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Michigan high court denies judge’s appeal in lawsuit

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

State Appeals Judge Peter O’Connell’s attempt to bypass his own court and go straight to the Michigan Supreme Court on his age discrimination lawsuit over judicial term limits was turned down Wednesday.

The Michigan Supreme Court said O’Connell’s appeal — filed prior to a decision by the Court of Appeals — is denied “because the Court is not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court before consideration by the Court of Appeals.”

O’Connell will be 70 when his six-year term is up in 2019, making him ineligible to run for re-election in the 4th District in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula.

Under the Michigan Constitution, judges cannot seek re-election once they turn 70. The restriction was added in 1955.

Instead of being aged out, O’Connell wants to give up his nonpartisan seat — three years ahead of schedule — and run in August for an open seat in his district that currently belongs to Judge Michael Gadola, who was appointed to the seat in 2015.

O’Connell’s appeal to the state appeals court continues, his attorney Allan S. Falk said. It will be heard by a three-judge panel. O’Connell will be excluded from the process.

On March 10, a Michigan Court of Claims judge dismissed O’Connell’s lawsuit, saying O’Connell motion should be filed in the state circuit court system, not in the Court of Claims.

After he was rejected as an incumbent candidate in February by state election officials, O’Connell filed a lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims against the state’s director of elections, the Bureau of Elections and the Michigan Department of State to force them to put his name on the August primary ballot.

Attorneys for the state allege O’Connell is trying to get around the age restriction by running for a seat that is not his and, if allowed to do so, would create a new vacancy on the bench should he win in the November election.

State officials told O’Connell he could appear on the ballot, but he’d have to collect the necessary signatures and wouldn’t appear as an incumbent.

There are about 590 judges in Michigan, according to the Michigan Supreme Court office. Thirty-two judges were ineligible to run in 2014 because of the age limit.