Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

ArborUpdate Voter Guide: 15th District Court Judge

29. July 2008 • Nancy Shore
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Margaret Connors, Chis Easthope, and Joan Lowenstein all responded to the request for replies to the ArborUpdate Voter Guide. We contacted Eric Gutenberg multiple times through the contact form on his web site, but we received to response.

1. What do you think qualifies you to be a judge?

Margaret Connors: I believe that a good judge is bright, fair, knowledgeable (in regard to both law and life), industrious, patient, decisive, firm, ethical, personable, humble, compassionate, and punctual. A good judge cares about all of the people who come before her, treats everyone with the dignity that they deserve, and applies applicable law to the facts of each case, without fear or favoritism.

I also believe that an aspiring judge would have spent their time in the Courtroom if in fact that is what they truly love.

I have a good heart, and I strive daily to do my best, personally and professionally; to attain and uphold the qualities cited above.

I was a teacher for 12 years, a defense attorney, a civil litigator, and most recently a Washtenaw County assistant prosecuting attorney for 18 1/2 years, serving for the bulk of the last 11 years assigned to the 15th district court every day, every week, every month. I was promoted to First Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, assigned to supervision and desk work, in 1993. In 1995, I gave up both the title and the pay to return to the Courtroom as a trial attorney. I know the job. I believe that my personal traits, the wisdom of my years, and my lengthy and applicable Courtroom experience, coupled with my love of the law, the Courtroom and the people of my home town contribute to my qualification for this position.

Chris Easthope: I have 12 years experience as a practicing, full-time district court attorney. I am the only candidate who regulary practices in all of the areas of law covered by the district court, including extensive criminal law experience, general civil, landlord/tenant and consumer rights and traffic cases. I have tried over 100 criminal, civil and admininstrative trials and hearings. I was rated most qualified overall by the members of the Washtenaw County Bar Association and rated “well qualified” by the local Women Lawyers Association. As a city councilmember and former Mayor Pro Tem, I have expericence with budgets and community outreach programs. I helped establish the 15th District Court’s Sobriety Court program. I am a member of the Ann Arbor Public School Foundation Board. I have a long record of community service and I believe that my experience, instincts, temperment and values are consistent with what this community would require of one of its’ judges.

Joan Lowenstein: My career has not been narrowly-focused. I started out as a television reporter and photographer in Oklahoma City. One of the stories I covered there was the Karen Silkwood trial, where I got to see the now-famous lawyers Gerry Spence and Barry Scheck in action. I went to law school and then worked in Miami, where I was a law clerk for a federal judge and went on to work at a firm that did a lot of First Amendment and media law. When I came here, I also did First Amendment law and represented the Ann Arbor News a few times. But I also did all kinds of other civil litigation, including some divorce cases. I taught First Amendment law at the University for seven years. During that time, I co-authored a Michigan Supreme Court brief in the Baby Jessica case. I wrote a column on legal issues for the News and a chapter on libel and privacy law for the Institute for Continuing Legal Education. After teaching, I went back to law practice that was pretty varied, but has included a lot of intellectual property (copyright and trademark) law. Meanwhile, I’ve served on City Council, Planning Commission and the DDA. So, I can handle a wide variety of activities and develop expertise in many things. A judge has to be able to listen to and understand issues that he or she may never have encountered in practice. My record shows that I can do that.

2. What role can you as a judge play in the crisis we are facing with the number of people in this State who are incarcerated and the subsequent costs?

Margaret Connors: The District Court handles misdemeanors (crimes where potential jail time is 1 year or less), small claims cases, civil cases where the damages alleged are less than $25,000 and landlord tenant cases. Civil sanctions do not include jail; only criminal cases may result in jail time. However, because of the jail overcrowding crisis in Washtenaw County, it is not unusual for misdemeanants to be turned away from jail. Given that, programs have been and must continue to be established that address the root of the problem that brought someone before the Court; programs that work to avoid recidivism. Currently, the Street Outreach Court and the Sobriety Court in 15th employ interdisciplinary services that assist the defendant in addressing mental health issues, homelessness and insobriety as it applies to driving offenses. I would like to review the success of “Drug Courts” which have been employed in other jurisdictions. Further, many non-driving crimes, i.e. assaultive crimes, property destruction, etc. occur after the consumption of alcohol. Our post conviction programs for those cases should include sobriety assessment and treatment as well.

