2009-01-22 / News

Two Charges Dropped, Two Undecided in Lawsuit Against Thomas North

By Ellen Paquin

Two charges have been dismissed, and two will go to jury in a lawsuit against Thomas North of St. Ignace, who was charged in October with four counts of misrepresenting himself as the incumbent in the November 4 election for the judgeship of 92nd District Court.

At issue in the case is the use of printed campaign materials in which Mr. North, the former judge of 6th Probate Court, referred to himself as "judge."

The case began when his opponent in the election, incumbent Judge Beth Gibson of Newberry, filed a complaint contending Mr. North's use of the honorary title "judge" in his campaign materials implied he was the incumbent. Disputed are the words "Elect Judge Thomas North to District Court" on two magnetic signs used on cars in July 4 parades, "Judge Thomas North Election Committee" printed on his campaign letterhead, and "Judge North" used on a name tag, according to the court warrant.

Judge John Fitzgerald of Montmorency County, assigned to 92nd District Court for this case, dismissed counts three and four, concerning the name badge and stationery, January 8. Count three was dismissed with prejudice, meaning the charge could not be re-filed in the future. Count four was dismissed without prejudice, and the prosecutor, James Linderman of Emmet County, has 30 days in which he can amend this charge by changing the language.

Mr. Linderman was assigned to the case when Mackinac County Prosecutor Fred Feleppa, perceiving a conflict of interest for his office because the case could impact the campaigns of two candidates for the bench, requested another prosecutor be called in.

The difference in printed language between the car signs and the other materials is the reason the two counts regarding the signs were sustained by the court, while the others were dismissed, Judge Fitzgerald told The St. Ignace News Friday, January 16.

"There is case law, opinions of the Judicial Tenure Commission, and opinions from the Michigan Code of Professional Responsibility, so there are a number of resources that address this issue," Judge Fitzgerald said. "The outcome is still pending."

A good part of the day January 8 was spent arguing the legal points of the language by all parties, the judge said, and since then, further motions have been filed by Mr. North for consideration by the court.

Mr. North is representing himself and has requested a jury trial, Judge Fitzgerald said.

Does the judge anticipate a change of venue for this case, owing to Mr. North's longtime residency and former judgeship in Mackinac County?

Under the law, he said, "you must attempt to impanel a jury first. This case may or may not be tried in Mackinac County."

If the campaign materials are found to be in violation of the law, these are misdemeanor charges, each punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Judge Gibson was the winner in the November 4 election.

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