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Oakland County Swears in its First Openly-Gay Circuit Court Judge

By |2019-02-06T16:13:11-05:00February 6th, 2019|Michigan, News|

Oakland County saw its first ever openly gay circuit court judge join the bench this week at the swearing-in ceremony of Jake Cunningham last month.
Cunningham, a graduate of Western Michigan University Law School, was joined by friends, family and colleagues on Thursday who praised the judge’s work ethic and empathic nature. Cunningham will fill an empty seat on the Oakland County Circuit Court’s Family Division following his 3 1/2 year stint as a judicial staff attorney on the same docket.
Mary Ellen Brennan, presiding judge of the Family-Focused Juvenile Drug Court and mentor to Cunningham, said the judge’s victory is also a win for Oakland County residents, including transgender claimants.
“Transgender citizens seeking a legal name change as part of their transition want a judge who will be kind,” Brennan said. “I along with my family division colleagues will benefit from his generous work ethic, his insight, his humor and his friendship. The work he is set to do is important, and he will be really, really good at it.”
Cunningham’s new position in the Family Division will see him handling cases involving divorce, custody, child support, juvenile abuse, termination of parental rights and juvenile delinquency — among other things. In a July interview with Between The Lines, Cunningham described the new role as a “natural progression” for his career.
State Sen. Jeremy Moss praised Cunningham’s character while highlighting his role in the 2018 rainbow wave. Moss made history in November when he became the first openly gay person to be elected to the 11th state Senate district.
“Another thing Jake and I share in common is being part of this rainbow wave of 2018,” Moss said. “Jake and I were talking about it, and we think that Jake is the first openly gay official elected in Oakland County county-wide, and would be among the first openly gay judges to serve in the state of Michigan.”
Moss continued: “I think that is so critically important, especially in the Family Division, as Oakland County’s LGBT families are looking for credibility, for justice, for somebody who has sympathy with things our community is facing. We couldn’t put a better person that spot to represent us.”
Cunningham was also joined by his partner Mark of 11 years, who the judge described as the “campaign MVP.” Through law school, the bar exam and the 2018 campaign, Cunningham said his partner has supported him in all of his professional aspirations.
“I think everyone here tonight would agree if this campaign had an MVP, it’d be you,” Cunningham told his partner. “From the at-home treasury work, at-home emotional support, putting your life on hold for this, your incredible sign installations, extensive Snapchat documentary and the hours upon hours you spent into putting this video together today, you truly deserve the title MVP both in this campaign and my life. I love you.”
More information on Cunningham goals, objectives and experience can be found in our July candidate profile on

About the Author:

Drew Howard graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2017 with a B.S. in multimedia journalism. His work has been featured in Gazette Media, Forbes, LearnVest and NPR station WDET 101.9.
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