Chris Easthope: District court judges do not have the power to send people to state prisons. However, they do have a direct impact on the local county jail population. I have always favored alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. I believe that any punishment for a crime must also include a chance at rehabilitation and redemption. Without it, a cycle of jail and prison will always exist. Those who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse problems should be directed to resources within our community to help them. A judge must recognize these issues in the criminal law context to ensure that the those who suffer from diseases such as mental illness and substance abuse are not housed in the jail unnecessarily. However, a judge must always look to protect victims of crime and to help them through their time in court with dignity and respect. The judicial system must work for all those that come through it and it requires all participants, judges, attorneys, jurors, community members and litigants to act in a manner that upholds our third branch of the government.

Joan Lowenstein: Judges have the ability, especially in the District Court, to make the punishment fit the person, not just the crime. There are so many resources in Ann Arbor because of the University, that we should be able to find ways, when appropriate, of making people fit into society instead of fitting into a jail cell.

3. If you are an aspiring judge, What recent decision by a sitting judge have you admired that upholds the rule of law in the face of contrary community sentiment? Why?

Margaret Connors: I admire Justice Marilyn Kelly’s dissent in NATIONAL PRIDE. She went to the legislative intent of the law. She learned that the proponents of the law had represented it to serve one purpose prior to enactment and had altered their position after the law was enacted. She displayed both an admirable work ethic and the courage to speak alone.

Chris Easthope: From a historical perspective, there are several United States Supreme Court rulings that defined individual rights and civil rights from the Warren court such as Brown v Board of Education of Topeka which declared that state laws that established separate public schools for black and white students denied black children equal educational opportunities, and Miranda v Arizona that defined what rights defendants were to be told upon their arrest, that I have admired. From a very local, district court standpoint, 15th District Court Judge Creal recently ruled that on some stretches of roadway within the city, the posted speed limit set by the City was contrary to State law. It was a difficult decision as it increased the speed limit in certain limited areas. The case could have had far reaching affects and caused confusion. Nonetheless, the judge looked closely at the law as presented to her by the people who received the ticket and listened to the lawyers arguments on both sides and ruled according to what she believed was the law and not what community sentiment was.

Joan Lowenstein: I can answer this best by looking at Constitutional law and my area of special interest — the First Amendment. Supreme Court justices have often had to to uphold the First Amendment in the face of wide public sentiment against free speech. Two particular areas are flag burning and pornography. Justice William Brennan twice wrote opinions overturning flag burning laws written by pandering legislators. Just a couple of months ago, Justices Souter and Ginsburg dissented in a child pornography case. This was very brave. They said a federal law that made it a crime to offer someone child pornography — and in this case the photos did not really exist — should have been held unconstitutional because it punished thoughts rather than actions. It’s easy to go with the flow and say “Down with flag burning! Down with pornography!” but it’s a lot harder to look at the Constitution and realize that there’s a principle to uphold.

Note: This is posted by Chuck Warpehoski, so he, not Nancy Shore, get’s the blame for any misrepresentations or botched cut-and-paste jobs.

  1. Just so everyone knows how this works, you vote for ONE candidate in the primary; the top TWO candidates move on the the general election in November.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Jul. 30 '08 - 05:46AM    #
  2. It is great to see someone remember the Baby Jessica case. Marianne Faupel, who successfully argued the position of the Iowa couple against the De Boers, still practices in Ann Arbor and her well-deserved victory vaulted her to national prominence and the case became subject to over a dozen law review articles and coverage by Time magazine. She is considered pre-eminent in her field of family law and her success against the De Boers captured the attention of not only michigan and Iowa but the nation. Justice was done.

