One of the hottest races on the Livingston County ballot in November is for 44th Circuit Court judge, where Dennis Brewer and L. Suzanne Geddis are facing off.
While we don’t know who will win, what we do know is this: If Geddis wins, the governor will appoint our next District Court judge.
Geddis is currently a 53rd District Court judge, so if she wins election to the 44th Circuit Court, that will leave her District Court seat open. The law stipulates that whenever there’s a judicial vacancy in Michigan, the governor gets to appoint a replacement.
So, if you vote for L. Suzanne Geddis in November, you’re not just voting for one new judge – you’re voting for two. If you vote for Geddis, you’re voting for the governor to appoint our next judge.
By way of full disclosure, Dennis Brewer is a friend of mine, and I’m supporting him for judge. So I’m not here to tell you who to vote for; this is just some factual information regarding the election that hasn’t been reported much.
And it’s a fact that if Geddis is elected in November, the governor will appoint our next judge. We do know that.
What we don’t know is this: Which governor will actually be making the appointment?
It will either be Gov. Rick Snyder, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or Gov. Bill Schuette. One of those three will appoint Livingston County’s next District Court judge if Geddis wins.
Before we get into that part of the equation, though, it’s probably important to review some Livingston County history.
Only five times in the last 50 years or so has a governor had to make a judicial appointment in Livingston County. It’s noteworthy that in this heavily Republican county, three appointments have been made by Democrats, and two have been made by Republicans. Sometimes these appointments have gone OK, and other times – well, one time – they’ve gone really, really badly.
Here’s the history:
- In 1976, Republican Gov. William Milliken appointed David Gee to fill a vacancy on the District Court bench.
- In 1986, Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard appointed Daniel Burress to fill a vacancy on the Circuit Court bench.
- In 1992, Republican Gov. John Engler appointed Mike Hegarty to fill a vacancy on the District Court bench.
- In 2005, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Theresa Brennan to fill a vacancy on the District Court bench. (Spoiler alert: This is the one that went really, really badly.)
- In 2009, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Mike Hatty to fill a vacancy on the Circuit Court bench.
In each of those cases, there was no question about which governor would be making the appointment. In the case of L. Suzanne Geddis, though, we have no idea. Here are the possible scenarios:
If Geddis wins on Nov. 6, she could resign the next day and Gov. Rick Snyder – if he wanted to – could make the appointment before he leaves office on Dec. 31.
If Snyder decides he doesn’t want to do that — or if Geddis chooses not to resign immediately — the job of appointing our next judge would fall to the incoming governor, either Democrat Gretchen Whitmer or Republican Bill Schuette.
There’s nothing in the law that says Snyder HAS to make the lame-duck appointment, so we really don’t know which way this could go.
And that’s what’s making a lot of people nervous.
Over on the Livingston County Republican Party Facebook page, this has been a frequent topic of conversation. The big fear over there is twofold:
- All these Republicans don’t want a Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, appointing our next Livingston County judge. They’re all well aware that Whitmer has a sizable lead in the polls and they know that Whitmer would appoint a fellow Democrat to fill the seat.
- They all remember that the only reason that Theresa Brennan became a judge is because she’s a Democrat who was appointed by a Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm. While we have had a couple Democratic judges who turned out well — Burress and Hatty — we have another one who didn’t.
Every time the topic comes up on the GOP Facebook page, a guy named David Forsmark — who is Geddis’ out-of-county campaign consultant — angrily tells everyone that they don’t have to worry about it, because Republican Rick Snyder will making the appointment.
Since Snyder himself has never addressed the topic, though, there’s no way David Forsmark could know this for sure. So despite what he says, we don’t know which governor — Snyder, Whitmer or Schuette — will be making the appointment.
What we do know, though, is this:
It will be a political appointment. For better or worse, Democratic governors always appoint Democrats and Republican governors always appoint Republicans.
Burress, Brennan and Hatty were all heavily partisan Democrats before they were appointed to the bench. Burress ran for prosecutor as a Democrat in 1976, Hatty ran for State Senate as a Democrat in 1992, and Brennan was the Livingston County campaign chair for Granholm in 2002.
Likewise, Dave Gee and Mike Hegarty were both out-and-out Republicans.
So it’s a dead-certain guarantee that Snyder or Schuette will appoint a Republican, and Whitmer will appoint a Democrat.
It will likely be a lifetime appointment. Incumbent judges don’t lose in Livingston County ever. So whoever is appointed to fill Geddis’ seat will likely be a judge for life. This will not be a short-term appointment.
So, when you head to the polls on Nov. 6, you can obviously decide for yourself whether you want to vote for Dennis Brewer or L. Suzanne Geddis. But it’s important to know that whatever decision you make, it comes with some possible consequences.