Voters to narrow field in 32-A District Court race

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published July 30, 2014

HARPER WOODS — For the first time in more than 30 years, Harper Woods voters will be choosing a new judge for the 32-A District Court, and they have a number of choices in terms of candidates.

The field will move from six candidates to two when voters cast their ballots during the Aug. 5 primary. In the November general election, voters will select the new judge from the final two candidates.

The new judge will take over for Judge Roger La Rose, who has spent the last 37 years in that position but is no longer eligible to run due to a stipulation that judges be less than 70 years old at the time of election.

Voters have six candidates to choose from in the August primary. The candidates include two current Harper Woods City Council members and the Harper Woods school board president. The six candidates are Keith Clark, Susan Dunn, Hugh Marshall, Lamar Moreland, Daniel Palmer and Brian Selburn.

To help give some insight into their thoughts on certain issues, the candidates recently answered multiple questions by email. They were asked how they see the future of the court and its role in Harper Woods, as well as how they see themselves contributing to that vision; if they believe the court can play a role in turning around juvenile offenders through programs or activities; if there were specific changes or programs they would like to implement if elected; and if they see any areas where the court could reduce costs.

The candidates also were asked to name a piece of legislation they would like to see enacted or changed that would impact the court system; what they believe is the primary consideration in setting bail amounts for defendants; and if they see themselves serving as district court judge well into the future — beyond the current term.

Here are examples of how the candidates tackled those questions:

Brian Selburn

As for his vision on the future of the court, Selburn thinks ensuring the court has a reputation for being tough on crime is essential so that residents can live in a safe and secure environment.

“This will also help us maintain our property values,” he said. “As judge, I would work extremely hard to contribute to building that reputation.”

In terms of legislation, Selburn focused on a proposal that had been raised by the State Court Administrator’s Office concerning the possibility of merging the district court in Harper Woods and the municipal courts in the Grosse Pointes to one large “mega-district court.”

Selburn believes it would be another move to erode local control.

“I would oppose this proposal because I believe our own resident judge can best help build a reputation for Harper Woods’ toughness against crime,” he said. “I do not believe a judge living in Grosse Pointe would be in the best interests of Harper Woods.”

When it comes to the court’s role in turning around juvenile offenders with programs and activities, Selburn believes the court has a job to fulfill.

“While most juvenile crime (under age 17) is handled by the Wayne County Juvenile Court, it is clear that the 32-A District Court has a responsibility to educate kids as to how the courts operate, as well as the consequences of their actions as they develop into young adults,” he said. “As president of the school board, I have already worked to get our schools more involved in doing this. As judge, I would also do whatever it takes to get their parents to be more responsible and get involved.”

When asked about changes or programs that he would like to see implemented, Selburn talked about fine collection and specialized courts.

With the court’s rules stating that fines will be collected when they are imposed, he wants to see the court “build a reputation that the 32-A District Court strictly follows those rules.” 

“I would also establish a 21st century website where people could pay their fines,” he said. “This would save people time and gas, while also helping to accomplish the actual collection of more fines.”

“I would also establish a bona fide sobriety court designed to reduce repeat drunk driving and a veteran’s court to help those who have served our nation with their unique set of issues,” he said.

With setting bonds, Selburn said the law stipulates that judges take safety of the community and the likelihood of the defendant returning to court as considerations.

“While returning to court is important, my primary focus would be to ensure the safety of our community,” he said.

Selburn said implementing a system of prepreliminary exams that many district courts have established would help save money. Police, victims and other witnesses would not need to come to court for a simple waiving of a preliminary done at a prepreliminary exam.

“While this may not specifically impact the court’s cost of operations, it would help the city lower its police budget while also allowing more officers to be on patrol rather than sitting around the courthouse,” he said.

As for the future, Selburn said he would be eligible to run again after the initial term is up at age 69, but said it is too early to say if he would do so at this time.

Daniel Palmer

For his vision of the court’s future, Palmer said “the court is an integral part of the community so it should always serve the community.”

“As judge, I will be a community leader, reaching out to all citizens,” he said. “I will strive to be accessible and have an open line of communication with our residents.”

In terms of legislation, Palmer said he supports, along with the Michigan District Judges Association, House Bill 5414 to phase out the Michigan Driver Responsibility Fee.