       —Mark Koroi    Jul. 30 '08 - 06:55AM    #
  3. Blaine,
    It tells us that you’re still obsessed with Joan Lowenstein…...

       —annarbor1us    Jul. 31 '08 - 09:54PM    #
  4. From the AU About this site page:

    “We welcome diverse viewpoints and we are committed to viewpoint-neutral moderation, To preserve the value of this site as a place for respectful discussion, please keep comments and links relevant to the blog post. Libelous or potentially libelous comments, personal attacks, off-topic comments, or comments we deem inappropriate will be deleted at our discretion. We ask that you use a consistent screen name and leave a valid email address.”

    I object to the deletion of an on-topic post from the comments on this item. If you “deem [it] inappropriate”, I disagree.

       —Steve Bean    Aug. 1 '08 - 12:28AM    #
  5. The poster in question used to waste a lot of everyone’s time; now all that’s wasted is the tiny amount spent readjusting spam filters or deleting the occasional post that slips through.

    You’re free to contact them yourself, ask what they’ve been trying to post, and post it under your own name if you judge it worthwhile. I think attnblaine at will get you the right person, or at least someone who knows them.

    Personally, I think we’d both be better off discussing something of more substance.

       —Bruce Fields    Aug. 1 '08 - 04:54AM    #
  6. I found it disturbing that Margaret Connors, as reported in a recent Ann Arbor News article, felt it inappropriate that County Prosecutor Brian Mackie had been campaigning for her opponent Eric Gutenberg because a party in a case going up against Mackie’s office in a hypothetical future case before Gutenberg as a judge may feel some level of appearance of bias. I believe that Margaret Connors would probably be performing somersaults if Brian Mackie had endorsed her instead of Gutenberg. Examine the recent campaign finance disclosures and you will notice that a substantial number of contributors to the Margaret Connors committee are attorneys whose firms practice on a regular basis before her husband Timothy Connors handling complex auto accident and/or civil rights litigation and, on the other hand, have minimal or no connection to either Margaret Connors or the 15th District Court. These lawyers would include Robert Logeman, Adrienne Logeman-Cox, a certain attorney from Dick Soble’s law firm (Dick Soble was trial counsel before Tim Connors in the recent 15 million dollar civil rights verdict against the Michigan Dept. of Corrections) , Lynn Bredell, and Judy Moskus. Moskus is from Garan, Lucow & Miller, a firm that handles insurance defense litigation.In other words, Margaret Connors’ donors are often people who appear to be trying to maintain political patronage to her husband, as opposed to contributors who appear to suuport Eric Gutenberg due to admiration of his qualifications from years of working with him in the prosecutor’s office, such as Mackie, Steve Hiller and other personnel in Mackie’s office.

       —Mark Koroi    Aug. 1 '08 - 06:00AM    #
  7. People waste their own time, Bruce, others can’t do it for us. But if that’s AU’s policy, the “welcome” text is out of date.

    The primary irony here is that Joan Lowenstein’s response to question #3 indicates that she would likely defend the poster’s right to comment on her politics.

       —Steve Bean    Aug. 1 '08 - 08:27AM    #
  8. I think both Messrs. Fields and Bean have points here, but it does seem rather insulting that every single post Mr. Coleman transmits is removed usually within a few hours. Is it the “ad nauseum” repetition of the substantially the same message that motivates deletion by the webmaster or, rather, the fear of offending an influential local officeholder or, in the alternative, the fact an emotionally charged divisive political issue – the Palestinian struggle toward statehood – is implicated. Content neutrality of the webmaster is key to upholding the principle of freedom of speech.

       —Mark Koroi    Aug. 1 '08 - 09:33AM    #
  9. [shudders before getting into a meta-discussion that will take us in to an off-topic minefield]

    If you look back at some of the other threads we’ve let run without moderating, you’ll see we’re pretty open to letting folks advocate a wide variety of positions, including statehood for Palestine (1-state, 2-state, etc).

    While I did not instigate the moderating of Blaine’s comment, Blaine’s comments do tend to disrupt by being off-topic, repetitive, and using ad-hominum attacks.

