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Kelley A Strong, Principled Choice for Supreme Court

By | 2012-10-25T09:00:00-04:00 October 25th, 2012|Michigan, News|

Part 3 of 3-part Series On Michigan’s Supreme Court Race

Judge Connie Marie Kelley has been traveling the state of Michigan to talk with and educate voters about the importance of the Nov. election. Her goal is to get away from the partisan divide in the seven-member Michigan Supreme Court.
According to Kelley, the Center for American Progress issued a report in August on how campaign donations from big business have come to dominate judicial elections. “A study involving around six different Supreme Courts was done. Out of the 134 cases analyzed in Michigan, 105 were decided in favor of corporations over individual citizens,” said Kelley, who is running for one of two full eight-year terms up for election. Other Democratic nominations include University of Michigan Law School Professor Bridget McCormack and Judge Sheila Johnson who is running for a two-year partial-term seat.
“I think the courts should be above the politics of the day. The public has a lack of confidence that the court is deciding cases based on the law. I think it’s really important for judges to hear both sides of the case, to have a good understanding of the law, and to apply the law to the facts that they hear. We have to follow the law and do what’s right. It takes the right people to do it,” she said.
“This is important more than ever before. People are a lot more tuned in and realize the importance of the Supreme Court and the way that real people’s lives are affected. It’s getting a lot of attention as more people are interested. I’m excited,” said Kelley, a family law judge in the Wayne County 3rd Circuit Court since 2008. According to her, that’s a big area of law coming up. “So many people are adopting and having kids and family law is an issue that I’ve been so heavily involved in.”
As a lawyer for 27 years prior to taking the bench, Kelley has represented a wide variety of clients including victims of domestic violence, those who have experienced discrimination and workers who have been treated unfairly by their employers. Although she cannot indicate her viewpoint or pre-judge issues, Kelley discussed her decision to award custody to a lesbian in a family law case. “It’s a sad story. It involved a little boy around eight or 10 years old. His mom had cancer and his dad was non-existent in his life. The dad decided he wanted custody while the boy had been living with the lesbian woman. There is a strong presumption that the biological parent should be awarded custody over a third party. She, the sister, represented herself and did a great job, and the dad hired a lawyer. I did not consider the fact that she was a lesbian to determine the best interest of the child. I evaluated all the factors and awarded her custody. Not a lot of judges have been in a position to be able to do that,” she said.
She added that her experience with LGBT people includes watching her cousin die from AIDS in the 1990’s when the public attitude was a lot different. She is also proud to have hired Stonewall Bar Association Member Katie Strickfaden as the Court Administrator for the Domestic Violence Court she helped create in the Wayne County 3rd Circuit Court.
Kelley said she really understands the value of family. She grew up an Irish Catholic in Royal Oak with her father, a high school football coach, and her stay-at-home mother who raised six kids. Kelley was number two and the first one to attend college at the University of Michigan and then Wayne State University’s Law School. Her career allowed her to practice in courts throughout Michigan such as the Michigan Court of Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.
“I have a terrific husband, Kevin, and I am so fortunate to be the mother of two wonderful sons, Andrew and Kyle, who have both graduated from college and started exciting careers. I also had the pleasure of raising my niece, Angela, since the age of one. My brother and his wife were both heroin addicts before she died in a fire and he died in a car accident. I married Angela in July. It was the first wedding I’ve ever performed,” said Kelley. “I have been in the trenches living in a different world than a lot of people lived in. I understand what litigants face when going through the court. I understand the whole court process and how it works from both sides of the bench.”
If Kelley gets her way, justice will be for everybody. Her experience in the court room has helped her find ways to make that happen. “As a lawyer you advocate for one side. As a trial judge, you have to understand both sides in order to make sure everyone gets a fair chance and has access to justice. In family law court, for example, people can’t afford an attorney anymore. A lot of people who are self-represented need help maneuvering the legal process. It’s difficult and complicated to navigate. We assume everybody can read. I am aware of the illiteracy rate in Detroit. It’s important to simplify things for those who need self-help resources like kiosks and support people while going through the legal system,” she said.
That’s why Kelley believes she’s a good fit for the Supreme Court, but her supporters have to vote. More importantly, they have to understand how to vote because it’s a confusing system. “If voters vote straight ticket for one party, it will not include the nonpartisan section of the ballot, which includes judicial candidates. The ballot will be long this year. There are a lot of proposals. Voters may even have to turn the ballot over to view the nonpartisan portion. We are not covered by the straight ticket vote, whether it’s Democrat or Republican. That’s really a big part of our education piece, to make sure voters understand that all judges, not just the Supreme Court, but all judges are listed on the nonpartisan section of the ballot,” she said.
Kelley is counting the days as Election Day is almost here. “I’m tired, but excited and I really feel humbled by the support. The real people in the world, auto workers, teachers, firefighters have gotten behind me and think I’d be a good candidate,” she said. “The real folks that do the hard work everyday, those are the kinds of people that make the middle class great and I respect those hard working people. It’s been an amazing journey and a great experience.”
BTL strongly endorses Connie Marie Kelley for Michigan Supreme Court

About the Author:

Kate Opalewski
Kate Opalewski is BTL's features editor and has been since 2015. She has covered a variety of topics ranging from art, politics and community outreach. Recently, she was honored by the Detroit Police Department LGBT Advisory Board for her work for the local LGBTQIA community.