“As 62-B District Judge William G. Kelly recently testified, the DRF is very unfair since it is ‘a tax on the poorest people in our state, it is a second punishment for the same offense, it is very costly to local units of government, it is costly to collect, and it has nothing to do with traffic safety,’” Palmer said.

When it comes to the court’s role in turning around juvenile offenders with programs and activities, he believes it is very important, and he wants to interact and have a relationship with the youth in the community.

“In particular, the court should engage in outreach activities with the schools as a way to connect with our teens,” Palmer said. “As judge, I will offer to speak to students on the important role they play in the community and their responsibility to follow the rules.”  

When asked about changes or programs that he would like to see implemented, he has some ideas to help tackle some serious issues.

“I would like to explore the implementation of new programs addressing the seriousness of problems such as domestic violence and drunk driving,” Palmer said. “In addition, I favor the broadening of dispute mediation services.” 

With setting bonds, he said ensuring that the community is protected and that defendants return to court for their future court hearings are the two important aspects that a judge needs to consider.

“As judge, I will closely examine the defendant’s criminal history, past history of appearing for scheduled court hearings and ties to the community when setting bail amounts,” he said.

In terms of cost savings, Palmer has some ideas to help the court fund its operations.

“First, I support the reasonable increase of court costs to help pay for court operations,” he said. “Second, I will utilize technology and organize staff in ways to maximize efficiency and productivity, reducing the operating costs of the court.

“My experience as a corporate manager, along with my extensive experience as a practicing attorney, will allow me to manage the court in a manner that will help make it more fiscally responsible,” he said.

As for the future, he does intend to pursue long-term service as judge, if elected.

“Under current Michigan law, I would be eligible to serve three 6-year terms (18 years) on the 32-A District Court,” Palmer said. “That is my intention, if elected.”

Lamar Moreland

For his vision of the court’s future, he wants the court to remain community-oriented.

“We will reintroduce the law clinic with an emphasis on senior citizens’ issues,” he said. “We will engage the community on a regular basis with an eye toward educating the community and implementing community recommendations.”

In terms of legislation, he believes something needs to be passed to change regulations that hurt small businesses.

“We must pass legislation that would relieve small businesses of the burdensome regulations that result in criminal charges when not complied with,” he said. “It is an unjust situation that turns productive citizens into felons.  The court will actively lobby for such change.”

He does see a role for the court in turning around juvenile offenders with programs and activities.

“Yes, activities and programs are a vital prong in the plan to ensure that our young people continue to be productive citizens,” Moreland said. “The real answer lies with the community. 

“We must listen to the community to find out what the real needs are and what the solutions are,” he said. “Bringing a plan to someone who already has the answer is foolhardy. Let’s listen to the community.”

When asked about changes or programs that he would like to see implemented, he had some ideas that he believed would be beneficial to the community.

“I will re-establish the law clinic with an emphasis on senior citizen issues and establish ‘the office of the ombudsman’ to assist citizens in navigating corporate and government bureaucracies,” Moreland said.

With setting bonds, he named the nature of the offense, threat to society and likelihood of the defendant returning as the three considerations.

“No bond will be had in the case of murder,” he added. “No bond or a high bond would be set where the person is accused of child molestation. … A defendant who has a history of failing to comply with the court’s directives would receive a high bond relative to the alleged offense.”

In terms of cost savings, he believes the court is working at austerity levels and each dollar is spent effectively.

“Any reduction will result in a loss of services,” he said. “The real issue is how to expand services without enlarging the budget.

“As I indicated, I would implement the law clinic and the office of the ombudsman,” he said. “We will partner with law schools, foundations and corporations to fund and staff these functions.”

As for the future, he is looking at this as a long-term commitment.

“I have never been a desk prosecutor,” he said.  “I’ve historically worked 60-80 hours weekly working in the field, making hundreds of crime scenes and augmenting the needs of the police. I will bring the same work ethic to the court. The effect I hope to have on this community demands a long-term view.”

Hugh Marshall

On the future of the court, Marshall wants “increased access to justice for all residents,” especially those who are the most vulnerable.

“In contributing to this future as judge, my main focus would be to protect our residents and more aggressively enforce our existing codes and ordinances,” Marshall said. “City Council has recently passed new, tougher ordinances with more teeth and stiffer penalties for noncompliance, the goal being to ensure a high quality of life for our residents.

