George has served 19 years although she missed most of past two years
Macomb County Probate Judge Kathryn George will retire early next year after 19 years on the bench due to the lingering impact of injuries suffered in a car crash two years ago.
George, 70, who took the bench Jan. 1, 2003 following her election, hasn’t been on the bench for a year, last serving in November 2020 shortly after she won re-election to another six-year term. She served about one-third of the working days in 2020 following the 2019 traffic accident.
George was a nurse for many years before she started a legal career and served on the Sterling Heights City Council.
“My time on the bench was the highlight of my professional career and I will greatly miss serving the people of Macomb County,” George said in a news release from the county courts. “Unfortunately, medical issues caused by an auto accident have forced my retirement.”
Judge James Biernat Jr., chief jurist of Macomb County courts, said in a statement: “I have worked with Kathryn for many years, and I wish to offer my sincere congratulations on her retirement. I hope this next chapter in her life is a happy and fulfilling one, and I wish her all the best.”
The absence of George, who has been collecting a salary of $156,000 salary plus benefits, has placed a burden on the county courts.
Macomb Circuit Judge Carl Marlinga, a former probate judge, in September agreed to handle her wills and estates cases, which make up the bulk of probate cases. Marlinga retained his civil caseload while his civil docket has been split among the nine other circuit judges who carry a criminal/civil docket. Marlinga had been taking probate cases on and off during George’s absence.
Biernat and circuit Judge Matthew Switalski have been splitting the remaining cases involving mental incapacity and the developmentally disabled.
George is one of two judges at Macomb Probate Court; the other Judge is Sandra Harrison, who also has taken on an increased caseload.
George’s seat will be filled by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who also is expected to appoint a replacement for retiring Macomb Circuit Judge Mark Switalski, who serves in family court, and is leaving in January with three years left in his term.
Finalists for Switalski’s position are said to be Judge Matthew Sabaugh of 37th District Court in Warren; Elizabeth Pyden, who was defeated in 2018 by Judge Julie Gatti for a newly created judgeship in Macomb County; and Teri Lynn Dennings, who ran for one of two open seats at Macomb Circuit Court in 2016 that were captured by judges Michael Servitto and Rachel Rancilio.
George for a time was chief probate judge and served as chairwoman of the county Election Commission, which among other functions approves or rejects ballot language for recall petitions.
George in her statement commended Harrison “for her collegiality and tremendous assistance” while serving.
“I also wish to thank the current and former Macomb County Probate Court and Circuit Court judges,” George said. “It has been an honor to have served alongside all of you.
“In addition, I wish to express my gratitude to my personal staff, the Macomb County Probate Court staff, and the court administrators. Their professionalism and commitment throughout my time on the bench has been exceptional. A special thanks to the Macomb County legal community for their exemplary service to Macomb County.
“Finally, I wish to thank the voters and residents of Macomb County, who provided continuous support for the last 20 years. It has been an honor to have served as your judge.”
George earned her law degree from the University of Idaho in 1988. She was appointed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board by then Governor James Blanchard and later worked as a general practitioner with an emphasis on probate and family law.
She has received awards from the Macomb County Probate Bar and the Macomb County Bar Association. In 2005, the Michigan National Guard presented her with an award for her support of U.S. military members and their families. In 2007, George was inducted into the Macomb County Hall of Fame for her outstanding community service. She received a Certification of U.S. Congress Special Recognition for valuable and dedicated assistance to Macomb County and its communities.
George grew up in Macomb County and earned a register nurse
certification from Harper Hospital School of Nursing in 1973 and a
bachelor’s of science degree in nursing from Oakland University in 1985,
working as an acute care nurse before beginning her legal career.