Judge Richard Conlin has announced his early retirement from his position on the 14A District Court, which handles civil cases, traffic infractions and some criminal misdemeanors in Washtenaw County. Conlin has served since 1995 but is unable to seek re-election in 2020 due to the 70-year age limit for judges in Michigan.
Conlin’s early retirement will be effective Nov. 1, opening a bench spot that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will appoint someone to fill. The governor’s office is accepting applications to finish Conlin’s term, and the appointee will be able to run as an incumbent in the 2020 election.
Conlin told The Michigan Daily that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in July. He had originally planned to serve the rest of his term but decided to retire early under the advice of his doctor and family.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my almost 25 years on the bench and will greatly miss the work and those I work with,” Conlin said.
Prior to Conlin’s early retirement announcement, Ann Arbor defense attorney Anna Frushour was the only candidate who had officially announced a campaign for the seat. Frushour is a partner at Reiser & Frushour, which contracts with Ann Arbor to represent criminal defendants involved in misdemeanors. In addition she has her own law firm called Frushour Law LPPC, which also focuses on criminal defense.
Frushour said she is also planning to apply for the vacancy. Conlin had signed an endorsement letter in support of Frushour when she announced her candidacy earlier in September.
“The future of our court system is in treatment courts, restorative justice ideals and adhering to procedural fairness practices,” Frushour said. “As the city of Ann Arbor's public defender, I have had the unique opportunity to work in a variety of treatment courts which work to address the root of the criminal behavior rather than only punishing the behavior. I hope to have the opportunity to bring these types of programs to the rest of the county because they have shown to reduce recidivism and change people’s lives.”
Robin Stephens, Washtenaw County public defender, is also planning on applying to fill the vacancy. Stephens has worked at the public defender’s office since 1999 but was previously in private practice. She was also an assistant dean of students at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, and an academic advisor and Social Work student at the University of Michigan.
Stephens said her professional experience as a public defender advocating for those who may not be able to speak for themselves makes her the best candidate for the seat.
“To effectively be someone’s voice to the court requires much negotiation and interacting with many people who make up our criminal justice system,” Stephens said. “My lived experience, my work experience and my experience as a resident of Washtenaw county gives me the necessary skills to be able to ensure that people who come before the 14A district court are listened to and appropriate fairness is executed in each and every case.”
Stephens previously ran for 14A District Court Judge against incumbent Kirk Tabbey in 2016. She received 41 percent of the vote at the time. She said she will wait until the appointment process is complete to decide whether to run for the seat in 2020.
All applications to fill Conlin’s role are due Oct. 17, and Conlin will continue to hear cases as a visiting judge until a replacement is appointed.