CMU alumna Sara Spencer-Noggle becomes first female judge in Isabella County

Judge Sara Spencer-Noggle sits in the courtroom before her investiture ceremony Friday, Oct. 18 at the Isabella County Trial Court.

Central Michigan University alumna Sara Spencer-Noggle just became the first female judge to serve on the bench in the Isabella County Trial Court.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed Spencer-Noggle to the position Aug. 13 after Judge Paul Chamberlain stepped down at the end of July.

“Sara is a well-respected and esteemed attorney," Whitmer said in a press release. "Throughout her career, Sara has been advocating for justice as an indigent criminal defense attorney. She will be a great addition to the bench.” 

Spencer-Noggle was sworn in and began serving as the first female judge in Isabella County on Monday, Sept. 13. She was officially robed at her investiture ceremony Oct. 18.

“It’s very exciting to be the first female judge, not because I think I’m going to make different decisions than my male colleagues, but because I think it’s important that the court looks like the community that it serves,” Spencer-Noggle said. “I like that my daughters and my son can see a woman on the bench and that becomes a normal thing, so my daughters can think about being a judge and other people's daughters can think about being a judge.” 

Although her three kids are only school-aged, she said she can see them going into law because they are pretty good at arguing.

As a kid, and even when she enrolled at CMU in 1995, Spencer-Noggle never pictured herself becoming a judge.

“When I was a kid I wanted to be an actress and a dancer, but I wasn’t good at either of those things, so it didn’t work out,” Spencer-Noggle said. “I was planning on being a theater major, but that didn’t work out because I wasn’t good."

After changing her major to political science with minors in Spanish and Latin American studies, she graduated with her bachelor's degree in 1998. In 2000, she graduated from CMU with a master's in political science before heading to Indiana University at Bloomington for her doctorate. 

“I thought I was going to do a Ph.D. in political science and travel the world and study Latin American governments, but the more that I did toward that, I realized I was really interested in legal stuff, so I decided to go to law school,” Spencer-Noggle said.

She completed one year at Indiana University and decided to transfer to Michigan State University, where she received a law degree in 2006.

During her last year in law school and following graduation, Spencer-Noggle worked in the legal division for previous Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm before becoming a prehearing attorney at the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Spencer-Noggle said she is excited to be working in Mount Pleasant where she and her family live. Her husband Robert Noggle Jr. has worked as a philosophy and religion faculty member at CMU since 1998. 

“The commute became a lot so I came back to Mount Pleasant to try to do good things in the community that I live in and I love,” Spencer-Noggle said.

In Mount Pleasant, she worked in private practice, spent a year in the prosecutor's office, managed the public defense system, and was appointed as the county's first public defender this year before being appointed as judge.

“I’m really happy where I am," Spencer-Noggle said. "My primary goal is to be the best judge that I can be, my second goal is to get elected.”

She a serving a partial term as a judge. In November 2020, she will have the opportunity to run for election. 

"The justice system holds a lot of weight in our government and I think it's the backbone of our democracy," Spencer-Noggle said. 

As a judge, the mandatory age of retirement is 70. Being in her early 40s, Spencer-Noggle has many more years of potential as a judge.

"If I’m very lucky, I’ll have a very long career on the bench, at this point what that means for me is the circuit court in Isabella county," Spencer-Noggle said. "I’m very happy here, I think there are many things I can do to make progress. I think I’ll be a really good judge, but what the future holds is very hard to predict.”