West Michigan attorney Elizabeth Welch announces run for Michigan Supreme Court Justice position

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By Cynthia Price

Elizabeth Welch says about her recently-launched run for the Michigan Supreme Court, “I’ve been fairly well-known for being civically engaged, so as the years have gone on I’ve had several people ask me to run for office, including this particular position. But the timing was not right for me personally or in my practice.

“I was approached again about a year ago, and I was able at that point to step back and say, yes, I can run this big rigorous race,” she says, smiling.

First on the agenda – a requirement that has her speaking all across the state – is getting the endorsement of the Democratic Party, which will take place at a convention specifically for endorsement purposes to be held March 21 at the Lansing Center.

Though the position is, as it should be, nonpartisan – and Welch feels that her history of working in a bipartisan fashion is an excellent qualification for it –  both major and minor political parties may make nominations. (People not seeking a party nomination may also appear on the ballot by obtaining 30,000 signatures on a petition.) Party affiliation will not appear on the ballot, but the parties are able to help with campaigning and spreading the word.

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack must run again as an incumbent, and is virtually a shoo-in for one of the Democratic party nominations (which, as opposed to endorsement, take place later in the year). But since Justice Stephen Markman, himself a former chief justice, has “aged out,” there is an additional open seat, the one for which Welch will compete.

Welch says that so far as she knows, she is so far the only one who has declared she is running.

The need to provide her case for the endorsement convention means Welch has been extremely busy, but she is enjoying it. “I am in the car almost daily over to metro Detroit  – three to five times a week. I’m less known over there, and there are more people, though I do hope to be able to take the time to work something out with people in the Upper Peninsula, and I’ve been touching on the middle of the state too. But even though it’s tiring, it’s really good to get to know other people and hear what they’re thinking,” she says.

One of the reasons she agreed to throw her hat in the ring is that the four children of her blended family, resulting from her 2016 marriage to Brian Schwartz, are all either in or have graduated from college. Their eldest recently graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Welch herself is a graduate of East Grand Rapids High School. She then took off to get her undergraduate degree at Penn State, which she received magna cum laude. She obtained her J.D. from Ohio State University School of Law; she was Research Editor of the Law Journal and had a Note published there.

Following that, she worked for Greenebaum Doll & McDonald in Louisville, Ky., focusing on labor/employment law as she does currently.

“I got a recruiting call from here in Grand Rapids, and I decided to come take a look at moving home. I talked with at a few firms and decided on Miller Johnson, where I practiced until 2004,” Welch says. Again her focus was on labor/employment law.

But, she adds, “After I went on my own I did some criminal law. I was Of Counsel at the law firm of my then-husband, Jerry Lykins, and we shared a space. That was very fortunate, to have a chance to see a broad swath of the criminal justice realm. I’ve also done pro bono abuse and neglect work.”

Now less focused on litigation (and she is also a trained mediator), Welch helps companies with wage and hour compliance, hiring/terminations, leave issues, and more, and individuals with employment contract disputes, employment agreements, non-compete matters and more through her solo practice, WelchLaw. She has a great deal of experience practicing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and the state/federal Departments of Labor.

“We try to find the best solutions for everybody,” Welch says about the decreasing litigation she is seeing. “The litigation process is very expensive, so we all as attorneys help navigated the best way to solve problems. Certainly in the employment realm there are cases with high emotions. A lot of my clients are small employers who are working very hard to do the right thing. So when the decision is made to terminate or something along those lines, it’s taken very seriously.”

At the same time as her practice has thrived, Welch has worked very hard in the community. Probably best-known for her tenure on the East Grand Rapids School Board, where she did a lot of legislative advocacy work on education issues, she has also been on the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (MLCV) board and was president of the MLCV Education Fund.

Welch has also served the Steelcase Foundation (including as vice-president), the Grand Valley University Foundation, Home Repair Services (a non-profit serving low-income homeowners where she was board president), Camp Henry, Westminster Presbyterian Church, and DA Blodgett-St. John’s Home. She has an ongoing commitment to the West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology, the organization that engages youth through the arts, where her late father was a founder.

Along with serving as a Grand Rapids Bar Association trustee, publishing articles in academic and industry publications and presenting at seminars, Welch has received a number of honors. These include being named one of the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s “40 Under 40”  leaders in 2009, the Women Lawyers Association Western Region’s Outstanding Member Award, the Michigan Association of School Administrators Region 3 volunteer award in 2013, East Grand Rapids Public Schools PTO Member of the Year that same year and, in 2019, the EGR School Foundation’s Community Leader Award.  She has received the MLCV Community Leadership Award, and in 2017, the Michigan Democratic Party’s “Best of the West” Leadership Award.

 Recognizing that as a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, “your number one job is to make decisions,” Welch says, “I really would also like to jump in and help the chief justice on criminal justice reform and access to justice in the civil are.  The court has an excellent platform to try to make  sure there are good systems in place, and has done a good job of trying to pull the curtain back to make it more public. Chief Justice McCormack is amazing, and I would follow her lead as to where I fit in.

“Right now the court seems to be very high-functioning with a high level of collegiality. That’s that piece you can’t underestimate: the value of camaraderie and collegiality. With my experiences in this very collegial bar in Grand Rapids, I think I could bring a lot to the table in adding to that,” Welch says.

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