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Interview: 22nd Circuit Court Challenger Michael Woodyard Pledges To Dispense Justice “Fairly.”

by P.D. Lesko

Michael Woodyard is either Gandalf or Saruman, it just depends on whom you ask. He is challenging Judge Timothy Connors for his seat on the 22nd Circuit Court, a seat Connors has either warmed, or filled admirably, depending on whom you ask. In Washtenaw County, local lawyers simply don’t run against judicial incumbents. Lawyers will explain that it’s because a lawyer who challenges an incumbent and loses could then end up appearing before the incumbent. The obvious fear is that the incumbent judges would hold grudges against their opponents and then make them suffer for it. Considering the fact that judges are supposed to be the adults in the room while lawyers and litigants squabble and scrabble, the prospect that judges would behave vindictively because they had to run for elective office rather than get a free ride every few years should get a little more press than it does.

In Oakland County five incumbent circuit county judges are fending off challengers this election season. It is suspected that a single litigant may be secretly targeting one or more incumbent judges, as the challengers have been the beneficiaries of a million-dollar ad blitz funded by an unknown donor or donors using out-of-state corporations to conceal their identity and motives.

Michael Woodyard (right) lives in Washtenaw County, but works for the Wayne County Prosecutor. Thus, he stands to suffer little professional fall-out as a result of his run against Judge Connors—at least in Wayne County. Here in Washtenaw County, an anonymous letter allegedly mailed to Woodyard urging him to withdraw from the race suggests that his name will be mud should Woodyard “force” local members of the Bar to pony up money to fund Connors’s campaign. Of course, the letter writer implies the local Bar Association and its members are forced to pony up to cover the campaign costs of the sitting judge. Perhaps members of the local Bar prefer to think of it as extortion, rather than blackmail.

A2Buzz.org was created in 2005, and the domain name doesn’t expire until 2014. In a nutshell, the site claims to have been “instrumental in exposing the behavior of  Timothy Connors – Washtenaw  County Circuit Court judge.” The site is outdated, and many of the links broken. Rob Packard, the reporter who allegedly had this to say about Connors in a quote from A2Buzz.org, works at WNWO in Toledo, Ohio:

“As an award winning television journalist, I am frequently required to attend court hearings.  I have a great deal of respect for judges and their position.  In the hearings I attended in this matter, I observed Judge Connors to be rude, constantly interrupting, inattentive, rolling his eyes, sighing, yelling, avoiding eye contact, staring out the window.  I was shocked. There was a clear sense of bias in Judge Connors demeanor.  I have covered federal, civil and criminal court cases for more than a decade. I have never witnessed such a mean and biased behavior in any Judge before.”

Several comments posted anonymously to AnnArbor.com in response to Woodyard’s announcement that he intended to run for the Circuit Court were similarly pointed about Connors’s demeanor in his courtroom. In both 2000 and 2006, Judge Melinda Morris pulled down thousands more votes than her colleague Judge Timothy Connors when they both ran for re-election unopposed. In 2006, when he last ran for re-election, Connors got a little over 65,000 votes out of the 135,126 ballots cast.

To be sure, Michael Woodyard will be outspent, and he will have to make do with just a fraction of the endorsers and endorsements the incumbent will have. However, over the past three years, voters in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County hasve delivered some rude surprises at the polls both to entrenched political candidates, as well as to supporters of ballot proposals that seemed sure to pass, then didn’t. Could Woodyard win? In a 1999 issue of Court Review, a piece about public confidence in our court system argues that, “For most of our nation’s history, perceptions of, and public trust and confidence in, the U.S. Supreme Court have served as the bellwether of the public’s attitudes toward the judiciary. Indeed, people’s opinions about the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to dictate the general attitude toward the judiciary.” If this is true, it’s bad news for Connors. According to a July 2012 piece in the New York Times, the U.S. Supreme Court has an approval rating of just 40 percent. The Pew Research Center’s measure of favorability concerning the U.S. Supreme Court for 2012 is the lowest in 25 years.

 

A2Politico: Tell us a little about yourself, your connections to Washtenaw County.

Michael Woodyard:  My family moved to Southeastern Michigan in 1976, when I was 10. I lived in Ypsilanti while I attended Eastern Michigan University, graduating in 1997. In 2002 I bought a home in Ann Arbor. I’ve lived here since, and my kids, now 10 and 8, are enrolled in the city’s public schools.

I find the question of community ties for judicial candidates fascinating. Voters who are choosing a candidate for a policy-making elective office like city council or state representative probably would want someone in office who is just like them. Having someone who has lived their whole life in town might be a good way to tell if someone is like you. But a judge doesn’t make laws or policy. A judge interprets the law as it is written, and the law is the same in Ann Arbor as it is in Ishpeming and in Detroit.

We are very fortunate that Washtenaw County, with the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University and various auto suppliers and tech companies, is a destination for people from all over the world. So it’s quite possible that you will find tremendously qualified people who haven’t lived here their whole lives. Basing one’s decision on who to support whether the candidate’s parents went to Huron High School sort of ignores the well-qualified folks who came here later in life.

The law requires that a judge live in the circuit in which he or she serves. So in that respect, my connection to Washtenaw County is important. This is my home, this is where my child was born, were my kids go to school. But insofar as a connection to the community makes it more or less likely that I’ll be a “good” judge, I don’t think that’s an apt data point.

I think a more appropriate question is: how much experience do I have in court, what sort of experience do I have in advocating for justice, will I hold everyone equally accountable before the law, no matter if they’re rich or poor, black or white. And on those points, I am proud of my record, and confident I will serve with distinction.

