Middlebrook to be sworn in as district court judge Dec. 30. 

December 24, 2020

District Court Judge-elect John Middlebrook.

Middlebrook to be sworn in as district court judge Dec. 30. 

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — On Dec. 30, John Middlebrook will be sworn in as the new judge of the 79th District Court. This will be the first time in 18 years the court has had a new judge, as Middlebrook replaces Pete Wadel, who is retiring (see related story here). Becoming a judge is the highlight of his career, Middlebrook said in a recent interview with MCP. “It’s a brand new challenge and I am really excited and looking forward to this.” 

Swearing in his replacement will be the last official act as district court judge for Wadel. 

Middlebrook, who most recently has been an assistant prosecuting attorney with the Mason County Prosecutor’s Office, said he has been conversing with Wadel about the transition. He has also spent time observing the three-term judge in action. This wasn’t much of a stretch since Middlebrook has spent most of his time in Mason County working in the district court on behalf of the prosector’s office. 

One of his top priorities is to start a sobriety/drug treatment court. 

“I would like to see about getting a probation officer in the district court to help monitor defendants. That costs money, obviously, but I think it is what’s best.” Middlebrook said the majority of criminal cases he deals with have some sort of drug and/or alcohol component to them. 

“If we aren’t able to do this, we will need to come up with other ways to make the defendant’s more accountable for their treatments.”

Middlebrook said courthouse security is another item that is high on his agenda. The topic was also brought up by Wadel and has been a concern of many courthouse officials for the past several years. It is also a subject that Sheriff Kim Cole has brought up many times in the past. 

“I know that increased security costs money, but saving one life is certainly worth that investment,” Middlebrook said. “In all the courthouses I have worked at, they have always gotten some type of security.” 

Middlebrook graduated from Southfield-Lathrup High School in 1980. He then attended Albion College, graduating in 1984 with a bachelor of arts degree in history. He received attended Wake Forest University Law School, graduating in 1987 with a juris doctor degree in law. He was on Law Review there.  In 2004 he received a teaching certificate from Appalachian State University to teach high school history and civics. 

He has worked as a prosecutor in North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado and, since 2013, in Michigan, when he and his wife, Dr. Tammy Middlebrook, moved to Mason County. 

“During my legal career, I have handled thousands of criminal cases,” Middlebrook said. “I have handled almost every conceivable criminal case from misdemeanors to felonies. I have conducted over 150 jury trials in my legal career, including 16 murder trials. The other types of cases that I have brought before a jury include rape, robbery, burglary, larceny, embezzlement, drug trafficking, felony assault, domestic violence, and OWI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated).”

He said he is now ready for the challenge of being a judge. 

“I’m looking forward to the variety of types of law that is practiced in the district court,” Middlebrook said. 

In Michigan, the district court handles most traffic violations, civil disputes seeking money damages up to $25,000, landlord-tenant disputes and criminal cases in which the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor that is punishable by not more than one-year imprisonment. 

“I have a lot of experience with criminal law and am excited to be able to study more about civil cases,” Middlebrook said. “The criminal cases get more exposure in the public but the district court plays an important role in solving civil disputes.” 

The district court judge may appoint magistrates, who set bail and accept bonds in criminal matters, accept guilty pleas, impose sentences for dog, game, traffic, motor carrier, snowmobile and boat law violations. The magistrate may also issue arrest and search warrants. Attorney magistrates may also hear small claims cases or perform other duties described in the statute, as directed by the chief judge. Mason County has an attorney magistrate.

Magistrate Glenn Jackson also ran for the district court judgeship. Middlebrook said he is looking forward to working with Jackson and building a strong team, along with the rest of the district court staff. 

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