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The Wizard of Oz isn’t making an encore appearance in this year’s Michigan judicial race. A song from the movie provided a memorable moment in the 2000 state supreme court campaign, in which three Democrats sought to oust three Republicans in a $15 million all-out war for control of the bench. The race saw attack ads by trial lawyers and business groups. One by the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association mocked the Republicans, showing cartoon trees alongside a yellow brick road chanting, “Markman and Taylor and Young — oh my!” Despite the record spending and attention-getting tactics, the Republicans were re-elected by wide margins. This year’s races are comparatively decorous, says Justice Robert P. Young Jr., one of three Republican incumbents featured in the 2000 send-up, and who is now running for a full term. Because incumbents retained office, “there was a feeling these kinds of ads would not necessarily survive a second round,” says Allan Ashman, director of the Hunter Center for Judicial Selection at the American Judicature Society in Chicago. “We got waxed,” says Alan C. Helmkamp, president of the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, which spent $5 million on the campaigns. “I think we learned an expensive, unfortunate lesson two years ago. No amount of money and a tremendous grassroots effort would overcome the incumbency advantage they enjoyed.” This year, “the whole landscape and dynamic is different,” says Helmkamp. Trial lawyers are cheering the two Democratic challengers, J. Martin Brennan, a Sterling Heights, Mich., general practitioner, and Maggie W. Drake, a Wayne County circuit judge in Detroit, but they aren’t opening their wallets. By press time, Brennan had reported only one contribution, $10,000 from the Trial Lawyers Association. Instead, plaintiffs’ bar members are contributing to candidates for Michigan’s top state offices, notably Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jennifer Granholm. The 2002 high court elections are a “nonevent” because “nobody is really putting any money into the campaigns,” says Dennis W. Archer, a former state supreme court justice, past Detroit mayor and president-elect of the American Bar Association. Two weeks before the election, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce unveiled a television ad supporting the Republican incumbents — the first ad in the 2002 elections. The chamber spent more than $3 million on four TV commercials in 2000. Bob LaBrant, the chamber’s general counsel and senior vice present of political affairs, won’t say how much the chamber has raised or how much it plans to spend on the election. The ad praises the incumbents for bringing “common sense back to the bench.” It says that until recently “special interests were everywhere” and that “some rulings even seemed to put criminals’ rights ahead of victims’ rights.” The incumbents, it says, “understand the rights of victims and make our courts work for taxpayers, not special interests.” The ad is considerably more modest in its production values than some from 2000, including a chamber commercial that offered a reply to the trial lawyers’ Wizard of Oz spot, delivered by an actor performing from a large fake tree. “I liked my dancing tree,” LaBrant says. The only other television ad in the Michigan Supreme Court race was to be sponsored by the campaign for Young. At press time, he said he had raised about $500,000 and was planning to run a “plain vanilla” television ad saying, “I’m a good guy. Vote for me.” Young says his campaign seeks to “educate the public about the fact that the judiciary has been eating their lunch for the last 40 years, usurping their self-governing rights.” JUDICIARY’S ROLE The five-justice Republican majority, which Young calls “judicial traditionalists,” have made a practice of overruling precedents, finding that previous courts usurped the Legislature’s lawmaking authority. Judges shouldn’t shape public policy but determine the plain meaning of laws, Young says. Though trial lawyers chafe at the majority’s philosophy, which, they argue, minimizes people’s access to courts, their political focus is elsewhere. A Democratic sweep would produce a 4-3 court majority, but no one predicts that. Voters will choose two from seven candidates: the Republican incumbents, Young and Elizabeth A. Weaver, Democrats Brennan and Drake, Libertarians Michael L. Donahue of Detroit and Bruce H. Yuille of Clarkston and Green Party candidate Donnelly Wright Hadden of Ann Arbor. Political parties nominated the candidates. The race is nonpartisan, so the ballot will not contain party designations but will identify Young and Weaver as justices of the Michigan Supreme Court.

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