Judges Nancy Wheeler, David Swartz, Archie Brown and Donald Shelton look on after Shelton swore in Judge Carol Kuhnke. Kuhnke is assisted by her children, John and Julia, with her robe. BTL photo: Dawn Wolfe

Carol Kuhnke Sworn In To 22nd Circuit Court

By Dawn Wolfe


Feb. 1 may have been cold and blustery on the outside, but inside the Michigan League ballroom there was nothing but warmth and welcome as Carol Kuhnke was sworn in as the state's first openly lesbian elected judge.

More than two hundred people joined Kuhnke's family and dignitaries including newly-elected Suprime Court Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Douglas B. Shapiro, and Washtenaw County Bar Association President Patrick J. Conlin, Esq. to congratulate Kuhnke and take part in her investiture.

There was plenty of praise for Kuhnke - and for the entire Washtenaw County Trial Court - during the ceremony.

According to Judge Shapiro, "Carol is going to be a new addition to what is already the best bench in Michigan. She is soft-spoken but fights hard, she's a critical thinker but not a critical person."

McCormack reflected on her long friendship with Kuhnke, dating back to a golf tournament the two attended together - though neither one actually plays. "I don't think I know a more hard-working, compassionate, or even-handed person," said McCormack of Kuhnke during her remarks. She added that Kunnke is joining a bench where, "Every member ... makes people feel heard, respected and informed...I'm so glad my family and neighbors are in such good hands."

In addition to Kuhnke's formal swearing in and the presentation of her robe by her mother Susan and her children Julia and John, the highlight of the ceremony was the remarks made by Ralph G. Williams, PhD, Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor.

Williams recited passages from Henry VI and The Merchant of Venice to illustrate two threats to the law - the threat of those in power trying to twist the law to their own ends, and the danger of a system where people without wealth or power have no access to the law and thus the law becomes a tool of oppression.

In closing, Williams turned to Kuhnke to offer his advice. "The law is general by necessity, but lives are individual," he said. "Where a balance is to be struck, it is best struck on the side of compassion."

Kuhnke's own remarks took a similar tack. After thanking her family and supporters, Kuhnke summed up her own view about the importance of fairness in the court. "What it's really about is what we do for, or to, the people before us," she said.

During a private email interview before and after the ceremony, Kuhnke responded to questions from BTL about the meaning of her election as an openly-lesbian judge - and how sexual minorities can expect to fare in her courtroom.

"I'm very pleased to be able to show young people that their LGBT friends exist at all levels of society and government, and that they need not worry that they can not achieve whatever they wish," she said in a Jan. 31 email.

In a separate email on Feb. 2, she added, "I will do all I can in my judicial capacity to make sure that everyone is treated equally under the law. People entering my courtroom will know that they will be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of who they love."

The ceremony closed with the song "Beautiful Dreamer," sung by Roger Chard, Esq.

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