Nov 21, 2007 at 12:00 am

By the end of this week the Michigan Supreme Court should have decided which jurist will replace Mary Beth Kelly as chief judge of Wayne County Circuit Court. Kelly announced last week that she wouldn't seek the post for a fourth two-year term.

Kelly, first appointed to the bench by Gov. John Engler in 1999, had been the subject of growing criticism related to her administrative policies and leadership style ("Courting Controversy," MT, Nov. 7). Her reorganization of defense attorney assignments representing juveniles was the subject of a lawsuit. Several protests and pickets took place this year.

Kelly withdrew her controversial proposal to privatize Friend of the Court operations after a Macomb County Court issued an injunction preventing her from implementing the plan. Her removal from consideration for chief judge came after the Wayne County commissioners passed a resolution to "strongly encourage" the state's Supreme Court to not re-appoint her.

Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen says the message was clear about the commission's collective opinion of her leadership, but beyond that the commission's role should be limited for court administrative procedures.

"It's not something the commission is involved in, in terms of the selection. I'm happy to let that process run its course," he says.

The commission's resolution cited Kelly's lack of support from the circuit court bench, her attempt to privatize Friend of the Court, and her "policy and practice of ignoring requests made by elected officials."

Judge Robert Colombo, who has been a public supporter of Kelly, won the unofficial election Wayne County Circuit judges held in September (after Kelly had refused to hold such a vote) to determine whom they would recommend for chief judge. While Colombo has said he respects Kelly's work, after her announcement of withdrawal from consideration for chief judge he told News Hits he wants to lead the court.

"I've been in training for 25 years to be the chief judge of this court. I've held all different positions in it. I know the court and I know what needs to be done. Plus the judges have a lot of confidence in me," he says.

Judge Deborah Thomas, whom Kelly stripped of her motion docket after the two clashed about how to handle challenges to jury composition, says the change in chief judge will mean an opportunity for improvement for the court overall.

"I hope it means we're going to start anew with a fresh perspective and that we're going to re-examine all the issues of concern," she says. "I think that it will be healthy. It certainly has the potential to be healthy for the entire court. I think it's an opportunity to improve dialogue among the judges. I hope it's an opportunity that everyone takes advantage of."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]