Thoughts on Livingston County’s three new judges, and the electoral free-for-all that’s coming

Livingston County has gotten three new judges in the last nine months or so, none of whom were elected, most of whom we know almost nothing about, and all of whom will be on the ballot in 2020, running to retain their seats.

Oh, and I have a passing connection to two of the judges.

Here are some thoughts on all that.

Judge Shauna Murphy was appointed to an opening on the 53rd District Court bench in late December by then-Gov. Rick Snyder. The opening was created when Judge L. Suzanne Geddis resigned the seat just days before taking a seat on the Circuit Court bench.

Judge Shauna Murphy

Geddis, a Republican, wanted to give fellow Republican Snyder a chance to fill the seat during his final days in office.

Judge Murphy had a distinguished career as a trial attorney and as an assistant attorney general, but because most of her legal experience was outside of Livingston County, she was a virtual unknown here when Snyder appointed her.

For what it’s worth, I haven’t heard a single negative thing about her performance on the bench during her nine months in office. She seems to just be keeping her head down and doing her job, and that’s good. And for what it’s worth, I don’t believe I’ve ever met her or come into contact with her.

Judge Matthew McGivney was appointed to an opening on the Circuit Court bench in June by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The opening was created when Circuit Judge David Reader made the very surprising and unexpected decision to retire from the bench.

Judge Matthew McGivney

Judge McGivney, like Whitmer, is a Democrat, and he’s one of the new judges that I have a small connection with.

Back in 2002, I was on the same August primary ballot as McGivney. I was one of six Republicans running for State Representative that year, and McGivney was the lone Democrat on the ballot. He won his primary race, but I did not. McGivney then went on to lose to Republican Joe Hune in the fall.

McGivney’s dad Michael was a well-known attorney in Brighton, and Matt has remained fairly visible in Livingston County in the years since, practicing law in the area. He hasn’t been on the bench long, but again, there’s been nothing negative that’s come out.

Judge Daniel Bain was just appointed this week by Gov. Whitmer to replace the worst judge in Livingston County history, 53rd District Court Judge Theresa Brennan. After an investigation that dragged on more than two years, Brennan was FINALLY kicked off the bench by the Judicial Tenure Commission earlier this year, as she still awaits her criminal trial.

Judge Daniel Bain

This one was a bit curious, because very few people in Livingston County seem to know who he is, even though he grew up here. Judge Bain graduated from Hartland High School in 1985, and that’s where I have a brief passing acquaintance with him.

I looked him up in the archives, and I discovered that he played football and wrestled for Hartland High School back when I was the sports editor of the Livingston County Press and Brighton Argus, and I did write a few articles about him back then. So there’s that.

But aside from a few articles I found from 2006-2008 where he represented criminal defendants in Livingston County, I couldn’t find much about him online. And while a few people and family friends were rightfully gushing about him on Facebook yesterday when the appointment was announced, a whole lot of other people were basically saying, “Never heard of him.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but as with Judge Murphy, that hasn’t usually been the case with Livingston County judicial appointments. Most of the Livingston County judges who have been appointed by governors in the past 50 years or so — David Gee, Daniel Burress, Theresa Brennan, Mike Hatty — were extremely well-known in the community. So this is unusual.

The No. 1 job of any judge is to be fair, impartial, honest and compassionate, and from what his friends say, we have every reason to believe that Judge Bain will be all of that. But it’s a little unsettling that he has almost no track record in the community.

And I will say that this little tidbit raised a bit of a red flag with some people: One of the folks who has been commenting on Facebook about how great Daniel Bain will be as a judge is David Forsmark.

Forsmark, you’ll remember, is the bottom-feeding out-of-county political consultant who was hired by Judge Geddis for her 2018 campaign. As I detailed in this piece, he specializes in insults, and he’s not a good or ethical person. He climbed back under his rock when that campaign ended, and we haven’t heard a peep from him in Livingston County since then. So the fact that he’s resurfaced in such a loud and even obnoxious way in support of Judge Bain is concerning.

I’m hoping it’s just an innocent deal, because if Judge Bain is thinking of hiring Forsmark as a campaign consultant in advance of a possible 2020 campaign, that would be a very, very bad thing.

Judge Bain, DO NOT HIRE THIS MAN! You obviously can’t control who says nice things about you on Facebook, but you can control that. All of our judges need to be squeaky clean, but it’s especially important that the person who replaced Theresa Brennan be truly honorable. You don’t want anything to do with David Forsmark.

And speaking of the 2020 election, with three new judges — all of whom need to run for office in 2020 to hang onto their seats — we might be on the verge of an electoral free-for-all here.

First, let me say that I hope that each of these three judges — Murphy, McGivney and Bain — have qualified people run against them next year. Not because I think they aren’t doing a good job, but because I think they should have to prove themselves to the voters of Livingston County. Nobody should get a free pass, thanks to a gubernatorial appointment.

We have a lot of people who have been running for judge in recent years who are probably looking at the various seats, including the well-known attorneys who ran against Geddis last year — Dennis Brewer (who is a friend of mine), Monica Copeland and Tara Pearson. Each of them might be looking at it. A whole slew of other well-known local legal folks — Livingston County Commissioner Don Parker, Bob Gardella, Jay Drick and a bunch of others — might also be looking at it.

It’s extremely hard to beat an incumbent judge in Michigan, because they get to appear on the ballot with the totally unfair incumbent designation under their name. If Daniel Bain runs to retain his seat, it’s going to say “Daniel Bain, Judge of the District Court” on the ballot. That’s an extremely unfair advantage, and it also makes it really hard to beat an incumbent judge, even one with almost no local name ID.

Still, we can expect plenty of folks to give it a shot — especially with so many seats open. That’s going to be one of the top election storylines in Livingston County to follow next year.

So as we watch to see how Judges Murphy, McGivney and Bain perform on the bench, we’ll also be watching to see who might look to replace them. Stay tuned!

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