    Finally, Mark asks about “offending an influential local officeholder.” Folks say lots of things here that local officeholders could take offense to, just look at the exchanges about the Mayor or Sheriff Minzey.

    As for the judges race, I’ll admit I’m at a loss here. I admit I’m glad that 2 of the 4 will go on to the November ballot. That will give me a chance to look into this more. I still really don’t have a sense of the best candidate here. Any thoughts on this?

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Aug. 1 '08 - 10:35AM    #
  10. I’m also concerned that two AU contributors have apparently identified an anonymous poster by both name and email address.

    I suggest that you folks figure out what your policy is and let us all know, then stick to it.

    I’m not unappreciative of the effort that contributor members put into making this site available and current and as successful as it has been. My speaking up on this is in hopes of keeping it successful.

       —Steve Bean    Aug. 1 '08 - 05:45PM    #
  11. “I’m also concerned that two AU contributors have apparently identified an anonymous poster by both name and email address. I suggest that you folks figure out what your policy is and let us all know, then stick to it.”

    Steve, Blaine never leaves a valid name or e-mail address when he comments. That alone is a violation of the AU policy. We just know his e-mail address because he e-mails many of us individually, repeatedly. His comments are always the same and do not even attempt to address the post on which he comments. Bruce’s posting of Blaine’s e-mail address came from Bruce’s interaction with Blaine outside of the AU blog. We will not post someone’s name or e-mail address as they have identified it on AU.

    Following is the comment policy as posted on AU:
    To preserve the value of this site as a place for respectful discussion, please keep comments and links relevant to the blog post. Libelous or potentially libelous comments, personal attacks, off-topic comments, or comments we deem inappropriate will be deleted at our discretion. We ask that you use a consistent screen name and leave a valid email address. The comments violated the stated policy in every respect and so we have deleted them.

       —Juliew    Aug. 1 '08 - 06:34PM    #
  12. Margaret Connors is married to Judge Timothy Connors, who was appointed by former Republican governor John Engler. On her webpage, What They’re Saying About Margaret, the first two endorsements are from Judge David Swartz and Judge Archie Brown, who were also appointed by Engler. Judge Swartz is running unopposed this election.

    Engler also appointed the Republican majority to the Michigan Supreme Court, including Chief Judge Cliff Taylor. As I pointed out elsewhere, Engler and all his appointees are Federalist Society members, a group which can easily be characterized as Anti-Citizen.

    It’s hard to fathom how conservative right-wing judges can do so well in a liberal or progressive town like Ann Arbor. The voters’ lack of information and the all-powerful “INCUMBENT” designation on the ballot are the only apparent explanations.

    These Federalist judges don’t ask if you’re a Republican or Democrat before they toss your civil case. They have an agenda.

       —Michael Schils    Aug. 3 '08 - 06:29PM    #
  13. As of this time, the race is a four way dead heat with over one-quarter of the votes in. Chris Easthope has a slight lead.

       —Mark Koroi    Aug. 6 '08 - 06:56AM    #
  14. Here’s the 15th district court judge results from the county – at this writing, 73% counted, Easthope and Gutenberg in the lead (11:07pm).

       —Edward Vielmetti    Aug. 6 '08 - 07:05AM    #
  15. With all but 2 precincts reporting, Easthope and Gutenberg have pulled ahead with Chris in a slight lead.

       —Mark Koroi    Aug. 6 '08 - 07:22AM    #
  16. I was pleasantly surprised by the primary victories of both Messrs. Easthope and Gutenberg, as citizens can rest assured that an experienced, knowledgeable judge with integrity will take office regardless of who wins in November. Congrats to both Chris and Eric, each of whom waged a vigorous campaign.

       —Mark Koroi    Aug. 6 '08 - 07:26PM    #
  17. A recent change was made to a page on the website of Margaret Connors. The current version the “About Margaret”-page contains the sentence,

    Married to Tim Connors, Mother of four children

    The same sentence from the Google cache version as it existed on July 22, 2008 reads,

    Married to Circuit Court Judge Timothy P. Connors.

