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Wednesday April 23, 2014
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Judging the Judges

 

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In one race, there's incumbent judge Tim Connors with his bolo tie and scuffed cowboy boots versus Wayne County assistant prosecuting attorney Mike Woodyard in his sharp suit and polished wing tips. In the other race, it's Jim Fink in his buttoned-down shirt and striped tie versus Carol Kuhnke in her pants suit and pale blouse.

At stake are what are likely to be career-long jobs paying $138,000 a year. Yet the most unusual thing about this picture is that it exists at all: circuit court judges stand for election every six years but almost never face opposition. Incumbents are identified on the ballot, giving them a built-in edge--and local attorneys aren't about to challenge the people who decide their cases. Even when they retire, judges usually step down before their term ends, allowing the governor to appoint their replacements--who then run as incumbents.

This year, though, those patterns are being broken. Retiring judge Melinda Morris won her seat in an open election twenty-four years ago, and she's chosen to create another by serving out her full term. Attorneys Fink and Kuhnke topped a four-way primary to advance to this month's final.

Woodyard's challenge to Connors, a judge for twenty-one years, is a much longer shot, but he risks little by taking it: in his ten years as a prosecutor, he says, he's appeared before "twenty-seven different circuit court judges"--but all of them in Wayne County.

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