A2Politico:  Generally, sitting judges get free rides during elections because lawyers who work in the same county are afraid to challenge them for office. You live in Washtenaw County, but work in Wayne County. That explains why you don’t have to fear professional retaliation in Washtenaw County for challenging an incumbent judge, but what makes you think you’ll do a better job than a jurist whose been there since 1997?

Michael Woodyard:  The Circuit Court has jurisdiction over felony criminal cases, certain civil cases, divorce, adoption, child protection, child custody, juvenile delinquency, and other matters. All of these are important areas of law, but the heart of the court lies in its administration of criminal justice. And as a 10-year veteran of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, I have an expertise and depth of experience in law and the administration of justice that is not matched by any other candidate.

According to the Michigan Code of Professional Responsibility, a prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. So as a “minister of justice,” I have fought for 10 years on behalf of children and families. I’ve represented the People of the State of Michigan in 20 different district courts and in front of 27 different circuit court judges. I’ve tried more than 100 cases to verdict before juries and judges. I’ve handled more than 800 arrest warrants. I have an intimate and deep familiarity with the workings of the system of justice.

My opponent has been assigned a civil docket for the past 15 years. These cases are important, with real people trying to resolve important questions. But my opponent simply doesn’t have the depth of experience that I have in criminal law, in advocating for justice under difficult, adversarial circumstances. It is that rich experience that makes me uniquely qualified to serve as judge.

A2Politico:  Who’s on Team Woodyard, helping you with your campaign?

Michael Woodyard:  My campaign is a completely grass-roots effort. The everyday staff consists of me and my girlfriend, Veena Kulkarni, a magnificent concert pianist, teacher, and gracious thinker. Ebru Uras, a friend and former United States Foreign Service officer, is contributing her expertise. Several attorneys I work with are involved. We’ve got a number of strong supporters at our church, and of course, my kids are a big help, too.

A2Politico:  Both you and Judge Connors are on Facebook, and you’re on Twitter. Is social media playing a significant role in your campaign?

Michael Woodyard:  Social media is a great way to keep supporters up to date on what’s going on, to invite folks to events, and to share information about the campaign.

In fact, we recently updated my website (woodyard4judge.com) to provide direct links to court opinions and government documents containing information about my record and my opponent’s record, so voters can see the facts, without any spin or campaign gloss. This is a terrific way to fold important campaign information and digital technology into a seamless presentation.

A2Politico:   Judge Connors was appointed by a Republican governor (Engler). While judgeships are technically non-partisan, politicos-in-the-know understand that Michigan’s bench has become politically polarized. Where do you fall on the political spectrum?

Michael Woodyard:  I’m a life-long Democrat, and my perspective on the law is formed with a background in prosecution. I believe that we all have a responsibility to work to improve society, and I also believe that people must be accountable for their conduct. I think that interpretation of statutes should be careful, and precedent must be followed. The law is the law, and my conviction is to apply it fairly and with integrity, regardless of who the lawyer is standing in front of me, regardless of the social status of the litigants.

A2Politico:  A2Politico has been getting emails from local lawyers about the fact that Judge Connors works for the University of Michigan as a Lecturer (with a .9 appointment and a pro-rata salary of $609,145.78 as of 2011) and yet he refuses to recuse himself when cases involving the University of Michigan come before him. Should a Circuit Court Judge recuse himself from hearing and ruling on cases that involve his employer, or is this a tempest in a judicial teapot?

Michael Woodyard:  Michigan Court Rule 2.003 lists a variety of situations in which a judge might disqualify himself, or in which a party may seek a judge’s disqualification. One circumstance is when the judge has “more than a de minimis economic interest in the subject matter in controversy that could be substantially impacted by the proceeding.”

I suppose one would have to argue that my opponent could get fired from his $54,000 a year teaching job at U of M if he doesn’t rule in favor of the university, and he therefore has a direct interest in the outcome of the cases. But that is nothing more than speculation, and probably not true, anyway.

What isn’t speculative, however, is that his substantial paycheck from the university – and his wife’s new appointment as a family law professor at the university’s law school – raises fair questions about the appearance of impropriety. And that is the subject of a few provisions of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct.

“Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct by judges. A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. A judge must therefore accept restrictions on conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly.” M.C.J. Canon 2 (2)(A)

In particular, while a judge is encouraged to teach and take part in activities that promote understanding of the law, the “judge should refrain from financial and business dealings that tend to reflect adversely on the judge’s impartiality or judicial office, interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, exploit the judicial position, or involve the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers or persons likely to come before the court on which the judge serves.” M.C.J. Canon 5 (C)(1).

If a judge takes in about $54,000 from a teaching job at the U of M, and his wife also is employed by the University as a law school professor, at the same time that the judge regularly rules on controversies involving the University, those facts alone do not appear to violate any specific canons or rules of ethics. The situation may, however, raise a legitimate question about the appearance of impropriety. And that is a question that each judge will have to answer for himself.

A2Politico:  In May, you allegedly received an anonymous letter (which you posted to your Facebook page) urging you to drop out of the race. It wasn’t a threat, per se, but nonetheless it wasn’t very sporting to suggest anonymously that you have no business running for office because you don’t practice in Washtenaw County, and will cost members of the local bar money when they are be forced to contribute to Judge Connors’s re-election campaign. The letter does make a fair point that few in the political/legal communities in the county know you, professionally. Someone recently suggested to A2P that you’re either very brave or extremely foolish. Which is it? A little of both, maybe?

