By Michele Bourdieu
ANN ARBOR -- Bridget Mary McCormack, a candidate for Michigan Supreme Court Justice, 8-year term, has posted two recent videos on her Web site -- one to help voters learn more about the non-partisan part of the November ballot and one to explain why she believes Michigan voters should vote for her.
The first video, "Walk and Talk the Vote - West Wing Reunion - Bridget Mary McCormack," is a four-minute YouTube video starring actors from the former NBC TV serial drama The West Wing (set in the West Wing of the White House) to remind voters how important it is to find the nonpartisan part of the ballot and vote for candidates not included in the "straight ticket" voting by political parties. As an example, the actors happen to mention the Michigan ballot for State Supreme Court Justices and one particular candidate, Bridget Mary McCormack, who happens to be the sister of Mary Catherine McCormack, an actress who happens to be a member of the West Wing cast.*
In the second video, also on YouTube, "Bridget Mary McCormack for Michigan Supreme Court," presents Bridget and people who know her, including one of her four children, who says, "I think my Mom would be great on the Supreme Court because she cares about fairness more than anything else."*
Bridget Mary McCormack is a law professor and Dean for Clinical Affairs at the University of Michigan Law School, where she is responsible for clinical legal education, training students to solve real problems of real people.
A graduate of New York University Law School, Bridget was a faculty fellow at the Yale Law School, where she taught advocacy and professional responsibility and supervised litigation in state and federal courts, before coming to Michigan. Since 1998 she has been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Law School and has conducted and supervised many types of civil and criminal litigation at all levels of Michigan state and federal courts. She has also created new clinics, including a Domestic Violence Clinic and a Pediatric Health Advocacy Clinic. Her concern for families, children, victims of domestic violence and ordinary people who otherwise would not have access to lawyers, courts and justice is evident in her experience and in testimonies of people who know her as well as in the many official endorsements of her Supreme Court candidacy listed on her Web site.
Houghton County Dems host "Skype" party for Bridget McCormack
The Houghton County Democrats hosted a house party at their office in Hancock for a meeting with Bridget via Skype in September. Rick Kasprzak of Calumet Township, who is a candidate for Houghton County Commissioner on the November ballot, facilitated the event.
Brian Rendel (in front of screen), Houghton County Democratic Party co-chair, sets up a computer with Skype in the Dems' office in Hancock so that party members can speak directly with Supreme Court Justice candidate Bridget McCormack. Standing near the screen is Rick Kasprzak, Calumet Township candidate for Houghton County Commissioner, who facilitated the event, and, behind him, Scott Dianda, candidate for the 110th District Michigan House of Representatives seat now held by Matt Huuki.
"She (Bridget Mary McCormack) is campaigning on the idea that the justice system should belong to everybody -- not just people with money," Kasprzak said. "She doesn't think that the average person gets a fair share in the justice system in the state of Michigan."
Seeing Bridget's values as similar to his own, Kasprzak said he hopes, if elected to the Houghton County Board of Commissioners, to represent -- with fairness -- average citizens like himself.
"I'm an average person, and my thought is the average person has lost a voice in the past few years," Kasprzak added. "I think it's something that has been happening for a long time. I think government officials forget that they represent their constituents."
During her online, interactive conversation via Skype with local Democrats at the house party, McCormack expressed her support for two colleagues from lower Michigan who are also running for Supreme Court Justice positions on the nonpartisan ballot: Judge Connie Marie Kelley, now a judge in the Family division of the Wayne County Circuit Court, who, like McCormack, is running for an 8-year term position on the Michigan Supreme Court, and Judge Shelia Johnson, now a judge of the 46th District Court, who is running for a partial term (to Jan. 1, 2015).**
Kasprzak said he thinks these three judicial candidates -- McCormack, Kelley and Johnson -- would do a good job of protecting the state constitution. He pointed out, as an example, that environmental and labor interests are not protected now.
"We can see what happens when we have an unfriendly Supreme Court," he said.
Scott Dianda, Democratic candidate for 110th District State Representative, who also attended the house party for McCormack, agreed with Kasprzak on the three judicial candidates.
"I think that we need to get all three on the Supreme Court to bring back a balance for the state citizens," Dianda told Keweenaw Now. "It's weighted one way."
