As Washtenaw County judges Nancy Wheeler and Donald Shelton prepare to step down from their posts in January, the race to fill their positions is heating up.

The judicial election will have its primary on Aug. 5 followed by the general election on Nov. 4. Candidates running so far include Jane Bassett, Tamara Garwood, Constance Jones, Julia Owdziej and Tracy Van den Bergh, all of whom are competing for Wheeler’s seat, and Veronique Liem, Patrick Conlin and Michael Woodyard are vying for Shelton’s seat.

Wheeler’s successor will be responsible for family law, probate cases and ensuring that claims to an estate of a deceased person are properly recognized. There is also a potential for change in the docket over the following six years of his or her term.

University alum Tamara Garwood, an Ann Arbor resident and Detroit College of Law graduate, has practiced in Ann Arbor for the past 15 years. Garwood’s legal specialties are divided between probate and family law cases, making this available seat, Garwood said, an ideal fit for her skill set and passions.

“I can only help so many people in private practice. It sounds altruistic, but I want to help more people,” Garwood said. “I want to have a greater impact on the community, and in my mind the way to do that to be able to help more people each day is to become a judge.”

Garwood is the only candidate to receive incumbent Judge Wheeler’s endorsement, Garwood Campaign Manager Tiffany Messer said.

After receiving her Masters of Social Work from New York University, Ann Arbor resident Tracy Van den Bergh moved to Michigan 14 years ago, attended Michigan State University College of Law and currently practices at Legal Services of South Central Michigan, where she specializes in both probate and family law.

According to Van den Bergh, her unique background in social work, understanding of mental illness and ability to interact with a wide range of individuals sets her apart from other candidates.

“I would like to take my unique education to the bench because I believe it will enable people across the board to have better access to the justice system,” Van den Bergh said.

The importance of this bench, Van den Bergh said, cannot be overlooked, as the majority of people in probate court are experiencing a life crisis and require a fair and compassionate judge.

Ann Arbor resident Connie Jones, who grew up in Washtenaw County and attended the University’s Law School, worked for the United Auto Workers-General Motors Legal Services before opening her own practice in 1993. She also worked for Ozone House, a homeless shelter for youth, and volunteers in the LGBTQ community.

She said her passion of working with children and the elderly inspired her to pursue a seat on the probate court.

Ann Arbor resident Julia B. Owdziej, who graduated from Detroit College of Law, is currently the deputy register for the Washtenaw County Probate Court. She is also the referee for Washtenaw County Juvenile Court, in which she presides over hearings.

She has lived in Washtenaw County since 1991, and said that her experience in a variety of areas will help her better serve the people of Washtenaw County.

“Having been an advocate, a decision maker and administrative work in probate court, I think I have all of the areas covered to be a successful judge for the most vulnerable people in probate court,” Owdziej said.

Ann Arbor resident Jane Bassett, a Detroit Mercy School of Law graduate, opened her own practice in 1994 concerning elder law and family formation for twenty years. A Washtenaw County resident since 1982, she said she hopes to use her resources, connections and experience to serve in a personal and effective way.

“Some of my shining moments have been small victories. Knowing the details of someone’s life and helping them have a better quality of life in their last days,” Bassett said. “When clients come to me they know they are going to get the service they need with compassion about what they are going through.”

Shelton’s circuit court seat is historically responsible for more family law cases, personal protection orders, divorces and juvenile court cases.

Ann Arbor resident Michael Woodyard, Wayne County assistant prosecutor, attended Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University Law School and will be running again after losing the 2012 election against incumbent Judge Tim Connors.

Chelsea resident Patrick Conlin, another candidate who grew up in the Ann Arbor area, has a private practice in Chelsea. He attended the University of Notre Dame and became a high school English teacher before attending Wayne State University Law School.

“I am really eager to serve the people of this county,” Conlin said. “I understand public service from my family’s own history of serving the community, and I’m really eager to be in a position to make the decisions that are necessary to bring resolution to people’s conflict.”

Veronique Liem is an attorney at Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, a law firm with four locations throughout Michigan. She received her MBA and JD from the University.

“I want to perform community service as part of my work,” Liem said. “I also at a stage in my career and my life where I think I have the knowledge and skill to be a good judge and to render sound and impact decisions especially in family law, which this seat will predominantly preside.”

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