Michael Woodyard:  Judges are required to act on behalf of litigants and the community, not on behalf of their friends or local attorneys or the political classes. So the question is really whether the voters think my decade of experience fighting for the rights of children and families who have been victimized by crime in one of the largest and busiest and most violent jurisdictions in the United States qualifies me to fairly and justly determine controversies as judge.

I also think it’s fair to point out that “professional,” for a lawyer, has to do with written and oral advocacy, and the lawyer’s demonstrated abilities to be just. That is a different question from whether one talks to a lawyer at bar association functions, or if one thinks the lawyer is a nice guy.

That said, I’m neither brave nor foolish. I am dedicated to public service, and committed to the ideas of accountability, safety and community. Since at least 1954, Michigan law has provided for contested, non-partisan election of circuit court judges. Local media has reported that this race is the first time that an incumbent Washtenaw Circuit judge has been challenged. I think that’s a shame. I think that a judge, like any elected public servant, should be proud of their record and should place that record before the electorate every chance he gets. And if the electorate thinks another person has the qualifications needed to fulfill those specific duties, than someone else should be elected.

A2Politico:  How’s the fundraising going? Care to share how much money you’ve raised thus far for your campaign? Have you self-funded at all?

Michael Woodyard:  Our campaign is a grass-roots labor of love. I haven’t raised tons of money, I haven’t gotten donations from PACs or Super PACs. I am supported by friends, family, members of my church, and the many, many people that I meet and talk with about my record.

I predict that when financials are reported by the state Bureau of Elections later this month, you will see that my opponent has crushed me in terms of raising money from local attorneys, PACS and members of the political and social establishment.

A2Politico:  You endorsed a candidate in the August primary. A2P got a tip that this is against the Judicial Code of Ethics for Michigan Judges. You’re not a judge, of course, so it’s a moot point, and we told our tipster to take two aspirin and call us in the morning. However, one would expect a candidate for judge to know the rules about endorsing in political contests. Then again, Michigan Supreme Court candidate Bridget McCormack, just endorsed Judge Connors and he graciously accepted it via his blog. Care to comment?

Michael Woodyard:  It’s not a moot point. The particular canon prohibits the endorsement of candidates for non-judicial elected office, and applies to judges and candidates for judicial office as well. Frankly, I was very surprised when you asked me this question, because I haven’t endorsed any candidate for non-judicial office. (In fact, I had to ask you whom I had endorsed!)

It turned out that I attended a fund raiser in May, 2012, for Chuck Warpehoski (my girlfriend serves on the board of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, an organization of which Chuck is the director), and the names written down on the sign-in sheet ended up on Chuck’s website under the heading “endorsements.” When you brought this to my attention I immediately asked Chuck to take my name off the list, and he did.

A2Politico:   You write on your website: “As judge, Mike will bring his passion for service to every decision he makes. He will respect the law, not bend it to favor rich or poor. He’ll respect the office, recognizing that a judge, like everyone else, has to earn your trust every day. And Mike will respect the people who appear before him, treating everyone fairly, ensuring that justice is served.” Certainly, several comments in response to the AA.com article in which your candidacy was announced, suggest Judge Connors should be voted out of office. Are you intimating that Judge Connors bends the law to favor certain groups, or treats petitioners and attorneys unfairly?

Michael Woodyard:  I am simply sharing what I value, how I will comport myself as judge. I will respect the law, the litigants and the system of public justice. I will devote myself to improving the community through fair, evenhanded and predictable application of the law. I’ve seen the comments and talked with lots of people in the community, but I have not appeared in front of Judge Connors. I would let attorneys and others who have appeared in front of Judge Connors discuss his judicial temperament.

A2Politico:  Campaigns for judgeships are the condiciones sine quibus non for a game of insider political baseball. Can you finish up by explaining (without using Latin) why the race for this circuit court judgeship should matter a lot to the average citizen? How does a circuit judge touch the life of an average voter?

Michael Woodyard:  Circuit judges are involved in the most important issues affecting a person’s life: child custody, divorce, felony criminal cases, civil disputes, and family matters of various types. A circuit court judge has a far more direct and immediate effect on the individual appearing before the court than do all of the larger structures of government. And by assuming such a direct role with the individual, the court, by extension, plays an essential part in the community.

These are the things I’ve learned over the past decade, representing the People of the State of Michigan in court every day of the week. The circuit court can be a partner in the community, working to foster a sense of accountability, to improve and maintain safety and to strengthen the community by dispensing justice in a fair, evenhanded and predictable manner. As judge, that is what I will do. 

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Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=14579

37 Comments for “Interview: 22nd Circuit Court Challenger Michael Woodyard Pledges To Dispense Justice “Fairly.””

  1. @A2Politico:

    Rarely does a County Prosecutor appear before a judge in a separate county.

    If it does happen its because a case has been transferred due to a conflict of intesest involving either the judge assigned to a criminal case or the county prosecutor have a conflict of interest and a disinterested third party acquires a case. A good example is where a criminal defense attorney from Macomb County was charged with assaulting a police detective. The case was eventually transferred to a Grosse Pointe municipal judge because the criminal defense attorney was acquainted with all the judges in the County of Macomb.

    The case and the award of attorney fees are over for the State of Michigan but the case is just beginning for Kym Worthy as she is trying to gain access to prisoners’ monies that have criminal restitution orders against them – some child support arrearages may be at issue as well.

    It seemed clear that Connors may have been about ready to give Worthy a hard time over access to the monies since he made an off-the-cuff remark cited by the Prosecutor’s Office that they were “from the same government” that abused the female prisoners. The attorneys for the Plaintiffs then donate $8,000 to Connors re-election committee. It smells bad.

