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Published: Saturday, 3/31/2012

Monroe Co. judge takes job with prosecutor

Costello to become office's chief assistant

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Veteran Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Costello, Jr., will move to the prosecutor's office in April. Veteran Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Costello, Jr., will move to the prosecutor's office in April.
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MONROE -- A longtime Monroe County Circuit Court judge announced Friday he will step down from his post to take a job in the county prosecutor's office.

Judge Joseph Costello, Jr., 55, who has been a judge for 26 years, will have his last day on the bench April 13, and will go to work as the chief assistant prosecutor April 16.

"Frankly, I'm looking for a new challenge," Judge Costello said. "I think I've accomplished everything I could in my current capacity."

The judge started his judicial career when he was 29 years old, serving in Monroe County Probate Court from 1985 to 1996, and, in 1997 moving to the circuit court.

He said he knew about two years ago that he was ready for something different. He first started looking for teaching jobs, but when that didn't work -- and with word spreading that he was looking to move on -- he received numerous offers from various people, he said.

"There were even attorneys dropping hints that they were willing to rent office space out to me," he said with a laugh.

At about the same time, county Prosecutor William Paul Nichols, who lost two long-time prosecutors to retirement, contacted the judge and said he wanted to "reorganize" the office, asking if he would like to be the chief assistant.

Judge Costello, who had until Monday to decide, finally settled into his final answer Friday.

Current Chief Assistant Jack Simms, Jr., will become a senior trial attorney once the judge takes on his new role, Mr. Nichols said.

"He's an ideal fit," Mr. Nichols said of the judge. "We're excited and look forward to him starting."

Although the judge is looking forward to the new job, it doesn't come without some sadness. "I'm going to miss it all," Judge Costello said. "I'm going to miss my colleagues, my staff. I have the most wonderful staff in the courthouse. ... I'm not going to miss the isolation of the job.

"That's really tough for judges," Judge Costello said. "This is a very isolated job ... When you close that door to your chamber and look around, you think, 'This is it. It's just me. All of the responsibility is on me.' I won't miss that."

The position also comes with a significant pay cut -- as a circuit judge, Judge Costello was paid about $140,000; his new position pays a salary of about $84,300, according to the prosecutor's office.

The judge did say he is looking forward to the more active position in the prosecutor's office -- there will be, he said, a lot less sitting.

As the assistant chief prosecutor -- making Judge Costello second in command -- he expects to help with office management, trying cases, and anticipates acting as a liaison to boards that interact with the prosecutor's office, he said.

The timing, the judge said, worked out well. "Maybe it was a blessing," he said.

He was to hear a civil case a week from Monday, but the parties have stated they needed more time to prepare, clearing up any timing issues. The judge said that, on Tuesday, he and Judge Michael Weipert, who has been the family court judge since 2004, will switch dockets. On April 16, a visiting judge will be brought in to handle family court matters and, eventually, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will appoint a new judge.

Judge Costello said that, because he is leaving so early in the year, there will be an election to fill his seat for the remainder of his term, which expires in 2014.

"I'm very grateful to my home county," Judge Costello said. "I promise I'm going to work just as hard ... They're going to have to hold me back."

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @tdungjen_Blade.



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