There are two contested races this year for judgeships in Ingham County. In the 30th circuit court, attorneys Jim Jamo and Ken Ross are each vying for the bench. State representative Mark Meadows is challenging attorney Andrea Larkin to become a judge in 54B district court.
WKAR's Kevin Lavery and WKAR's Mark Bashore report.
This is attorney Jim Jamo’s second run for the Ingham County bench. He was narrowly defeated by judge Clinton Canady in the 2010 primary.
Jamo says he brings a skill set most attorneys and even many judges don’t have. He’s trained as both a case evaluator and a facilitative mediator; a neutral party that brings two sides together towards a resolution. Jamo says that mindset will serve him well on the bench.
“I think it’s very important that we have a judge with the right temperament and with the work ethic to study the law, hear the facts and come to a fair decision for both parties,” Jamo says. “And that’s my number one objective and job one when I get there, I believe.”
Jamo is running against Ken Ross, a former assistant attorney general and one-time commissioner of the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation.
“I really used that position as a way to be a consumer financial protection advocate for Michigan citizens,” Ross says. “And I think that particularly well prepared me to be ultimately someone who has good judgment, hence the term; and also someone who is fair and balanced.”
Ross believes Michigan has a disproportionately high incarceration and prison term rate. He notes that more than 20 percent of the state’s general fund budget is spent on prisons. Ross says state laws that mandate stiff sentences weaken a judge’s discretion, and he says dispensing justice while minding public tax dollars is a balancing act.
“As a judge, you should be in the business of evaluating the individual circumstances of the person before you to determine what’s the appropriate sentence,” says Ross. “And to tie the hands of those judges, to have mandatory higher sentences, has an economic cost and we have to be cognizant of that.”
Jamo agrees. He says judges should actively seek alternative sentencing when appropriate, such as drug courts that assign rehab treatment. But Jamo stresses that serious crimes merit the punishment the legislature has provided for.
“That’s the sentence that the judge has to and should impose,” Jamo says. “So, I don’t think we should not be sentencing people for serious crimes to incarceration just to get statistics down, obviously.”
The winner on November 6 will serve a six-year term on the 30th circuit court.
The contest to replace Judge David Jordon pits an experienced and reputable East Lansing attorney against a local public service icon.
Fifty-four-year-old Andrea Larkin spent years as a litigator at legal firm Dickenson-Wright before going freelance to help raise three kids. She says being a parent of college students will help in a courtroom where many MSU students come to experience justice.
Larkin faces outgoing state rep Mark Meadows, arguably East Lansing’s highest profile public official of the past 25 years: a former city councilman, mayor, assistant state attorney general and outgoing 69th district state rep.
Both candidates tout impressive qualifications, endorsements and mutual respect. But Judge Jordon, as well as four former East Lansing mayors back Larkin. She says they have a problem with Meadows’ legislative background.
“I think that’s all a very big negative for a judge,” Larkin says. “A judge is supposed to apply as written, not apply the law with all of the history, background, backdoor conversations and dealings that went into it.”
Meadows says his tenure with the city gives him insights that would be an advantage in a courtroom.
Larkin also resurrects claims that Meadows is violating the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct by pursuing a judgeship while holding office. Meadows says clarifications of the code by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission have settled the issue. He says the rule applies only to office holding in a party’s organizational machinery, its party officers, for example.
“(A) political party is the Democratic party of the state of Michigan,” says Meadows. “It’s a corporation that operates and I’m not in any way associated with it.”
Both candidates appear to be prepared for a close contest.