By Jerome Stuart Nichols
ANN ARBOR –
Finding a politician who campaigns on a platform of helping the working man, justice and public service is easy. Finding one who actually believes in those things and is willing to do the work to make them happen is a bit more difficult.
Carol Kuhnke, Washtenaw County 22nd Circuit Judge candidate, is one politician who is making a name for herself by not just caring for the working man but also working women and any anyone else in need. For Kuhnke, it’s more than a campaign promise, it’s her passion and the reason she wants to be a judge.
Being a judge “…expands my ability to help people,” said Kuhkne, who has been a private practice attorney in Ann Arbor for 18 years. “Right now I help people one at a time. As a judge I could help people on a much grander scale.”
While generally reserved, she comes alive in the moments where she talks about her work. Though not perceptible in a campaign ad, there’s a spark of authenticity, honesty and joy that is nearly impossible to duplicate.
“I have enjoyed a career where I’m helping people who have never been to court before and may never end up in court again,” she said. “I find it very, very rewarding to work for real people.”
Outside of her work, family is the only other thing that seems to bring the openly gay adoptive mother of two out of her shell. When she has time to relax, there are baseball games and movies to enjoy with her children. But on an average day, things are just as hectic as they are for every other single mother.
“My day to day life is being a single parent, getting two kids off to school and going to work,” she said. “I’m a lawyer and a mom… I think I’m really a pretty ordinary person,” she said. “Nothing all that remarkable about me except that I think I do good work and think I would do good work for Washtenaw County as a judge.”
She asserted that her deep understanding and respect for the position, along with her experience and sense of fairness, will help her make decisions when the law doesn’t work or doesn’t exist.
“Any judge can follow the law, that’s not the hard part of being a judge,” she said. “The hard part of being a judge is covering the gray areas where the law doesn’t tell you what to do.”
In a modern world with modern issues, having a judge that is for the people is paramount. Having one that also has the unique LGBT perspective could mean a world of difference.
“There are a lot of LGBT issues that are working their way through the courts right now,” she said. “Canon four of the judicial canons tells judges that they are in a unique position to influence law and to advocate for change in the law. So, where we have laws that are not friendly to the LGBT community, an LGBT judge advocating for change and explaining why change is needed is, I think, tremendously helpful.”
Kuhkne received her undergraduate from the University of Michigan in 1990 and went on to earn her JD from Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1993.
When most people’s exposure to judges comes in the form of American Idol or Judge Judy, it may be difficult to imagine that they are good for anything except being sassy and British. That perception is one of Kuhnke’s biggest battles.
“People just really don’t understand how important judges are to day to day life,” she said. “If you are a litigant in a court, the judge that’s handling your case in the trial court makes decisions all the time about how your case is going to proceed, what’s going happen if you go to trial, how your trial will be conducted… So, on a one to one level… the judge has a tremendous impact on one person’s life.”
Kuhnke thinks she has what it takes to be the judge that people need.
“I have spent my career working for individuals,” she said. “I think most people can understand that corporations don’t have a hard time getting a fair shake in the courts because they can afford to hire the best… When you’re representing individuals you need to be sensitive to the time and expense of it,” she said.
“Coming from a background where I take calls from clients in the middle of the night who can’t sleep because they’re worried about what’s going to happen with their case or they need to know when it’s going to resolve… I think I have a very deep understanding and respect for the impact of a judge on an individual.”
Kuhnke is endorsed by Between The Lines, Equality Michigan Pride PAC, Stonewall Bar Association, the United Auto workers and other union groups, among others. If she wins Nov. 6, she will be the first openly LGBT judge elected in Michigan. For a complete list of endorsements and more information go to http://www.carolforjudge.com.