Judge Borrello leaving bench

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Saginaw County's chief circuit judge is retiring seven months early.

Citing the need to reduce his stress and spend more time with his family, Leopold P. Borrello has decided to step down next month.

"I'm healthy and I want to do something else," said Borrello, 73. "I might as well do it at my convenience. I'm starting to feel the stress more. It's time for someone else to take over. There are things I would like to do. I am going to do them.

"I'm going to be around a while," he said, referring to serving as a visiting judge as needed. "I will be around to help any way I can."

When Borrello steps down, Circuit Judge Robert L. Kaczmarek will become chief judge.

"I'm certainly going to miss him," Kaczmarek said. "He's a great guy and was great to work with. He has a great sense of humor."

Kaczmarek said he has acted as chief judge before in Borrello's absence.

"We have an experienced group of judges, and I don't think there will be any major changes in substance, just with style," Kaczmarek said.

The other circuit judges are William A. Crane, Lynda L. Heathscott and Fred L. Borchard.

In addition to spending more time with family, Borrello said he plans to continue serving as an American Kennel Club judge, traveling and relaxing.

Limits that prevent judges from running after they turn 70 would have forced Borrello to step down after voters choose his successor in the Tuesday, Nov. 7, election.

Borrello said he mailed his resignation letter to Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, state Court Administrator Carl L. Gromek and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. It's effective Friday, April 14.

Borrello's departure means that Granholm will appoint his successor, who likely will run in the November election as an incumbent for a six-year term.

In 1987, then-Gov. James Blanchard appointed Borrello to the bench. Voters returned him to office in 1988, 1994 and 2000. He has never had an opponent.

Borrello reflected on his work ethic.

"I haven't had two straight weeks of vacation," he said.

An only child, Borrello said he starting working when he was in the third grade for his father's business, Tony's Grocery Store, at South 11th and Annesley.

Borrello's headlines

Since joining the bench, Borrello has presided over several noteworthy cases.

In June, Borrello ordered sheriff's deputies to duct tape convicted bank robber Olatunji Kean's mouth shut during his trial because he refused to remain quiet.

He also plans to wrap up a one-man grand jury investigation of the April 29 blaze at Hemlock High School arson that caused an estimated $500,000 in damages.

In 1997, Borrello concluded a yearlong probe and indicted seven people, including County Board of Commissioners member Robert "Moe" Woods Jr. and former Buena Vista Township Clerk Willie C. Jenkins Sr., on charges stemming from improprieties in the August 1996 primary election.

Jenkins served a sentence of one year and three months to five years in prison for obstructing justice, conspiring to commit that crime, refusing to open public records and illegally appointing a deputy. A jury convicted Jenkins in 1998. He served a year in prison.

In 1999, Jenkins' deputy clerk, Maxine C. King, received a sentence of one year and a day to 15 years in prison for perjury, obstructing justice and conspiring to commit that crime. She pleaded guilty and served nine months in prison.

Authorities claim that King and Jenkins fabricated a document in October 1996 indicating that Woods was a ballot clerk who could legally handle absentee ballots. King then lied about it, investigators said.

State law prohibits candidates or their immediate family members from acting as ballot clerks. In the August primary, Woods was on the ballot along with his brother, James A. Woods, who was running for township trustee.

Woods was the last of the seven defendants to receive punishment. He paid $1,560 in fees and fines for two counts of willful neglect of duty and a single count of illegally acting as a ballot clerk during the 1996 Democratic primary. He pleaded guilty.

Borrello said he will finish two other cases: closing the books on 300 asbestos cases and a class-action lawsuit that residents along the Tittabawassee River have against Dow Chemical Co. over dioxin pollution.

The Court of Appeals plans to hear Dow's claim that Borrello wrongly allowed 2,000 property owners to sue the company as a class. The chemical giant says Borrello cannot lump every riverside resident -- each with different dioxin levels and property uses -- into a single group.


"We're losing one of the best judges that has ever been in any county in this state," said Sheriff Charles L. Brown.

Borrello, who is a member of the Saginaw County Crime Prevention Council, is deeply concerned about the problems in the community and the public's safety needs, Brown said.

"He's been an icon in this community. He's been a fair and stern judge," the sheriff said. "I'm not only losing a judge, I'm losing a great friend. I'm going to miss him."

Prosecutor Michael D. Thomas also is a close friend of Borrello's. They worked together in the same law firm before they became elected officials.

"It's going to be a big loss to the Circuit Court," Thomas said. "He has done an outstanding job.

"He has been a very accessible chief judge and a terrific friend through the years. You can't ask for anything more from a public servant than that."

Borrello's family includes his wife, Audre W. Borrello, and three sons, Stephen L. Borrello, an appellate court judge; Andre R. Borrello, a Saginaw attorney; and Murray Borrello, an Alma College professor.

Former state Rep. Jim Howell has announced his intention to run for Borrello's post in November.

Howell, a St. Charles Republican, has said he based his decision on his family's needs in the wake of the February 2004 car crash of his son, Samuel J. Howell. The younger Howell is recuperating from head and lung injuries. v

Darryl Q. Tucker covers courts for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9686.

2006 Saginaw News

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