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Posted on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 : 5:58 a.m.

Michigan Supreme Court candidate tells Ann Arbor crowd she's spent her career on the front lines

By Ryan J. Stanton

Circuit Judge Denise Langford Morris says she's seen just about everything in her 18 years on the bench in Oakland County.

In more than 50,000 cases, Langford Morris says she has handled rapes, murders, robberies, car-jackings and embezzlements.


Michigan Supreme Court candidate Denise Langford Morris talks about her 18 years on the bench in Oakland County during a forum in Ann Arbor.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"I just heard a case with a poor gentleman who lost his job — didn't want to tell his wife — after almost 30 years at Chrysler," she said. "And what he did is he kept going out the door, pretending like he was working. And one day he went back home and he killed her and he tried to kill himself because he couldn't stand telling anyone, especially her, that he wasn't working.

"So these are the kinds of things that I see."

Langford Morris is hoping to take her experience to the state's highest court. She is seeking the Democratic Party's nomination on Saturday in Detroit to run for the Michigan Supreme Court against GOP Justice Robert Young.

She made a stop in Ann Arbor on Thursday and addressed a crowd of about 30 people during a one-hour forum at the Washtenaw County Democratic Party's headquarters.

Stuart Dowty, the local party chairman, said two other Supreme Court candidates were expected to attend but cancelled late in the day.

"I am prepared to do what needs to be done on the Michigan Supreme Court to upright justice in Michigan," Langford Morris told the crowd. "It is not uprighted, and it is not fair, and I have an 18-year-record of sitting on the bench. We had 1,700 cases a year when I first started. Now we're getting about 1,200 cases a year. So if you add those up, I've handled over 50,000 cases."

Both the statewide Republican and Democratic parties are holding conventions on Saturday to nominate candidates for the Supreme Court. Langford Morris is one of four Democrats who have shown interest in challenging two incumbent GOP justices. One of them, Elizabeth Weaver, resigned on Thursday.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm named Appeals Court Judge Alton Thomas Davis to replace Weaver on the court. Davis now will appear on the November ballot as an incumbent.

Langford Morris appears to be the Michigan Democratic Party's favored candidate to challenge Young, who is expected to be nominated by the GOP on Saturday. Judges running for the second GOP nomination are Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Jane Markey and Wayne County Circuit Judge Mary Beth Kelly.

The other Democratic justice hopefuls are Southfield District Judge Shelia Johnson and Wayne County Circuit Judges Robert Colombo Jr. and Deborah Thomas.

Supreme Court candidates run on a nonpartisan part of the ballot, even though they're nominated by political parties.

Langford Morris was appointed to her post by Republican Gov. John Engler in August 1992, then was elected in 1994 and reelected in 2000 and 2006. She is Oakland County’s first black Circuit Court judge and is the longest serving female judge on the bench in the county.

Commenting on being appointed by Engler, Langford Morris assured Thursday's crowd that she holds strong Democratic values. She said she was raised in a union household and grew up working at the polls for Democratic political candidates.

In addition to her law degree, she has a master's degree in guidance and counseling from Wayne State University. She spent several years working for the state as a protective services investigator, first for disabled adults and senior citizens, and then for abused and neglected children. She also worked in the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office in the 1980s.

"I held down the 48th District Court by myself," she said. "I did every single misdemeanor trial and every single felony exam for all three judges."

She was promoted to trial work at the Circuit Court level, principally before Judge Steven Andrews. She said she prosecuted cases ranging from shoplifting to murder.

After a brief stint in private practice, she returned to the public service sector and took a job in the civil division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit. And it's from there that she transitioned to becoming a judge in Oakland County.

"I was really wondering how I was going to handle being a judge — the first African American in Oakland — but I knew that God had placed me in a good place," she said. "All of that social work background, all of that litigation experience, over 80 jury trials, and all of the extensive state, federal, civil and criminal litigation experience, I needed every bit of it when I got on the bench."

Langford Morris commented on the unique work of the seven-justice Supreme Court, which hears cases appealed to it from the Court of Appeals.

"The Michigan Supreme Court never sees a witness — all they do is read transcripts," she said. "So if you don't understand all the possibilities behind that printed word ... if you've never sat down with a witness or tried a case or prepared a witness for trial, if you've never sat in the seat where I sit and seen the pain and heard the pain from witnesses that testify, then you don't know the truth behind the printed word. My experience will allow me to bring that printed word alive."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.


David Briegel

Sat, Aug 28, 2010 : 10:05 p.m.

Kind of like the "activist judges" on the Roberts/Alito/Scalia/Thomas (not so) Supreme Court? Corporate owned! Is "honest judges" an oxymoron?

Macabre Sunset

Sat, Aug 28, 2010 : 2:28 p.m.

One reason, if they're ranked dead last (might as well be, Michigan is dead last in so many other categories), is that it seems a conflict of interest to have self-identified Democrats and Republicans running for this office. So, instead of honest judges running the courts, you get career politicians. But the same thing would hold true for the Supreme Court. We don't get the best judges - we get someone's partisan idea of a political appointee.


Fri, Aug 27, 2010 : 6:34 p.m.

@david.." result is due to the travesties the right-wing justices have committed over the past many years." Such as?

David Cahill

Fri, Aug 27, 2010 : 5:57 p.m.

I was at the meeting. Judge Morris pointed out that in nationwide surveys the Michigan Supreme Court finishes dead last. She was too polite to say that this result is due to the travesties the right-wing justices have committed over the past many years. I was impressed with her.


Fri, Aug 27, 2010 : 2:43 p.m.

She sounds like she is planning on being an Activist Judge along the lines of Sotomayor and Kegan, just on a State level. She likes to start alot of sentences with "I" too, LOL.


Fri, Aug 27, 2010 : 10:08 a.m.

John Lindstrom, Publisher of Gongwer News Service, has a column in The Dome today on "The Politics and Personality of Justice" that has interesting things to say on this general topic.


Fri, Aug 27, 2010 : 9:43 a.m.

"... all they do is read transcripts," she said.... "My experience will allow me to bring that printed word alive." Oh yes, this is just what we need on the MSC bench (not)! Someone who would love to smother the facts with their emotions.

Craig Lounsbury

Fri, Aug 27, 2010 : 7:02 a.m.

Its an agenda when you assume "justice" needs "up righting". A judge should take every case based on its individual merit with respect to the law. If you go in to a case with a preconceived notion that there is some "up righting" to be done you have an agenda that isn't just "making justice right". Further more I contend that "making justice right" and "up righting justice" are not exactly the same concepts.


Fri, Aug 27, 2010 : 6:35 a.m.

Excuse me??? Making justice right should be the responsibility of EVERY judge. It can hardly be called an "agenda."

Craig Lounsbury

Fri, Aug 27, 2010 : 6:25 a.m.

"I am prepared to do what needs to be done on the Michigan Supreme Court to upright justice in Michigan," I thought justice was supposed to be "blind". Judges are not supposed to have agendas.