    The net effect to Worthy is she has a jurist who will likely appear more even-handed and is generally respected by the local bar. Dick Soble’s law firm historicalyhas ha a close relationship to Connors and a new judge will allay government attorneys trying to collect restitution and child support.

    Gary Rogow, CPA has been another local professional that served as an official – the registered treasurer – on Judge Connors’ campaign committee previously.
    He has, per a former member of the now-disbanded Friend of Court Advisory Committee, been involved in divorce litigation as a a court-appointed accountant by order of Connors; this has the appearance of campaign supporters getting consideration for serving on Connors’ committee. Rogow also has been retained by counsel as a financial expert testifying in divorce litigation before Connors. Connors’ personal divorce attorney – C. Denise Fawcett – has had many divorce cases before Connors. I know of no situation where this situation is disclosed by Connors to the opposing side.

    This all smacks of an insider network mentality.

  2. Judge Shelton made it clear on the record that the case re-assignment was due to Judge Carol Kuhnke assuming office and case reassignments are not uncommon, however the fact that a huge class action suit that Connors presided over for in excess of a decade being routinely re-assigned was particularly odd and at an odd time as well.

    The Neal litigation was the largest civil rights litigation
    in Michigan history having over 900 claimants and $100,000,000 in proceeds to distribute.

    In my humble opinion, Shelton wanted to short-circuit the “appearance of improprity arguments against an ally on his own bench by finding a neutral reason to kick Connors off the Neal case.

    Connors was repeatedly reversed by the Court of Appeals in this case and had a curiously antagonistic attitude toward government attorneys toward the pendency of the litigation

    To my knowledge, the Worthy motion for disqualification was the first attemp by a party to remove Connors from that case. The previous links between Soble’s law firm
    and Timothy and Margaret Connors are well-known and have, in large part been disclosed on this thread. It could reasonably been argued that Connors should have disclosed such matters to the government attorneys early in the litigation.

    What if concerned parent made a $1,000.00 donation to the County Prosecuor’s re-election campaign and the judicial campaign committee of the presiding judge when the concerned parent’s son was facing a criminal charge by that prosecutor before that judge? A victim would be screaming about it. Would such a victim be sanctioned for raising the issue? Of course not..

    There are local attorneys who have pumped thousands and thousand sof dollars into the campaign committees of local judges. They join an “insider network” that have influence in court matters.

    That “insider network” was flushed out into the open during the Connors re-election campaign. Shelton short-circuited inquiry into that potentially embarrassing issue by quietly re-assigning the case to himself. The last thing he wanted was protracted hearings which would invite media scrutiny as occurred in the UAW case alluded to above as reported on by Michael F. Munday – in that case, which involved Dick Soble – found its way up into the appellate court system – and implicated certain people in obtaining transcripts placed under seal that were exposed publicly.

    • @John, thanks for the reply! One more question, though. How common is it for a prosecutor in another county to petition to have a judge reassigned? Does this reassignment, then, have any real impact on Judge Connors, other than to assign him a new caseload? Would Judge Shelton assign attorney’s fees any differently? I suppose what I’m asking is whether this is a tempest in a judicial tea kettle or a kettle that has been boiling over, and was just taken off the heat in time by Judge Shelton. What do you think?

  3. Judge Donald Shelton, announcing a general case re-assignment – announced at the January 16, 2013 disqualification hearing, indicated that Timothy Connors will no longer preside over the Neal litigation.

    Judge Shelton’s name had been displayed prominently on Connors’ campaign committee website: http://www.judgeconnors.com

    Shelton also previously donated to the campaign committee of Margaret Connors and edorsed her bid to be elected to the District Court in 2008.

    Only one journalist, Dave Askins of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, showed up to cover the hearing, although other concerned citizens were present in the courtroom.

    Incredibly, the focus of the hearing were attempts by Dick Soble, the lead trial counsel in Neal to have monetary sanctions imposed upon the Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy for filing the disqualification motion. Shelton largely agreed with Soble but declined to impose any monetary sanctions.

    Dick Soble had previously been involved with controversy in the circuit court.
    That case was chronicled by Michael F. Munday in an Insight on the News article dated July 22, 2002
    http://www.soldiersofsolidarity.com/files/relatednewsandreports07/Unionlawyersskirtlaw.html

    • @John, are reassignments of judges commonplace? Does this mean Judge Connors should have bowed out long ago of his own accord?

  4. January 16th, 2013 is the hearing date in the Neal case scheduled on the motion for disqualification of Timothy Connors as the trial court judge; it is to be decided by Chief Judge Donald Shelton.

    Hold onto your hats! It’s going to be a real big event.

  5. The motion for disqualification is slated to be heard before Judge Connors on November 29th.

    The legal community is abuzz over this pending hearing.

    What will happen?

    • @George:

      A motion hearing was held the afternoon of November 29th in Judge Connors’ courtroom.

      Dick Soble, the prolific contributor to the Connors’ re-election campaign requested that sanctions be imposed,including costs and attorney fees upon the Wayne County Prosecutor for the filing of a frivolous motion for disqualification.

      Neither the Ann Arbor Chronicle or annarbor.com, who both covered the story of the motion for disqualification were present at this hearing.

      A visibly angry Judge Connors denied the motion for disqualification and indicated he would reserve making a ruling on monetary sanctions until the chief judge made a ruling on the motion for disqualification.

      My opinion is that this hearing was a sham especially consideration of imposing monetary sanctions upon the Wayne County Prosecutor for suggesting an appearance of impropriety exists that may require Connors’recusal from future proceedings. Soble had alleged in the news that Mike Woodyard’s candidacy had something to do with this motion but the campaign contributions that were made by Soble and others ($8,000.00) appearing in the Neal case were not even disclosed publicly until October 26th.

