Cass County Judge Michael Dodge to retire at year’s end

Yet another fixture in Cass County law enforcement will be stepping down by year’s end.

Cass County Circuit Court Judge Michael Dodge announced Monday that he will not be seeking reelection in November, and will serve his last day behind the bench on Dec. 31, 2016. Dodge, who is 71 years-old, said his decision is predicated on state law, which mandates that Michigan judges cannot seek reelection past the age of 70.

The Edwardsburg resident has served as the county’s circuit court judge since 1982, when he was appointed to the position by then Gov. William Milliken. He has served behind the bench ever since, winning his last six-year term during the 2010 general election.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to remain healthy and to have the confidence of the voters for more than 30 years,” Dodge said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to have served this long.”

Dodge, a graduate of University of Detroit Mercy and University of Notre Dame, first became involved with the Cass County court system by landing a job with a Cassopolis law firm after the end of his service in the U.S. Army in 1971. Shortly thereafter, Dodge joined the county prosecutors office as an assistant prosecutor before becoming the county’s first full-time prosecutor in 1973.

In 1976, Dodge decided to run for his first judicial position, county probate judge, due in large part then Cass County Circuit Court Judge James Hoff, Dodge’s immediate predecessor. Dodge won his bid for probate judge, serving in that role until his nomination to the circuit court position in 1982.

“I’ve always been a firm believer in being prepared, professional and fair to both sides,” Dodge said about his philosophy on handling the many different cases that have come before him during his tenure.

Dodge’s career as circuit judge has been bookended by two major homicide cases he has presided over: the 1982 trial of Calvin Holmes, who was convicted of murdering 25-year-old Cassopolis woman Barbara Warthan and her 5-year-old daughter, Danielle; and the 2013 trial of Keith Lintz, who was found guilty of murdering Niles couple John and Carolyn Tarwacki.

In addition, it was during his time behind the bench that the abuse of methamphetamine exploded across Michigan, especially in Cass County. Working together with Probate Judge Susan Dobrich, Dodge has helped implement different drug treatment and other specialized courts over the last several years that focus on rehabilitation versus straight incarceration for these types of offenses.

“It’s been very rewarding,” Dodge said. “It’s a different approach to put people in these programs and see them take advantage of them and recover from their addictions.”

While his plans post retirement are still very much up in the air, Dodge and his wife Beth plan on moving to South Carolina after the end of his term, in order to be closer to their two sons who both live down south, Dodge said.

“My wife and I have enjoyed our time in Cass County,” he said. “We hope to come back on frequent basis to visit with the many friends we have made over the years.”

In addition to leaving behind a strong and committed staff in the circuit court, Dodge said he hopes that he leaves behind a strong legacy of service to the people of Cass County.

“I want to be viewed by county residents as someone they have been proud of, and as someone who they felt has handled the circuit court in a fair and professional way,” Dodge said.

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