Introducing herself to the Houghton County Dems via computer Skype connection, Bridget said, "In the classroom I teach law students about the important role the judiciary plays in a constitutional democracy, why it's different from the other branches of government, how the Founding Fathers intended it to be a place where being right is more important than being powerful or popular -- a place where fairness trumps strength. And unfortunately in our work on our cases, which is the other half of my teaching job, that isn't always the case, especially not in our appellate courts and maybe in recent years, most especially in our Supreme Court, which has become very political and very partisan."
During the Skype conversation, Keweenaw Now asked McCormack about her views on the environment. She said she had just had a long interview for endorsement by Clean Water Action (They have endorsed her candidacy since then) and she has a good relationship with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, even though their policy does not include endorsement of judicial candidates.
Ryan Werder, Michigan LCV political and campaigns director, explained Michigan LCV's endorsement policy.
"(Bridget) is wonderful and would be a very welcome addition to the Supreme Court," Werder told Keweenaw Now. "Due to legal restrictions, Bridget -- or any other judicial candidate -- is unable to take a public stance on issues. She can merely speak on her judicial philosophy. As such, it makes it essentially impossible for us to make an objective call on an endorsement. All that said, personally, I think incredibly highly of Bridget and have personally endorsed her."
Bridget noted that, while she has not done any environmental issue litigation, she has been supporting the University of Michigan Law School's Environmental Law Clinic for the last eight years in her role as Dean for Clinical Affairs.
"In that clinic they (the law students) work in conjunction with NWF (National Wildlife Federation) and they do big federal environmental litigation," she said.
On a personal level, Bridget added, she has been a supporter of protecting the Saugatuck Dunes from a big developer.
In addition, for about six years she served as chair of a Political Interference Group within the American Association of Law Schools. The group defended, legally and politically, several university environmental law clinics that were attacked by businesses and state governments for their work.
Houghton County Prosecutor Mike Makinen (standing) speaks to Bridget McCormack about his concern that the Michigan Supreme Court seems to be valuing speed over quality. McCormack agreed that speed shouldn't be confused with efficiency -- and that public confidence in the courts needs to be improved. District Judge Mark Wisti (center, seated behind Rick Kasprzak) asked McCormack a question concerning the State Court Administrative Office.
To a question on campaign financing, Bridget said she was especially concerned about the independent spending where the donors to campaigns don't have to be identified.
"When you have a partisan nomination process and a nonpartisan ballot, coupled with O.K. campaign finance laws, that's exactly the formula that gives the most power to the most money," Bridget noted. "In 2010 the Michigan Supreme Court race was the most expensive state supreme court race in the country ever (at least $10 million)," she said. "The only answer we have is a better ground game, a stronger field effort, more enthusiastic boots on the ground."
Bridget says one of her priorities is to get people to agree that the present finance laws don't make sense in the context of judicial elections.
Barbara Manninen of Hancock asked Bridget how the Supreme Court relates to the ordinary person who may not be familiar with many candidates on the ballot.
Bridget said that is part of her education effort -- to convince people how much the Supreme Court matters since many people are unaware that the Supreme Court makes a lot of decisions every year affecting regular people -- consumer safety, patient safety, rights of parents, the water we drink and the water we fish, our civil rights.
"It's probably best to pick a couple that might matter to people," she said.
She gave as examples the Governor's tax on pensions, that should matter to seniors, or the court's decision that individuals don't have a right to pursue a legal claim against a corporation that's polluting their waters -- unless they actually own the lake.
Bridget suggested a slogan to help people learn her name and those of the candidates she's supporting: "Don't give that ballot back until you vote Kelley, Johnson, and McCormack!"
She said she had visited other parts of the UP, including Sault Ste Marie, Escanaba and Marquette in late August.
"It was stunningly beautiful," she said.
* Click here to see these two videos on Bridget Mary McCormack's Web site.
** To learn about all three of these judicial candidates, see their answers to questions from the League of Women Voters. Click here and go to pp. 32-34 of Michigan League of Women Voters Guide, Part 2. The reason voters are asked to vote for one candidate for a partial term (to Jan. 1, 2015) on the Michigan Supreme Court is the following: Brian Zahra was appointed to the Court by Gov. Snyder to fill Justice Maura Corrigan's seat after she left the Court in 2011. Her term ran from 2007 - 2015, so he's running to finish out that term. Justices appointed to fill vacant terms must run for election to that seat at the next election. Judge Shelia Johnson is one of the candidates challenging Zahra. (Thanks to Drew YoungeDyke, Michigan LCV policy and communications specialist, for this background information on the partial term candidates.)