      The press not being there on November 29th to expose any retaliatory behavior by Connors and Soble toward the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office clearly allowed this apparent sham to occur that afternoon.

      I hope that the chief judge does the right thing and the press cover this unfolding matter in the future. This “insider network” should be stopped.

  6. Timothy Connors, Jim Fink and Carol Kuhnke raised about $100,000 for their respective campaigns.

    Mike Woodyard raised under $8,000.00.

    Frankly, Mr. Woodyard is an adherent of legal ethics whereas Connors is a man of country club ethics.

    The excellent by-product of his campaign is it goes to show that certain attorney insiders have for all practical purposes appeared to have bought off the justice system via massive donations to the campaign committee for Judge Connors. Mr. Woodyard exposed Connors’ dubious record and Connors faces embarrassing news coverage on appearances of impropriety and a pending motion for disqualification filed by Kym Worthy.

    The largely unknown personas of Richard Soble and the Bredells are now general knowledge of the public; they have acquired the reputations of purchasing judicial influenece through massive campaign contributions.

    I am sure that local journalists will continue to cover the upcoming disqualification hearing on Kym Worthy’s motion. And the respective faces of Timothy Connors and Soble will continue to redden with embarrassment.

    • @Junior, the thing is about politics in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County is that “massive” is not, well, all that big. A $3,400 donation is peanuts. What is does mean, is that politicos can be bought relatively cheaply.

  7. Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

    kristine jahr – “I”ve seen first hand how Connors runs his
    courtroom, who he favors, and observed the result of his
    biased rulings since 2000 (yes, 12 years).
    It’s time for him to go!”

    http://www.annarbor.com/news/campaign-donations-lead-to-call-for-judge-tim-connors-recusal/

    w0w, i only got 12 MINUTES …

    http://www.annarbor.com/community/news/opinion/opinion_-_public_statements_-vs-_timothy_connors_transcript_actions_-_unbalanced/

  8. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office just filed a 66-page motion to disqualify Timothy Connors from hearing the Neal case. It cites approximately $8,000.00 in donations made by attorneys of record for plaintiffs.

  9. Prosecutor Brian Mackie has just posted in a response comment one hour ago on annarbor.com disavowing a rumor in a comment by Barry Gates, an attorney, suggesting that he encouraged and made promises to Michael Woodyard to encourage him to run against Connors.

    Prosecutor Mackie acknowledged that Timothy Connors may have a “grudge” against him

  10. The Judge Timothy Connors re-election committee has collected
    over $100,000.00 from 383 donors to date.

    The Bredells and certain plaintiffs’ attorneys from the Neal litigation made huge contributions.

    • @Mark, thanks for the heads up. Judge Connors certainly pulled down the donations!

  11. @Mark, thanks for the heads up. No doubt Kyle saw Woodyard’s comment here. It’s a little like bottom-feeding, since the whole thing is an exercise is speculation (what WOULD the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission do with a complaint…). However, it’s a discussion worth having, since Michael W. did broach the subject. Just saw a TELEVISION ad for Judge Connors. I can’t wait to see the campaign finance forms. I’ll bet Connors has raised over $20,000.

    • Kyle Feldscher reports in the article that there was a reporting waiver allowing the Connors committee not to be required to file a disclosure. If this is accurate, I suspect that there may be a political action committee or other “collateral source”. The basis of the waiver is that the campaign plans to raise and spend less than $1,000.

      We may never know the funding sources of Connors’ campaign.

  12. The “ex parte” issue was just reported by Kyle Feldscher of annarbor.com. Many local attorneys were interviewed, including Mr. Woodyard and myself.

  13. @Michael, thanks for the comment. I suppose someone could file a complaint against Judge Connors and we’d be able to see if the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission agreed with your interpretation. Barring that, what most people saw was a judge trying to be proactive at best and somewhat dotty, at worst. Cindy Heflin (the reporter) said she was in the courtroom when Connors announced he was going to visit the site. One could be cynical and imagine that because Heflin was in the courtroom Judge Connors grasped an opportunity to get some positive media. One could be equally cynical and imagine that because Connors is running for election, Heflinwas allowed to turn the outing into a lovely photo opp. IMHO AnnArbor.com exercised poor judgement in following around the candidate and writing a simplistic story.

  14. Michael Woodyard

    I read with interest the annarbor.com piece on Judge Connor’s site visit to Jenny’s Market. The question of conflict of interest has subsequently generated a lot of buzz, but I don’t think it’s the main issue that was presented by the beautifully photographed judicial visit.

    A judge has to deal with potential conflicts all the time. Simply presiding over a case with a lawyer you know representing one of the parties doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of conflict of interest. (That said, though, the sheer number of concerns raised in this particular case might reflect that fact that there is an appearance of impropriety, which is an issue in and of itself, separate from whether there is an actual conflict.)

    But the key issue – one that should leave attorneys who appear in front of Judge Connors sick to their stomachs – is that Judge Connors apparently violated the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct by engaging in ex parte conversations with his wife.

    Specifically, Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3, section A(4), says that: “A judge shall not initiate, permit, or consider ex parte communications, or consider other communications made to the judge outside the presence of the parties concerning a pending or impending proceeding(.)” Ex parte communications include conversations about the merits of a dispute with a nonparty to a suit.

    The article says Connors asked his wife to come along on the site visit (and a photograph shows them standing near each other at the site) so he could seek her perspective on the safety of the hay maze “because over the years they have sometimes had different opinions on parenting issues,” Connors said.

