m.

Great choice. Judge Burke will be an asset to the bench. He is a person of tremendous integrity and has been since he started at the Prosecutor's Office back in the 80's.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

Congratulations to the "Honorable Joseph Burke!" Excellent choice!


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 6:49 p.m.

The pride of Cooley Law School!


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 3:30 p.m.

Now if he can just get one more term in he will get a pension and health benefits for life. Then he can have two government pensions. Hopefully, you don't get sent back down to the minor leagues.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

@A2roots, confusion has its costs, sorry about that. I have no idea what went through his head in his decision to throw his hat into the ring, I was just pointing out an unintended consequence. Enjoy the day.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 5:36 p.m.

I do not dispute the fact the system is screwed up. However, your initial post in my interpretation had an underlying tone implying that Burke was taking the position because the benefit potential. And yes, he will be a fine jurist.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

I have nothing against Burke at all, and I think he will make a fine Jurist. That being said, we argue about public employees working 25-30 years getting the same benefit, while judges merely need to serve a full term. Just doesn't seem right to me.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

He did not create the system. If you don't like it do something to change it. But certainly do not castigate Burke for accepting a job that he will do quite well at.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

So, what are the Tigers, chopped liver?


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

Great choice!


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 2:53 p.m.

No, Judge Burke, you've been traded to the Yankees. You will be heavily scrutinized by all the legal experts in this town, especially in this forum