"No incumbent [judge] has ever lost," attorney Tom Bourque admits.
From the October, 2018 issue
So why is Bourque (pronounced "Burk") even bothering to challenge incumbent 14A-1 District Court judge Cedric Simpson? "With Judge Simpson there is some chance of winning," Bourque replies. "A judge should be running on his record, and [Simpson's] record is public knowledge."
Simpson has been a judge since 1999, when he was appointed by then-governor John Engler. But it's not his record on the bench that Bourque is talking about. Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court concluded that Simpson engaged in judicial misconduct by interfering in an intern's 2013 drunk driving arrest. He was suspended for nine months and fined $7,565.54.
It could have been worse. The Judicial Tenure Commission had recommended removing him from office permanently. The Supreme Court reduced the punishment on appeal.
"He interfered with a police investigation," Bourque emails, "interfered with a prosecution and misled the Judicial Tenure Commission. Those actions show poor judgment and are not consistent with the standards of being a judge."
"I regret that I ended up in the circumstances that put me in that position," Simpson responds in an interview at Sweetwaters. "Somebody called me for help. It got turned into something that I don't believe it was. [The JTC] made their findings, whether I agree or disagree with them. But I don't dwell on all of those things.
"I fought for what I thought was right," the judge continues. "You fight for what you believe is right. This is what I tell my kids. You accept the decision. You learn from it. Then you move on."
Bourque thinks that the misconduct finding could make Simpson vulnerable. But, he concedes, "I don't know how widespread knowledge is of this. I don't know how much the average person voting in November knows about this."
Simpson says he doesn't know if he's vulnerable, but that "one incident doesn't define me." Though he's never faced a challenger, he says having one won't change how he campaigns. "I'm served by having good friends," he
says. "Two supporters who came out early for me: Judge [Tim] Connors and Judge [Carol] Kuhnke."
"I do endorse Cedric Simpson in his race," emails Kuhnke, who like Connors serves on the Washtenaw County Trial Court. "I believe that he is the more qualified candidate."
Bourque thinks name recognition will be crucial, and hopes to expand his through flyers, signs, social media, a website, and direct mailings. A runner, he's also inviting supporters to "Run with Tom" at five group runs in October and November. Will it work? "I don't know," he admits. "I haven't run a judicial campaign before."
But the litigator with Eby Conner Smillie & Bourque does have experience with electoral politics--and with long odds. "I ran for city council in Ann Arbor in 2005 as a Republican in an off-year election in the Second Ward," he smiles. He lost--and no Republican has run for council since. Even "independents can't win now because they can't beat the straight-ticket voters," Bourque says. "All the [council] elections that count will now be in August."
That's not true of judicial elections. Because Simpson and Bourque are the only candidates in a nonpartisan race, there was no August primary. For the judge and his challenger, it's the November 6 vote that counts.
[Originally published in October, 2018.]
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