    The most obvious inference that could be drawn regarding the purpose of the edit would be that the Margaret Connors campaign wanted to de-emphasize the fact that she is married to Washtenaw Circuit Court Judge Timothy Connors. A non-descriptive reference to “Tim Connors” certainly helps to obscure that fact.

    This recent change to the page will no longer be evident when the Google bots index this page again and the current version becomes the cache version. But until then, as Google searches rely on the cache version, this page will continue to return with a query of “Judge Timothy P. Connors”, which of course does not serve the intention behind the page edit.

    Did the Margaret Connors campaign make the change after seeing my post linking Margaret Connors, through her husband, to the right-wing conservative Federalist Society?

    Probably not. But I’m going to take credit for causing it anyway.

       —Michael Schils    Aug. 7 '08 - 10:26PM    #
  18. Michael, the information I have is that she has one adopted child that she brought into her marriage with Timothy Connors (which was her first marriage) and that the other three children she referred to were actually Margaret’s stepchildren from Judge Connors’ first marriage to a different woman; I am not aware if these stepchildren were adopted by Margaret Connors. I believe that the fact she is married to Judge Connors may have been a liability in the election.

       —Mark Koroi    Aug. 7 '08 - 11:41PM    #
  19. Yes Mark, it’s interesting that the earlier version of the webpage makes no reference to Margaret Connors being a mother, nor is there a reference to any children. The claim to motherhood on the recently edited page was clumsily added to the end of the marriage statement, with “Mother” being incorrectly capitalized and with the period at the end of the sentence being errantly omitted.

    The unintended result of this hasty addition is that it now appears that Tim Connors is the “Mother of four children”, if the literal grammatical meaning of the sentence is considered. Of course, anyone who has actually seen Judge Timothy Connors would wonder exactly how he accomplished such a feat.

       —Michael Schils    Aug. 8 '08 - 05:23PM    #
  20. Does anyone have on opinion as to the reasons behind the poor showing at the polls of Joan Lowenstein? I would think that it is largely due to the fact she did not campaign as vigorously as her three opponents (but then again, maybe its due to the political clout of Blaine Coleman).

       —Mark Koroi    Aug. 12 '08 - 02:21AM    #
  21. Joan Lowenstein was the top vote-getter in her Second Ward; my suspicion is that her failure to vigorously campaign city-wide was a factor in her debacle. Margaret Connors, on the other hand, finished a distant third place in her Fifth Ward but did mount a substantial city-wide campaign; her precinct victories were scattered around the five wards. I agree with a prior post that her website that initially emphasized her marriage to Judge Timothy Connors likely hurt her cause as Judge Connors is disliked by many within Ann Arbor for various reasons, including his ties to ultraconservative political causes. On the other hand, my favorite law and order candidate, Eric Gutenberg, had his wife conducting effective and vigorous campaigning on his behalf, which no doubt was a factor in Eric’s good showing. Both Eric Gutenberg and Chris Easthope ran positive and extensive campaigns with door-to-door politicking, and this undoubtedly played a role in each of their victories.

       —Kerry D.    Aug. 18 '08 - 04:21AM    #
  22. Re Post#6: A poll conducted for the Michigan Campaign Finance Network found that 85% of Michigan residents believe judges should not hear cases involving campaign supporters, according to a March 19, 2009 newsletter entitled “Poll: Michiganders Want Firewall Between Judges And Campaign Supporters”, downloadable at

    I found the newsletter to have specific relevance to Washtenaw County, especially given the attention garnered by the registered political action committee People Against Corruption in its website “Ann Arbor Buzz” at

    I also think this newsletter also may bear some relevance to the recent City Council race and the question of appearances of impropriety or bias in having City Council members vote on matters either on Council or on committees where the interests of contributors of substantial PAC monies to those voting City Council members’ campaigns are involved (e.g. Marcia Higgins and the Firefighters Union PAC).

       —Mark Koroi    May. 12 '09 - 01:33AM    #