    By asking his wife to share her perspective on the safety of the hay maze – as prelude to his deciding a pending case – Judge Connors initiated, permitted, and considered ex parte communication in violation of the judicial canons.

    Ex parte communication is banned by the code for many reasons. For example, witnesses who present evidence in trials and hearings take an oath to tell the truth. Ex parte conversations require no such solemnity. Witnesses who testify in trials and hearings must be qualified to provide evidence, either as experts or by having direct personal knowledge of an issue. There is no such requirement for ex parte conversations. Witnesses who present evidence for a party in a lawsuit are cross examined by the lawyer for the other side in an effort to explore bias, inconsistencies and shortcomings in the evidence. Ex parte conversations have no such safeguards. Witnesses in trials and hearings have motives and biases that are generally apparent. A person offering ex parte communication to a judge may be motivated in a completely unknown manner, perhaps even toward a goal that has nothing to do with the case at issue. The problem is, no one knows. Testimony is most often taken from sworn witnesses in open court, where access to the proceedings by the general public has long been held to be of considerable value, for a number of reasons. Ex parte conversations might take place in a car, at home, over dinner, or anywhere else that is private and shielded from public view.

    In short, attorneys litigating in front of Judge Connors can be understandably concerned today by the judge’s casual revelation that he seeks his wife’s perspective on a pending case. This makes the job of knowing how to persuade a judge that your position is the correct one – which is the heart of litigation – like swinging at a pinata with a blindfold on. Judge Connors, as he frequently mentions on the campaign trail, presides over family court cases. He and his wife co-teach family law courses at area schools. Is the Jenny’s Market site visit the first time the judge has sought his wife’s perspective on a pending case?

    The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission has censured judges who engage in ex parte communications. The Michigan Court of Appeals has reversed cases where judges engaged in ex parte conversations.

    This is a serious issue that’s raised serious questions. It deserves serious consideration.

    • Thank you for your perspective , Mr.Woodyard.

      There are many in the legal community in the Ann Arbor area that support your candidacy.

      We appreciate your efforts to unseat Judge Connors.

      Good luck on Election Day!

  15. Timothy Connors had a seemingly favorable article written about him in annarbor.com today.

    It was authored by reporter Cindy Heflin about the safety of a straw maze employed at Jenny’s Market. The title of the story was “Judge Decides to Check Out Safety of Jenny’s Market Straw Maze himself.”

    The article covers a court proceeding where Judge Connors is asking tough questions about the township’s request for an injunction directed to Township Attorney Helen Mills. The article does not mention the name of Jenny’s Market’s counsel but does quote the judge as indicating that he intends to go out to Jenny’s Market to inspect the maze himself that afternoon.

    The township was seeking to declare the site a nuisance. Posts to the article were generally favorable to Judge Connors that he was going to inspect the ride himself. Some other posters felt that this was political grandstanding by Connors to get some free favorable publicity.

    Then someone dropped a bombshell.

    A poster named Patrick Hoey indicated that the hay maze’s operator, Burton Hoey in fact had retained the former law partner of Judge Connors to defend the action. That attorney, John Hampton Bredell is on Judge Connors’ campaign committee and is very active in the re-election bid of Connors.

    The fact that Bredell is representing Jenny’s Market is surprising enough – he specializees in personal injury – not nuisance abatement(at least to my knowledge). The Township Attorney is Helen Mills. One wonders whether the article and the judge’s visit was not something that was pushed by the Connors campaign organizers to enhance Connors’ image in the public eye just before voters will go to the polls. Did the Jenny’s Market operator hire Bredell due to his close ties to Connors? We will ever know? Is it fair to the Township Attorney to force her to litigate a case before Connors given the long relationship between Connors and Bredell.

    Prior articles in annarbor.com mention Bredell as an attorney for the Jenny’s Market – but this latest one does not. Connors and Bredell were partners in the Logeman, Connors & Bredell law firm before Connors was appointed by Governor Engler to the district court bench in 1991.

    What if Connors denies an injunction and someone later is seriously injured at that location. Will that raise public awareness about possible conflict of interest issues eroding public confidence in the judiciary?

    • @Mark, thanks for the tip. It’s time to poke and get some answers. A major journalism publication just contacted me to talk about AnnArbor.com and this story is definitely something to bring up (after I check it out). I have tried contacting Judge Connors and his campaign manager several times to do an interview, to no avail. I really do want to write about his 2008 ethics rebuke as well as other issues that people have brought up via email to A2Politico and on AnnArbor.com in the comment section. How much is true? It all needs to be checked out, and Judge Connors needs to have a chance to comment. However, if what this commenter says is true, that would be a huge conflict of interest and one that the newspaper should have reported. It’s great that Judge Connors is getting out and about, but to fall prey to a stunt like this a couple of weeks before the election (and to neglect to connect the dots between Connors and Bredell) is shoddy reporting.

      • Connors has lost his mind, who does he think he is OSHA!

  16. Mike Woodyard went door-to-door in my neighborhood.

    He was kind enough in coming to my home to answer questions about why he was running etc.

    He seemed to be an articulate and intelligent person.

    I hope he gets elected.

  17. @Junior good observation. When the campaign finance reports come out we’ll see who among the county’s elected officials donates to Judge Connors’s re-election campaign.

  18. Several salient points I see in this election:

    No Ann Arbor City Council member is endorsing Connors except Tony Derezinski – who just got voted out of office and is on Judge Connors re-election committee.

    No County Board of Commissioners member is endorsing Connors.

    The County Prosecutor is not endorsing Judge Connors.

    The County Clerk and Register of Deeds is not endorsing Judge Connors.

