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Meet Michigan Supreme Court candidate Mary Kelly

woman sitting in front of shelf with blue books
Mary Kelly for Justice
Mary Kelly is a former prosecutor in St. Clair County and is running for the Michigan Supreme Court. Voters will elect two justices. There are seven candidates on the ballot.

Michigan voters will elect two justices to the state Supreme Court in November. Mary Kelly is one of the seven candidates. 

Candidate: Mary Kelly

Current Position: St. Clair County guardian ad litem

Nominated by: Republican Party* 

*All judicial candidates in Michigan are listed as nonpartisan on the ballot.

See all of Michigan Radio's state Supreme Court candidate interviews

During three decades of work at the St. Clair County prosecutor's office, Mary Kelly witnessed a lot of changes.

Kelly, who retired as senior assistant prosecutor, ran the county's Criminal Sexual Conduct Unit. She said the legal system's approach to cases involving children has shifted.

"For so many years, these cases didn't come forward. Children were afraid to talk. Parents and teachers and other members of the community didn't really know how to handle this information," Kelly told Michigan Radio.

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After Kelly retired, St. Clair County hired her to serve as the couty's guardian ad litem. In that role, she works on behalf of children in cases of alleged neglect. Kelly said today much more goes  into decisions about how and when to put children on the stand to testify.

"With a child victim, they're not adults, and they're scared," she said. "[It's the] thought of putting them in front of a jury and just being able to make it comfortable as possible."

A prosecutor's mindset

The nation is in the midst of ongoing debate over police practices and how policing should look in the future. Kelly spent 30 years prosecuting cases investigated by police. It's conceivable that a justice elected in 2020 could hear cases involving the actions of police or issues tied to police reform. How would Kelly pull back to view those types of cases without relying soley on a prosecutor's mindset?

"I believe that in every profession there are those that are not doing what they're supposed to be doing, and they're an embarrassment to the profession," she said. "When I'm arguing before a jury representing victims of crime and asking for conviction, it better be a well-investigated case. It all better be truthful, and there should not be any tolerance in any profession for those that aren't following the rules and are creating injustices for others."

The court's makeup 

"As a judge or a justice, it's the responsibility of that person to interpret the law in the manner it was written." -Mary Kelly

Mary Kelly is one of six white candidates for the Supreme Court this year. Libertarian Party nominee Katherine Mary Nepton, who is Native American, is the only person of color on the ballot. The current justices are all white. 

Kelly would like to see more diversity on the court, but also thinks each justice's job is clear.

"It always boils down to being fair and to being equal. And as a judge or a justice, it's the responsibility of that person to interpret the law in the manner it was written. If laws are not interpreted in the manner in which they were written by the legislature then they're not being applied fairly and equally," Kelly said.

She also lamented the exit of the last African-American justice to sit on the court.

"Kurt Wilder was a wonderful justice and he was up for reelection [in 2018] and he lost in the election. And that was very unfortunate for the court."

Beyond crime and punishment

The Michigan court system describes problem-solving courts as "innovative programs designed to address an offender's underlying problem." As a prosecutor, Kelly dealt with many drunk-driving cases that came through the system. 

"I was part of a committee that brought reform in the early 2000s. We put a wonderful program into our county jail. It's a 30-day inpatient program that focuses on dealing with the substance abuse and help these individuals so that they're not continuing to cycle through the same problems," she said.

"I definitely believe in dealing with the problem. Otherwise, people are going to cycle back."

Lauren Talley contributed to this story.

Editor's note: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can hear the full interview at the top of the page. 

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Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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