PETOSKEY — Emmet County County Circuit Court Judge Charles W. Johnson has announced his intent to retire from his position effective Jan. 1, 2021.
Johnson made the announcement in a statement issued Thursday.
Johnson has been the only person to serve as 57th Circuit Court Judge, since the circuit was created.
He was first elected by the voters in Emmet County in November of 1994, taking office January 1, 1995. Judge Johnson was re-elected in 2000, 2006, 2012 and 2018. At retirement, he will have served for 26 years as the first judge of the 57th Circuit, a new circuit created by the division of 33rd Circuit which formerly served both Emmet and Charlevoix Counties.
“It has been a privilege and high honor to serve the citizens of Emmet County for all these years,” Johnson said in the statement. “The courts exist to resolve disputes. I have worked hard to do this with excellence and integrity, by applying the law to justly decide the disputes that have come before me as judge.”
Circuit court handles felony crimes, domestic relations and civil litigation. Felonies are serious crimes where the maximum sentence is more than one year, and up to life in prison. Domestic relations includes divorces, paternity and support cases, and the related issues of custody, child support, alimony, and property division. The court’s civil docket is made up of personal injury litigation and other cases where the amount in dispute is more than $25,000, as well as real estate and zoning cases, personal protection order cases and other types of civil lawsuits.
Johnson said because of the seriousness and wide variety of the caseload, the judge’s work is interesting and challenging.
“I know that regardless of the type of case, it is extremely important to the parties, so I have to make sure to be well-prepared, to get to the bottom of the facts at issue, and to apply the law properly to reach a fair decision. After doing this for 26 years, I’m ready to pass the duties of the office along to whomever the Governor selects to succeed me. I will miss the interactions with jurors, litigants and the attorneys practicing before the court, but look forward to more time to travel and spend with my family.”
In addition to his judicial duties, Judge Johnson has served on the boards of North Central Michigan College, the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Community Foundation and Northern Community Mediation. He taught as an adjunct faculty member at North Central Michigan College, and is a member of the Petoskey Sunrise Rotary Club, a past member of the Petoskey Kiwanis Club and is active with the Petoskey United Methodist Church. He is a graduate of Northern Michigan University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Johnson practiced law in Petoskey for 16 years before election to the bench.
In the release, Johnson noted that he has led a collaboration between the court’s probation department and his church. The program utilizes probationers with community service obligations to work alongside church members in a vegetable garden at the church that Johnson oversees. The produce from the garden is donated to the Manna Food Project. Since 2009, about 30,000 pounds of food from the garden has been donated to Manna.
“The probationers benefit from this opportunity to do this meaningful work as part of their sentences,” the release reads.
Judge Johnson said he is grateful for the support he’s received over the years from local law enforcement, Emmet County administration, the staff of the county clerk’s office, the Friend of the Court office, the probation department and especially the court staff.
“The important work we do is a team effort. I’m fortunate to have worked with a team of extremely smart, dedicated and hard-working people,” Johnson said.
It will now be up to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to appoint someone to replace Judge Johnson on the bench for the remaining two years of his current term.
In mid-January Whitmer appointed Angela Lasher to fill a vacancy as the 90th District Court judge, which serves both Emmet and Charlevoix counties. Lasher, who was elected to the post earlier this month, was appointed to fill a vacancy created when former 90th District Court Judge James Erhart retired on Nov. 3, 2019. In that case there was more than a two month window in which the seat was vacant. Erhart announced his retirement in early August. A mix of other area judges, both current and retired filled in handling cases during that vacancy.