Hartwell, Collins advance to general election for Hazel Park judgeship

Corbett comes up short for Oakland County treasurer

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published August 7, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — In the primary election Aug. 4, two faces familiar to Madison Heights voters competed in different contests — one prevailing, the other coming up short.

Brian Hartwell, until recently the mayor of Madison Heights and now serving a partial term as the judge of Hazel Park’s 43rd District Court, rose to the top of a crowded field, making him one of two candidates that will now square off for the six-year judgeship in the general election this November. He will be running against Kelly Collins, who was the second-place vote-getter.

Meanwhile, in the Democratic primary for Oakland County treasurer, Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett failed to eclipse Robert Wittenberg, the state representative for the 27th House district.

At press time, with all 26 precincts reporting for the judgeship primary, Hartwell won by a landslide at 5,108 votes. Collins had the next highest count at 2,870 votes, followed by Dennis Whittie at 1,730, Rudy Serra at 1,181, Michael Mitchell at 820, and Jim Osak at 258. Candidates for judge are nonpartisan. The Hazel Park 43rd District Court serves the cities of Madison Heights, Hazel Park and Ferndale.

Also at press time, most of the precincts had reported for the treasurer primaries. Here, Corbett pulled more than 51,000 votes, behind Wittenberg’s haul of more than 115,000 votes. Wittenberg will now proceed to the general election, competing against the candidate for the Republican party, which at press time was projected to be Joe Kent.

Hartwell was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier this year to fill the vacancy left by the previous judge, Charles Goedert, when he resigned — a partial term that was to expire after the new year. If Hartwell wins again in November, his tenure as judge of the 43rd District Court will extend at least another six years. Hartwell, a licensed attorney, had to resign as the mayor of Madison Heights in order to accept the judgeship position.

Corbett, meanwhile, did not have to resign from the Madison Heights City Council in order to run as a candidate in the primary for Oakland County treasurer.

The day after the elections, Hartwell took a moment to share his thoughts on his victory.

“I feel great. Public service has always been a passion of mine, and campaigning is probably the most important part of my job, since that’s the opportunity to speak directly to the community and ask, ‘How can I help you?’ That’s been the simple formula of how I won five elections in Madison Heights. It was, ‘How can the mayor’s office help you?’ Now it’s, ‘How can the court help you?’” Hartwell said.

“And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the runners-up — they’re my friends, they’re all remarkable attorneys and even better people. I reached out to them last night and congratulated them on their campaigns and ideas, and as a matter of fact I will be working with them on a project in the court in the future. We’re all trial attorneys — we’re taught to zealously compete against each other, but when the matter’s closed, we still respect each other — and I’m calling on them to give more to the court and the community, and they’ve answered that call.

“It’s important that the judge reflects the values of the community,” Hartwell said. “These are hardworking communities — Madison Heights, Hazel Park, Ferndale. A lot of people represent themselves. Think if you have a traffic ticket and you want to fight the traffic ticket. You might have to take a half-day off work and fight a prosecutor — you don’t want to fight a judge. You want a judge who understands the stress in your life.

“And most people who come before the court, it’s an isolated incident, so it’s the judge’s role to be patient and help shepherd these people through the system in a respectful manner,” he said. “That’s been my primary charge: to treat people with respect. I empower my staff to do the same. Even if you’re facing a punishment or fine, you still deserve basic respect and human dignity. But it’s also a perception issue — you want a judge who’s not perceived to be one-sided; you want a judge from the community that you will perceive to be fair. So of course I follow the letter of the law, but the law gives the judge a lot of discretion to recognize people make mistakes, and we’re here to help.”

As for Corbett, he said that he’s thankful for the opportunity to have run.  

“The result of the election was pretty much as expected, although we were hoping for better. My opponent had an eight-month head start and a $100,000 fundraising advantage on me, so I guess the result is not terribly surprising. But Rep. Wittenberg is a great Democrat and a quality public official. He deserved the win and will make a great treasurer for Oakland County,” Corbett said.

“Having said that, I’m very happy I made the race. County government has always attracted me for its potential to help enhance people’s lives and foster business development. It was a great experience, and I got to meet people from around the county and learn a great deal about how county government functions. It was a terrific experience, a lot of fun, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity I had to pursue this office.

“While I can’t rule out a future run for county office for now, my concentration needs to remain on my family, my work and my community service,” Corbett said. “There’s a great deal that needs to be done in our community over the next couple of years to recover from the pandemic and the effects on our business community.”