East Lansing City Council member Lisa Babcock and East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education Vice President Chris Martin both intend to run for a judgeship in East Lansing’s 54B District Court.
East Lansing Info learned of their respective candidacies after a reader contacted us on Sunday evening about a telephone poll that asked whom residents would prefer for the judgeship: Babcock or Martin.
Both Babcock and Martin confirmed with ELi this week that they intend to run for the position currently held by Chief Judge Richard D. Ball, who was elected in 2016 to a six-year term that will expire on January 1, 2023.
Martin ordered the poll before Babcock announced her candidacy — and neither can form a campaign committee until mid-February.
After learning of the poll, ELi contacted both Babcock and Martin. According to the reader, the poll asked respondents not only about the judgeship but also their opinions about Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon and Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth.
Martin told ELi on Wednesday that he had ordered the poll on “the advice of the people advising me to get a sense of what [the race] looks like right now.”
Babcock, who has yet to make any formal announcements about her intent to run, confirmed on Tuesday that she did plan to enter the race but told ELi that she was “really surprised” that someone ordered a poll.
According to information on judicial campaigns from the State Bar of Michigan, those seeking elected office as a judge cannot form a campaign committee until Feb. 15 of the year that the election is being held.
Babcock said that, in her opinion, it was not wise to begin campaign activities before that date in part because the rules were created to “spare the public from seemingly endless judicial campaigns.”
Babcock acknowledged that general campaigning and the formation of a planning committee are permitted before Feb. 15. A “planning committee,” according to the State Bar, can develop strategies, send letters inquiring about support, distribute literature, and other actions.
The planning committee cannot, however, solicit financial contributions. Neither Babcock nor Martin appears to have solicited financial contributions.
Martin told ELi that spending related to the poll would be properly disclosed.
What do we know about the candidates?
Babcock was elected to City Council in November 2019, and her term ends in November 2023 (after the election results are finalized), meaning if elected judge, she will have to step down from her position on Council early.
Babcock told ELi that she only decided several months ago to run, after people approached her to encourage her to do so.
“The recent departures from City Council weigh heavily on my mind before I decided to embrace this opportunity to serve the people of East Lansing,” said Babcock. “It’s honor to serve on Council, and I will continue to do my best on Council so long as they keep me.”
Martin was elected to the School Board in November 2018, for a term that runs from January 2019 through December 2022. If elected judge, Martin will assume the role of judge as his School Board term runs out.
In announcing their intent to run, both candidates referenced the various positions that they have held as attorneys.
ELi will provide more information on these candidates (and any others that join the race) as part of our 2022 election coverage.
Is anyone else running? And how does one get involved in this race?
Babcock and Martin are the only two candidates ELi have been made aware of so far. The State Election Board did not immediately respond to a question about who had filed to be a candidate for the 54B judgeship.
ELi reached out to East Lansing’s City clerk Jennifer Shuster, who told us that those interested must actually file with the State Bureau of Elections, a branch of the Michigan Department of State. Although candidates file with the State Bureau of Elections, the City of East Lansing will still administer the elections and the 54B District Court judgeship races will appear on ballots issued by the East Lansing City Clerk.
The filing deadline is April 19, 2022, at 4 p.m., and candidates then have until April 22, 2022, at 5 p.m. to withdraw.
Shuster sent along an informational packet on what candidates must do. That information can be viewed here.
What else do I need to know about the elections for 54B District Court?
Both Martin and Babock are vying for the position that will be vacated by Judge Ball, who will have served as a judge for 30 years from 1993 to 2023. 54B District Court Administrator Nicole Evans confirmed that Ball will be retiring at the end of his term.
Whoever wins the election for the judgeship currently held by Ball will serve a full six-year term, beginning Jan. 1, 2023.
There will also be a November election to select a judge to serve the remainder of a term for the other judge in 54B. Neither Babcock nor Martin are running for this partial term.
Judge Molly Hennessey Greenwalt was appointed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to fill the vacancy left following Judge Andrea Larkin’s retirement. Hennessey Greenwalt’s appointment expires at noon on January 1, 2023.
There will thus be another judicial election in November to elect a judge to serve the rest of Larkin’s term, which runs until Jan. 1, 2025. ELi will cover that election as more information becomes available.
Should more than two candidates enter either race, a primary will be held in August.
Correction: This article originally stated that the State Bureau of Elections would administer the District 54B elections, but candidates only need to file with the Bureau of Elections. The City of East Lansing will administer the elections. We apologize for this error.