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Court dismisses suit by judge trying for 2016 ballot

The Detroit News

A court has tossed a lawsuit from an age-limited Michigan judge attempting to run for office as an incumbent again before his 70th birthday.

Court of Appeals Judge Peter O’Connell, first elected in 1994, filed an age-discrimination lawsuit to force election officials to put his name on the ballot as an incumbent for a different seat.

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.

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

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

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens denied O’Connell’s bid on Tuesday, dismissing his complaint.

“Contrary to his position, it is not enough that plaintiff is an incumbent judge; he must be the incumbent for the particular office that is up for re-election on the ballot this coming November,” Stephens wrote.

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 ballot. State officials had 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.

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 he is allowed to do so, would create a vacancy on the bench should he win the November election.

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.