James Giddings' departure from the Ingham County bench because he has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 is opening up a rare vacancy on the 30th Circuit Court.
Facing each other in the Aug. 3 primary: Lansing assistant city attorney Billie Jo O'Berry and trial attorneys Clinton Canady III, Gregory Crockett and Jim Jamo. Two will go on to the general election in November.
O'Berry, 54, narrowly lost her fourth judicial race two years ago to incumbent District Judge Tom Boyd. Crockett, 54, lost to incumbent Probate Judge Richard Garcia in the 2008 general election.
Canady, 62, and Jamo, 52, are newcomers to the ballot, but they've been cleaning up on the endorsement front.
Canady, of the Canady Law Offices, recently announced the backing of four of Ingham County’s nine Circuit judges: Rosemarie Aquilina, Laura Baird, George Economy and Garcia. His old law partner, county Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III, also backs him, as do Circuit Judge Thomas Eveland and District Judge Harvey Hoffman, both of Eaton County.
Jamo earned highly sought endorsements from the Greater Lansing Labor Council (AFL-CIO) and the UAW Regional Capital Area CAP Council. He has the support of Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth, Circuit judges Calvin Osterhaven of Eaton County and Eric Cholack of Wayne County, East Lansing District judges Richard Ball and David Jordan, retired Ingham County Circuit judges Thomas Brown, Carolyn Stell and Michael Harrison and about 75 attorneys.
Jamo is a partner in Grua, Jamo & Young. An attorney for 26 years and a mediator, the University of Michigan and Cooley Law School graduate's clients have included the Lansing Police Department, Lansing Housing Commission, Lansing Board of Water and Light and Lansing School District.
Jamo began his career handling personal injury and employment conflict cases in the Circuit and federal courts, but he's also handled more complex business disputes, construction defects and product liability cases. Having considerable experience statewide at the Circuit level, Jamo said, "My preference is the judges who are respectful to the people who come before them, who treat people with dignity and apply the law fairly."
Canady is the son of one of Mid- Michigan's first African-American dentists and the first African-American member of the Lansing School Board. A Lansing attorney for 36 years, Canady has represented Dow Corning, Kellogg, Michigan State University, the Lansing Housing Commission, Lansing Board of Water and Light and Lansing School District.
Canady has been a special referee for the Probate Court, specializing in drug dependence issues. To help with his campaign, Canady has hired the Sterling Corp., which is typically tied, politically, to Republican candidates or causes. Canady said folks shouldn't read anything into that. He said he "wanted to go with people I'm familiar with."
A former Lansing Board of Water and Light commissioner, Canady said he's seen Giddings as "one of my heroes" for his ability to fairly address cases and listen to both sides of the issue in spite of the political pressures.
O'Berry has also invoked Giddings’ name, saying the driving force behind her decision to get into her fifth judicial race was his encouragement.
And Crockett vividly recalls traveling the state with then-Chief Circuit Judge Peter Houk, for whom he worked, collecting statements from other judges in favor of Giddings during the height of the political feud between Giddings and then-Gov. John Engler over the judge's handling of a prisoners' rights case in the mid 1990s.
Crockett said he understands the urge to raise and spend money in these types of races, but he said he's putting a special emphasis on getting out in the community and meeting as many people as he can. It's a part of the campaign that he said is "actually fun."
"You can spend a lot of money and go nowhere," said Crockett, a Michigan State University and Cooley Law School graduate. "People need to know you in order to get out and vote for you."
Recently, Crockett received a "very positive" rating from the political action committee of the Lansing Association of Human Rights, a gay rights organization. Jamo's rating was "mixed" and the other didn't return the questionnaire.
Crockett was also endorsed by the Ingham County Democratic Party.
O'Berry said her past campaigns have shown her the importance of raising money and getting her name out, especially in a large Circuit Court race. But the Lansing assistant city attorney draws the line at holding fund-raisers at law offices because she said they give the appearance of being biased.
O'Berry said she's urging voters to ask attorneys or those in the judicial system what they know about her and the other candidates. "People know that I'm extremely fair, and I have a breadth of experience you don't always find," she said.