After 24 years of service, Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Donald Shelton announced Tuesday that he will step down in four months early to take a position at the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus.

Shelton will be the new director of Dearborn’s criminal justice program and an associate professor starting in the Fall 2014 term. Shelton’s term as judge was set to expire Jan. 1, 2015 but will now end Sep. 1, 2014.

In an interview Wednesday, Shelton said stepping down wasn’t an easy decision, with or without the last four months of his term.

“Leaving the bench is always a difficult decision, like leaving anything else you’ve done for almost a quarter of a century,” Shelton said. ”But frankly, four months difference doesn’t change any of those feelings. I’ve enjoyed being a judge, but I’ve been preparing for and looking forward to being a teacher for a long time.”

Shelton has previously held positions as an adjunct professor in several fields, including criminology and political science, at Eastern Michigan University and Cooley Law School. He also served on Eastern Michigan’s Board of Regents from 1987 to 1990 and was the mayor of Saline from 1978 to 1986.

As the director of the criminal justice program, Shelton said his plan for his first semester is to learn as much as he can.

“One of the things I learned a long time ago is that when you come into a new program the first thing you should do is be a sponge and keep quiet and listen,” Shelton said. “That’s my first objective for the first semester I’m there.”

After that, he said he’d like to increase focus on forensic science, which is his area of research specialty.

Barry Pyle, a political science professor at Eastern Michigan University, said Shelton has provided valuable contributions to the department at EMU as an adjunct professor and is qualified for a full time academic position.

“Judge Shelton has opened up his chambers to a number of our students to work closely with him while he was a judge to give them hands on experience,” Pyle said. “He was able to take a lot of his real life experience into the classroom here on campus and give students a realistic view of what it’s like to be in a circuit court dealing with drugs, and crime, and family law issues.”

This term would have been Shelton’s last as a judge even if he hadn’t chosen to accept the Dearborn position. Michigan law prevents individuals at or over the age of 70 from being elected or appointed to a judicial position.

Local lawyers Veronique Liem and Mike Woodyard announced plans earlier this year to run for his seat.

Judge Darlene A. O’Brien, who serves alongside Shelton on the court, said that Shelton has been a strong leader and an asset to the citizens of Washtenaw County during his time on the court.

“Judge Shelton will be missed, but I’m equally certain that he’ll add great value to the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Criminal Justice program,” O’Brien said.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder will be responsible for appointing someone to fill the seat for the four months left in Shelton’s term after he steps down in September.

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