BAY CITY, MI — As one Bay County judge readies to retire from the bench, a local attorney is throwing her hat in the ring to be elected as his successor.
Jessie Scott Wood on Tuesday, Feb. 15, announced her candidacy for the 18th Circuit Court judgeship in Bay County. The seat is currently occupied by Harry P. Gill, who was first elected to it in 2010.
“It has been my honor to work for the families of Bay County for almost 30 years in the private practice of law,” Wood said. “Today I am excited to serve the community in a larger capacity.”
Wood said she has a wide range of legal experience that would bring a depth of knowledge of the law and compassion to the judgeship.
“Family law makes up the largest part of the Circuit Court’s responsibility, and it has been my focus as an attorney for the last two decades,” Wood said.
Family law includes divorce, custody, paternity, and child support matters. Wood also had abundant criminal law experience in the early years of her practice.
In 2010, she was voted “Favorite Family Lawyer” by Great Lakes Bay Magazine.
“Although I spend many hours advising clients in my office, when it comes down to it, I am a courtroom attorney,” she said.
Wood is a member of the Bay County Bar Association and has served as a board member and president. She has also represented the county in the State Bar Representative Assembly.
“I felt it was important that Bay County be properly represented in Lansing,” she said. Most recently, she served on the Judicial Qualification Committee of the State Bar, an organization that evaluates judicial candidates for state court vacancies.
Continuing legal education has been a hallmark of Wood’s career, including continued certification in the Family Law Certificate program with the Michigan Institute for Continuing Legal Education. In her early years of practice, she regularly participated in continuing education provided by the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan.
Wood is a Bay City native who graduated from Western High School in 1982. She then attended Delta College before transferring to the University of Michigan, where she received her bachelor’s degree in 1986. Following graduation, Wood worked as a merchandising manager for Hudson’s Department Store in Novi, but she could not long resist the call of the law, a call that began years earlier.
When Wood was in high school, she served as a runner in the law practice of her late father, James Scott Wood, who practiced in Bay City for more than 50 years. Wood’s high school experience showed her why her father loved the legal profession. Wood said she found herself drawn to the client contact as well as to the camaraderie of the Bay County attorneys, judges, and courthouse staff.
In 1992, Wood graduated at the top of her class at the Detroit College of Law. As student director of the Moot Court Team in her senior year, she was selected as Best Oralist for her presentation in the Cardozo Moot Court national competition. She also was named Outstanding Woman Law Graduate by the American Association of Women Lawyers.
While attending law school, Wood clerked for the Detroit firm of Honigman Miller, which led to a job offer. However, Wood returned to Bay County to work with her father for 10 years until he died in 2003 at age 83.
Today, she and her brother Daniel MacPhail Wood practice together as owners-partners of The Wood Law Firm, 721 Washington Ave. in downtown Bay City.
“Respect will be my core principle — respect for all who appear before the court,” Wood said. “I have led thousands of clients through the court system, and they have shown me that being in court can be one of the scariest things a person will ever encounter. It should not be. I promise to work with empathy, evenhandedness, and a deep respect for the law to serve justice. I am committed to the citizens of Bay County and will administer the law with fairness and balance.”
Wood has been married for 24 years to Kent Miller, a tenured photojournalism professor at Central Michigan University. Their daughter, Betsy, is a junior at Carnegie Mellon University, and their son, Jamie, is a senior at John Glenn High School.
Wood has volunteered with the Bay City Players for more than 40 years and has acted as chaperone and costume helper in the Bangor John Glenn theater program.
Due to his age, Judge Gill must retire once his term ends this year. The Michigan Constitution prohibits a person from being elected or appointed to a judicial office past the age of 70; Gill is now 71.
“My father used to say that life was a matter of time,” Gill said. “Eleven years ago, the people of Bay County elected me as a judge of the 18th Circuit Court. I am extremely grateful to the voters of Bay County for twice electing me judge. It is my hope that my fellow citizens believe that I have worked diligently on their behalf and have tried earnestly to make the best decisions I could based on my experience and abilities.”
Gill has endorsed Wood to take up his mantle.
“I am very hopeful that the person who the voters choose to replace me will be well qualified by reason of temperament, experience, and judgment to serve in this very important position,” Gill said. “The decisions made by a judge have profound consequences for the people who appear before the court. I am thrilled that attorney Jessie Scott Wood has announced her intention to seek election as my successor. I enthusiastically and without qualification endorse Jessie Scott Wood to succeed me as a Circuit Judge here in Bay County.”
Gill lauded the breadth of Wood’s legal experience and knowledge.
“Family law is one of the largest parts of a Circuit Judge’s caseload,” Gill said. “As a judge, I have had countless opportunities to observe Jessie’s professionalism, integrity, preparation, and the skill she brings to the courtroom on behalf of her clients’ causes. These are qualities that will follow her to the bench, and which are critically important to a person who wishes to serve as judge.”
The incumbent judge added he is impressed with Wood’s even temperament and the respect she shows her adversaries, even in heated moments.
“Respect and temperament are essential qualities in a jurist, who must treat all who come before him or her with respect, no matter what that person may have done, or is accused of doing, if justice is to be served,” Gill said.
Gill also said Wood is interested in presiding over the Bay County Recovery Court, or Drug Court, a program developed during his time on the bench. The specialized court helps those caught in the criminal justice system recover from drug addictions and reclaim their lives.
“This Recovery Court has helped countless people and is a program near and dear to my heart,” Gill said. “Jessie has the compassion and perseverance necessary to take the Recovery Court even further to a higher level.”
If more than two candidates file for the judgeship, their names will appear on the Aug. 2 general election ballot, with the two who garner the most votes advancing to the Nov. 8 general election. If two or fewer candidates run, their names will only appear on the latter ballot.
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