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Michigan judge’s request to bypass age limit denied

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A legal attempt by a Michigan judge seeking another term on the bench before being age limited ended Thursday after the Michigan Supreme Court denied consideration of the case.

Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Peter 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.

O’Connell sued state election officials in March in an attempt to get on the 2016 ballot.

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

The Michigan Court of Claims and the state Court of Appeals ruled against O’Connell earlier this year. Last month, the Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming a previous Court of Claims ruling that says O’Connell is not the incumbent for the position held by Gadola.

In its one-paragraph opinion, the Michigan Supreme Court said: “The application for leave to appeal is considered, and it is denied, because the Court is not persuaded that the question presented should be reviewed by this Court.”

O’Connell said on Thursday his goal was to bring attention to age discrimination.

“I think we have accomplished this goal. Age discrimination is ethically, morally and legally wrong,” he said.

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.

Attorneys for the state alleged O’Connell was 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 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.

JChambers@detroitnews.com