    The Water Resources Commissioner is not endorsing Judge Connors.

    The County Sheriff is not endorsing Judge Connors.

    From what I have heard is that Connors has had an abrasive relationship with a number of other elected officials and the dearth of endorsements from these community leaders should concern the voting public.

    I know that Jerry Clayton is actively supporting the candidacy of Jim Fink for circuit judge and the silence of the county’s top law enforcement officer during the Connors re-election bid should have the public start asking questions why we should re-elect Connors to another term on the bench.

  19. @a2politico.com:

    I have been in Timothy Connors’ courtroom several times ans can verify that Rob Packard’s characterization of Connors’ demeanor is accurate. Connors’ failure to follow the law and his lack of self-control while on the bench justifies him being replaced.

    Michael Woodyard’s compendium of reversals by appeals courts of Connors’ rulings is well-organized and revealing. This is the first time Timothy Connors was first to run in a contested election; we need a change.

    I am endorsing Michael Woodyard for judge.

  20. Connors is a egotistic, fool!

  21. @M Zahn let me play the Devil’s Advocate for a moment. If he ruled on cases argued by lawyers who contributed to his campaign, are you saying other judges routinely refuse to hear cases argued by their law partners, and lawyers who’ve contributed to their campaigns? Are people holding Connors to a standard that is higher than expected of other judges?

    • If I could answer that question myself.

      Most judges refuse to hear cases involving those in which their impartiality could be questioned.

      Remember U.S. District Judge Sean Cox recused himself in the Geoffrey Fieger crimina indictment because his brother Attorney General Michael Cox had targeted Fieger for a campaign violations investigation.

      I know that Oakland Circuit Judge Nancy Grant will not hear cases involving her old employer the Dickinson Wright firm nor will she hear any cases in which her husband’s employer Couzens Lansky is involved.

      It’s largely a common sense rule. Is there an appearance of impropriety?

      Look at the most recent Annual Report of the Judicial Tenure Commission, issued for the 2011 year discloses in their “Non-Public Proceedings” downloadable on the JTC website and you will see examples where judges have been privately disciplined for hearing cases without disclosing their relationship to an attorney or party before the court.

      • @Mark, thanks for your answer. So what you’re saying is that this is something the local media should have been investigating and writing about. Certainly, the campaign finance violation and letter of reprimand might have made a story for the Ann Arbor News. Why do you think there hasn’t been media coverage of these alleged conflicts of interest and the 2008 campaign finance violation letter of reprimand?

        • I actually spoke to a number of local journalists about the 2008 campaign violation issue as well as other issues that have been “inside baseball” in the circuit court. One whom I spoke to actually specialized in covering the local courts – Art Aisner. I discovered Aisner knew more than I did about some of the major circuit court issues that were unreported. Some agreed there were problems and one said she would speak to her editor about running the story – but nothing was ever reported.
          in the media.

          My suspicion is that few newspapers in Ann Arbor – or any other business for that matter wishes to be critical of the court system in which they may find themselves as a party before. One business owner I spoke to felt that in general the type of corruption that pervaded Ann Arbor politics in general and the court systems in particular was conflict of interest in nature.

          There have been a number of scandals that have rocked the judiciary locally in recent years. We had the Michigan Office of Auditor General investigate the Washtenaw County Probate Court and released a report in October of 2003 and found problems with court oversight involving more than 50 conservatorships and then-chief judge pro tem Donald Shelton asked Probate Register Hilary Mus- cato and Probate Counsel Bradley Geller to step down. Reporter Wendy Wendland-Bowyer covered this story in a Detroit Free Press article “Washtenaw Court Shake-Up Follows Conservator Report” dated February 13, 2004. More recently, Washtenaw County Circuit Court jury administrator Kimberly Elmer was charged with a felony for allegedly diverting thousands of dollars in court funds earmarked for juror fees to her own personal use via ATM withdrawals. Former probation officer Wayne Wade won a settlement for $82,500.00 after suing Ann Arbor’s 15th District Court supervisors in a sex harassment case alleging he was targeted for unwanted advances by Judge Julie Creal. The local press did a weak job of covering the Probate Court audit and Kimberly Elmer stories and the Julie Creal sex misconduct suit went unreported for years until Ryan Stanton covered the settlement of the case only after Wade posted the suit on a comment on annarbor.com.

          One area that Michael Woodyard’s website discussed was the Neal versus Michigan Department of Corrections case. This case began in relative obscurity in the mid-1990s with Deborah Labelle as a plaintiff’s counsel and Assistant Attorney General Allan Soros as the counsel defending the MDOC.This case surfaced in the “intimidation letter” sent by an anonymous “Washtenaw County Attorney” to Michael Woodyard urging that he withdraw against Connors to “salvage” his reputation.
          The law firm of Soble, Rowe and Krichbaum later appeared in that case and Richard Soble acted as trial counsel for the plaintiffs. During the early part of last decade the Soble Rowe and Krichbaum law firm had its office and firm telephone number act as the campaign committee headquarters for Judge Connors’ campaign committee. Connors’ wife, per campaign committee disclosures received donations in her 2008 failed District Court run from attorneys whose firms were involved in the Neal litigation. The Neal case eventually settled for $100,000,000.00 and became the biggest civil rights settlement in Michigan history and the plaintiffs’ attorneys were awarded $28 million of that sum.

          Michael Woodyard in his campaign website correctly points out that there was a recent reversal of a Connors in that case where Connors ruling in Neal that operated to shield the identity of prisoners receiving settlements from the MDOC so that victims of those inmates and children could not seek restitution and child support from those proceeds.

