Perhaps 40 individuals who were not family or friends of candidates or involved with conducting the event attended the judicial candidate forum conducted at the Royal Oak Library -- reflecting the low interest, so far, in the campaign for 44th District Court Judge.
But it was a well-conducted and informative forum, as I report several paragraphs later.
Even those few voters who on their own bring up the race for 44th District Court Judge don't express much interest in what a district court does. They are more likely to ask me "Which one should I vote for?" They are not appealing to my wisdom, but merely acknowledging that Versagi Voice is at least paying attention to the race. In that context, a personal anecdote:
Several months ago, during that period when the State was publicly exploring whether to merge courts and whether and when to reduce the number of judges, Judge Terry Brennan and I found ourselves sitting in adjacent barber chairs. We got right to it, discussing the pros and cons of the several proposals and joshing about the confusion generated by less than clear press reports. The barbers and the two or three waiting customers discontinued their own chats and listened to our conversation. Terry's barber finished first and on his way out the door the judge stopped a couple of times to polish off a point or two.
"We've just had a free lecture in civics," one apparently appreciative waiting customer said.
In a sense, the judicial candidate forum at the library was also a civics lesson.
The event was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Detroit Free Press, and the Oakland Bar Association. One result of the Bar's involvement was that many of the questions were focused on the legal dimension. So attendees heard the candidates answer questions about such matters as probation; the rights of defendants; sentencing flexibility; the impact of judicial decisions on the families of victims.
The very nature of those questions extracted necessarily similar responses -- so much so that it would be difficult to differentiate among candidates based on their replies. Hence, the civic lesson.
From the civilian audience, the questions were more traditional: How have you served the elderly population in your career?; outside the law, what life activities give you the greatest satisfaction?; and the like.
Oh, yes, the candidates. Seated left-to-right: Carlo Ginotti, Derek Meinecke, Edward Nahhat. Given the emotional neutrality of the legalistic dimension of the brief event (about one hour), how did the personalities of the individuals impress the audience? Submerging my own observations which would be suspect because I know them all and have had a campaign conversation with each of them, I did my usual post-event listening and questioning among the cluster conversations which develop as people leave.
As always, the same personal characteristic was judged praiseworthy or unfavorably:
Carlo adopted the most intimate, even lighthearted tone. He drew multiple laughs during the forum. Reaction ranged from "friendly" through "not serious enough" to "fuzzy.
Derek's demeanor was the most formal and studious. Reactions included "tried to make every answer profound" and "seemed unsure at times" and "refreshingly youthful." His "I am not a politician" drew skepticism, given his endorsement by a sitting judge and his early and very professional campaign.
Ed came across as what writer C. P. Snow termed "impersonal cordiality." Using short, direct sentences, he repeatedly found ways to remind the audience that unlike his two competitors, he has extensive private sector legal experience. Reaction: "frank and to-the-point;" "too intellectual;" "cold." Most remarked about was his statement that he questions the validity of endorsements which are made "before the field is set" at registration deadline.
When the audience is this small, it is safe to assume that most of those attending already favor one of the candidates. It is also safe to say that no winner or loser emerged from this forum.
A humorous aside.
Chiding the candidates that none of them is Irish, which would assure him a judicial seat, I easily labeled Ginotti an Italian, confirmed with Meinecke that his name is German, and guessed that Nahhat is Mediterranean, Chaldean.
"Not so fast," Ed chided in reply. "I am one-half Syrian-American (Nahhat on my Dad's side) and from my Mom's side I am : 1/4 German and 1/4 mix of Scotch, English and Irish . . . My maternal great great great grandfather Robert Andrew Clendenning was born in Dublin on St. Patrick's Day . . . I also have ancestors who fought for the Union in the Civil War and the Americans in the Revolutionary War." So there.
Frank Versagi is the editor of Versagi Voice.