By Sean Kosofsky
Courtroom reality television shows typically show an angry, animated or sometimes funny judge presiding over some pathetic situation where ridiculous people are made fun of and are shamed by the judge. Although that may be entertaining, it is not the way most us would want to be treated in a court of law.
The real promise of our democracy and of the judicial process is carried out every day, quietly, by well-intentioned men and women who serve on the bench and make very important decisions about our basic freedoms and rights. These arbiters of justice are powerful because they can take away your freedom or settle disputes once and for all between two opposing parties. District Court Judges never really get the limelight, but they are central to what most of us think of when we talk about justice.
In 2004, Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed a brilliant, accomplished, generous and civic-minded man to the 36th District Court in Detroit. This man was already well-known in political and civil rights circles and had to leave the board of Triangle Foundation in order to accept the appointment to the bench. Rudy Serra helped change the way GLBT activists all over the country talk about anti-gay police operations by authoring a report for Triangle Foundation entitled “Bag-a-Fag” Operations in Michigan: Police Misconduct, Entrapment and Crimes Against Gay Men.” I still talk to people from around the country who use this terminology because of the exposure this report received in 1998.
Rudy was routinely recognized for his contributions to the practice of law, winning “Lawyer of the Year” from Lawyers Weekly, several awards for pro-bono legal services and a major civil rights award from the Michigan Democratic Party. The list goes on.
When Governor John Engler refused to call a special election to fill a vacancy for a legislative seat in Detroit, Rudy sued him and won. Without that legal challenge 90,000 Detroiters would have gone without representation in our State Capitol.
Rudy is the only openly gay judge in Michigan, and his appointment is even more significant as he was appointed by Granholm because she recognizes his talent, commitment and value as a jurist.
Rudy is under attack this year. Out of the fourteen judges in the 36th District running for re-election, Rudy is the ONLY one facing a primary challenger. And he is being challenged by a whopping five different candidates. Many Detroiters and political observers believe Rudy is being challenged because he is gay and because he is white. It is a shame that such bigotry still exists in Detroit, but it is the political reality for any minority that wants a place at the table.
I have had the pleasure of watching Rudy in action. I have observed him administer justice, and he is nothing short of amazing. Too often, public servants take their job for granted or don’t see the larger picture of what the public has entrusted them to do. Rudy, as a judge, went out of his way to make sure people understood their rights. He didn’t just read them – he ensured that the state had done its job in charging someone with a crime. He understands that the state has resources the defendant does not and that there is a story behind why people end up in his courtroom. He is the judge everyone would want to have!
The GLBT community needs to be active in Rudy’s campaign. People should support his campaign by volunteering and making financial contributions. He needs to reach as many people as possible in Detroit and he needs to win his primary by a wide margin. This race is not only important for the GLBT community, but also for the region. Anyone who lives, drives through, or works in Detroit should want Rudy on the bench for a long time. I am a personal supporter of Rudy and his campaign has also picked up the support of a wide range of Detroit area lawmakers and Triangle Pride PAC.
To help Rudy’s campaign contact Rachel Lutz at 313-320-6006 or send a contribution to the Judge Rudy Serra Committee, 18953 Mallina, Detroit, Michigan, 48236.
Sean Kosofsky is on the Elections Committee of Triangle Pride Political Action Committee.