Justice Kelly to leave Michigan Supreme Court

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Justice Mary Beth Kelly said Monday she will step down from Michigan Supreme Court on Oct. 1 to return to private practice after nearly five years on high court’s bench.

The Republican-nominated justice emphasized she is not planning another campaign for public office even though some in Lansing have speculated she might run for attorney general in 2018.

“I do not intend to run for public office,” Kelly said Monday in an interview with The Detroit News. “I’m happy to rule that out, and I’m happy to dispel those rumors.”

Kelly, 53, is part of a five-justice GOP-nominated majority on the seven-member court and is one of two women on the court. Gov. Rick Snyder will select her replacement. Kelly will return to private practice at the Bodman PLC law firm’s Detroit office.

It is unusual for justices to retire decades before the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70. The last justice to return to the private sector was Conrad Mallett Jr., the current Detroit Medical Center’s chief administrator officer who left the court at the end of 1998 at the age of 45.

Kelly was not always a reliable vote to uphold conservative legislation in her five years on the court. She wrote the dissenting opinion in the recent 4-3 Supreme Court decision that said Michigan’s right-to-work law applies to state employees.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to have served on our state’s highest court,” Kelly said in a statement. “I leave the Supreme Court knowing that our judicial system is better equipped to help families and children.”

Kelly argued the majority’s decision broke 75 years of legal precedent in which the bipartisan civil service commission has dictated the terms of employment for classified state workers.

In 2012, Kelly wrote the majority opinion allowing a challenge of Michigan’s controversial emergency manager law to go on the November ballot that year after opponents questioned the font size of the referendum petitions circulated to voters.

Kelly said Monday the Supreme Court cases she’s most “proud” of include a 2014 ruling striking down Michigan’s “single parent doctrine” over child custody issues and other cases involving the rights of children.

“I’m proud to say now cases involving children get to the Supreme Court and actually have the attention of the Supreme Court,” Kelly said.

Kelly of Grosse Isle Township is a former Wayne County Circuit judge from 1999 to 2010. She is the only woman to have been the chief judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court.

“Justice Kelly has written important opinions and made her presence felt on this bench,” Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr said in a statement. “In particular, my colleagues and I have appreciated the experience and insights she brought from leading the state’s largest circuit court. Justice Kelly is a good friend, and I will miss her presence on the court. I wish her well in the next phase of her career.”

Kelly was elected to the Supreme Court in 2010 at the tail end of an acrimonious era on the high court that was marked by public infighting among some of the justices. Upon taking office in 2011, Kelly said, there was a marked change in the atmosphere at the Michigan Hall of Justice, where the high court presides in Lansing.

“I think the entire court was very committed to establishing a collegial court,” Kelly said Monday.

At Bodman, Kelly will become vice chair of the firm’s Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice Group and focus on government relations, business litigation and public affairs.

“I think that clients recognize that while they have a dispute, they still have value and underlying relationships … and there’s a better way than traditional litigation to resolve disputes,” Kelly said.

Lawyers are increasingly involved in helping business clients navigate state government without registering as a full-fledged lobbyist in Lansing.

“I don’t plan to lobby at this time,” Kelly told The News.

Kelly was a lawyer and commercial litigation partner in the law firm Dickinson Wright in Detroit from 1987-1999.

“Justice Kelly has shown tremendous leadership and dedication during her time on the Supreme Court,” Snyder said in a statement. “Her advocacy on juvenile justice issues has had a major impact on the state, and she has been instrumental in shaping innovative specialty courts meant to rehabilitate drug offenders and defendants who are veterans.

Snyder will select an appointee to fill Kelly’s vacancy until the end of 2016. The November 2016 election will decide who fills the remaining two years on Kelly’s term through the end of 2018.

Filling Kelly’s seat on the bench will be Snyder’s third appointment to the Supreme Court.

Upon entering office in January 2011, Snyder appointed then-Court of Appeals Judge Brian Zahra to the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy created by then-Justice Maura Corrigan stepping down to become Snyder’s human services department director. Zahra won election to a partial two-year term in 2012 and was re-elected to a six-year term in 2014.

In February 2013, Snyder appointed Macomb County Circuit Judge David Viviano to the high court to fill a seat left vacant after former Justice Diane Hathaway’s scandal-ridden resignation. In 2014, Viviano won statewide election to the final two years of Hathaway’s six-year term.

Attorney General Bill Schuette also issued a statement Monday morning, saying Kelly has served the high court “with distinction and honor.”

“I will miss her presence on the Michigan Supreme Court,” Schuette said.


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