          It appears that there may have been something approaching a cozy relationship between Judge Connors and the plaintiff attorneys in the Neal case. The Detroit news media covered this case extensively and Attorney General Michael Cox initiated his own investigation of correction officer misconduct. There was nothing mentioned, however, about the apparent links between Connors and certain plaintiffs’ attorneys in the case.

          Detroit News reporter Melvin Claxton, whose work in uncovering judicial corruption in the Virgin Islands, resulted in his paper winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1995, did a story on a controversial handling of a family law case in Circuit Judge Archie Brown’s court in Ann Arbor.

          In sum, the court system in Ann Arbor has been a source of controversy in recent years. We hope Michael Woodyard can oust Connors on Election Day.

  22. Judge Connors has a history of unethical judicial behavior. Not only does he listen & rules on cases involving the University of Michigan, he does the same with his personal divorce attorney, former law firm, & law partners, as well as lawyers who make contributions to his campaign. If this does not spell of impropriety, then there is no hope for truth. Hope that Mike Woodyard trashes Judge Connors in the upoming election.

  23. @Mark thanks for the comment. I looked on Woodyard’s website and did NOT find the “My Opponent’s Record” section. When residents FOIAed Council emails in 2009, Chris Easthope’s emails revealed him talking about his judicial campaign with his campaign manager (Leah Greden) via email during open City Council meetings. I don’t think anyone ever filed a complaint in that instance. As for Judge Connors, his explanation is certainly plausible (in the letter he wrote in response to the complaint that he violated Michigan campaign finance laws). While judges are supposed to know the law, election law is rather arcane in some instances. Then again, ignorance of the law is no excuse, or I am sure many who have appeared in court have been told sternly.

    I was interested to see that Judge Connors didn’t have endorsements from county officials, with the exception of McClary. Then again, McClary is not neck deep in the Leah Gunn cabal and perhaps Judge Connors is not neck deep in it either.

    • While Noah Hall was the first to point out that Greden had been committing possible Open Meetings Act violations via his e-mailing, I was the first, to my knowledge, who also believed it was a possible infraction of Section 57 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act since e-mail accounts were an item of tangible value that the City of Ann Arbor pays for. I also pointed out that Marcia Higgins, in contacting the City Clerk via City Council computer about her re-election campaign also possibly ran afoul of Section 57.

      U-M policy is that university employee e-mail accounts cannot be used for campaign purposes without running afoul of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

  24. @A2Politico:

    A few points I would like to make:

    A key reason that many, many local attorneys and citizens are actively backing Michael Woodyard is because of the way Judge Connors operates on the bench. Mr. Woodyard on his http://www.woodyard4judge.com has an “In The News” section has a subsection entitled “My Opponent’s Record”; this subsection delineates upon numerous Michigan Court of Appeals decisions where Connors was reversed and contains links to the specific appellate court opinions; these opinions contain varying degrees of severity in criticism over Connors’ rulings cases. There is also a citation of a Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission citation of improper conduct by Connors resulting in a “cautionary letter” being issued by the JTC; Mr. Woodyard cites JTC action due to Connors employing court resources as contact information for his own campaign committee as well as the campaign committee of a second political candidate. I filed the Request For Investigation with the Judicial Tenure Commission that resulted in the issuance of this cautionary letter. I took the position that Section 57 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act was violated when phone, fax machine equipment, e-mail and court office facilities were listed as campaign committee contact information.

    MCL 169.257(1) of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act sets forth: “A public body or an individual acting for a public body shall not use or authorize the use of funds, personnel, office space, computer hardware or software, property, stationery, postage, vehicles, equipment, supplies, or other public resources to make a contribution or expenditure or provide volunteer services that are excluded from the definition of contribution……….”

    Another citizen filed a Campaign Finance Complaint with the Michigan Department of State Legal and Regulatory Services Administration over this conduct and Connors, in responding to an October 3rd, 2008 letter from Administrative Law Examiner Melissa Malerman stated in a letter received by the Michigan Department of State on October 23, 2008, in relevant part:

    “This complaint was again made to the Judicial Tenure Commission with the same documents by a separate litigant. I again explained the situation and attached all of the documentation. I was given a cautionary letter indicating that they understood I would be advising my colleagues that listing court contact information on campaign filings is improper, even if unopposed, and that they were confident that you I(sic) would refrain from repeating the conduct in future elections including me or my spouse. I have done so and will do so.”

    On a separate point, you quote Rob Packard above. That particular quote was contained in an affidavit filed by an attorney in support of a motion to disqualify Judge Connors from hearing a domestic case – that case is Bradley Packard versus Laura Bickle and Connors’ decisions in that case were, in part, reversed by the Michigan Court of Appeals in 2006; the Woodyard campaign website cites this case in its website with a link to the actual appeals court opinion.

    I shall fax to your attention supporting documentation regarding these cases.

    One good point that is raised in this article is the fact that Connors and his wife are both employed by the University of Michigan. Timothy Connors has drawn some $140,000 in approximate compensation since 2008 for working at U-M per the umsalary.info website. Now his wife has been hired to “co-teach” the same class, per the U-M Law School faculty biography web page.

    Very few county elected officials are publically endorsing Connors – Treasurer Catherine McClary is one. I predict it is highly unlikely that people like Brian Mackie, Jerry Clayton, or many members of the Board of Commissioners will vote for – let alone publically support Connors in his re-election bid. If any of these officials are supporting Connors, please correct me.

    Michael Woodyard has received a tremendous amount of grassroots support and has campaigned hard – going door-to-door and greeting voters at the primary polling places last August.

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