By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
DETROIT – Fourteen judges are up for re-election to Detroit’s 36th District Court in 2006. Only one of them, however, faces opposition: Judge Rudy Serra, Michigan’s first openly gay judge.
Governor Jennifer Granholm first appointed Serra to the position in July of 2004. Now, five candidates have lined up to, in effect, veto Granholm’s appointment at the polls in November.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” said Serra when asked if he believed that he is being opposed because of his sexual orientation. “Governor Granholm appointed Kay Hansen [Justice Katherine L. Hansen] last year and she’s running unopposed. Everyone else is running unopposed. There are only two reasons: there are Republicans that don’t want me in office even though it’s non-partisan, and there are interest groups that don’t want an openly gay judge.”
Regardless of the reason, though, members of Detroit’s LGBT community are lining up to support Serra.
“I’m supporting Rudy because he was appointed by the governor, and up until now he’s done an absolutely great job from everything I’ve heard,” said Johnnie Jenkins, co-founder and director of the Detroit Black Pride Society. “I think it helps the court to have diversity on it, and having someone that identifies as LGBT is a positive.”
“Rudy is clearly a target,” said Sean Kosofsky, policy director of Triangle Foundation. “This is the time for our community to come to rally behind Rudy and support his election.”
In addition to his law degree, Serra holds a Master’s degree in communications from Central Michigan University, and is a licensed social worker and emergency medical technician. He has been named Michigan Lawyer of the Year by the Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly newspaper and is a recipient of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award from the Michigan Democratic Party. Prior to becoming a judge, Serra dedicated much of his law practice to fighting for the civil rights of LGBTs. Among his human rights accomplishments are serving as a past co-chair of the Michigan Democratic Party Justice Caucus and president of the Michigan Democratic Party Lesbian Gay Caucus, helping to establish the Stonewall Bar Association and serving on the Detroit Human Rights Commission.
As for the current race, Serra said, “I’m confident I’m going to win. The feedback I’ve been getting confirms that people are tired of being treated rudely and being treated as though they’re already a convicted criminal when they come in to court,” Serra said. “I practiced there for 20 years and just got tired of people being yelled at and treated as though they were an annoyance.”
The 36th District court handles all traffic and ordinance violations, all criminal misdemeanor cases, preliminary examinations for felony cases, small claims suits, civil lawsuits for amounts up to $25,000 and all real estate matters involving rent and land contract disputes.
“Most people who have contact with the legal system come to the District court,” Serra said.
Serra and his opponents are vying for a partial term that will end in January of 2009. The August primary will cut the field to two contenders who will run in the November election.
Serra’s supporters are already gearing up for the election fight. On Thursday, May 25, Serra supporters are inviting the entire community to a fundraiser at Nick’s Gaslight Lounge in Detroit. The $25 per-person fundraiser will feature food, camaraderie, and a chance to meet the candidate and will last from 5:30-8 p.m.
The Serra campaign has also set up an office. Campaign contributions can be sent to the Judge Rudy Serra Committee at 18953 Mallina, Detroit, MI, 48236. For more on Judge Serra see “Governor appoints openly-gay judge to 36th District Court” online at www.pridesource.com.