“Protection and quality of life can be achieved by providing more resources to our fine police department to assist them in continuing their excellent arrest record and conviction rate, thereby holding criminals responsible to the fullest extent of the law, sending a clear message that Harper Woods will not tolerate criminality or disrespect to our community by not complying with our codes and ordinances,” he said.

In terms of legislation, he would like to see changes to speed up the process for dealing with property owners who neglect their properties and allow them to deteriorate.

“As part of the legislation, I would like to see the enforcement powers similarly increased to hold such offenders, particularly repeat offenders, accountable and have increased powers to impose stiffer penalties and force compliance immediately rather than have these properties continue on in a state of disrepair,” Marshall said.

When it comes to the court’s role with juvenile offenders, he said that while juvenile court handles the majority of juvenile cases, he does see possibilities for the district court to implement positive programs.

“I wholeheartedly believe that programs and services can have a positive effect on juvenile delinquents and their families,” Marshall said. “I see it every day.”

He believes the court can work with other agencies.

“I believe that such an approach is critical if we are to reach our youth before it is too late and they, for whatever reason, take the wrong path in life,” he said. “Unfortunately, that path usually leads only to jails, institutions and death.”

When asked about changes or programs, he wants to see the court in the schools so students can learn to avoid bad decisions by seeing the consequences.

“As part of this initiative, I would schedule speakers to come into the schools to talk about the dangers of substance abuse,” he said.

He has ideas for programs to benefit adults, like a drug/sobriety court “to establish a period of continuous sobriety and also to discuss the positive aspects of being freed from the lash of substance abuse, obtaining a new attitude and outlook on life, and beginning the process of becoming happy, productive members of society.”

With setting bonds, he said risk to the community and considering flight risk are the two considerations.

“Of paramount importance is the protection of our residents, and no defendant should be shown leniency if he will likely endanger the safety of the community, or any other community,” he said.

In terms of cost savings, he believes most courts have seen severe cuts with staffing-level reductions and that more cuts would negatively impact effective operations.

“A better approach would be to increase revenues,” he said. “Our police department has over the past several years increased the amount of tickets and violations that they issue, which has led to an increase in revenue. We need to continue this trend. Other sources of revenue would be through stricter code and ordinance enforcement with stiffer penalties and hefty fines for noncompliance, especially to repeat offenders.”

As for the future, he said he has had a dedication to the community since buying their first home more than 22 years ago and raising their children in Harper Woods. He continued his community involvement as a council member and as a member in various organizations.

“If I am fortunate enough to be elected by the people, I will stay in the community until retirement and beyond,” he said, adding that he doesn’t aspire to climb the judicial ladder.

Susan Dunn

As for her vision of the court into the future, Dunn sees the court continuing the positive role LaRose established with the community.

“I would also like to be a role model to girls,” she said, adding that she’s worked her way up, adopted her first child while studying for the bar exam, and that she “took a leap of faith” by leaving the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office to go into private practice.

She said she has thrived through personal adversity.

“Women can do anything they need to; you can’t be afraid to keep testing yourself, and if I become judge, I’d like to be an example of that,” she said.

In terms of legislation, she named pending legislation to phase out drivers’ responsibility fees as important. She agrees with the position of the District Court Judge’s Association of Michigan.

“People get a ticket, then a fee they cannot pay and have their licenses suspended, then get another ticket for that and another fee,” she said. “It’s a vicious cycle.”

When it comes to the court’s role in turning around juvenile offenders with programs and activities, she does see a role for the court.

There is a way for the court to take jurisdiction of juvenile delinquency cases, but it is expensive, she said.

“If Harper Woods could afford it, I would like to see this happen,” she said. “In the meantime, I would like to see more interaction with schools and courts. I would love to see a court-at-school day where they actually hold court in the school gym or auditorium held several times per year. … I see a huge correlation between criminality and lack of education in my practice, and I firmly believe if kids excel in school, they stay out of trouble.”

When asked about changes or programs that she would like to see implemented, she wants to see a court work program, which she has seen implemented in Allen Park, where she has practiced law for years.

“Probationers automatically get a number of days on the court work program, doing a variety of tasks in the community such as planting flowers, helping seniors, cleaning up, etc.,” she said. “I am told that the community in Allen Park loves it; citizens and organizations call the court to request help. The program not only pays for itself, but makes money for the court.”

With setting bonds, protecting the community based on the severity of the offense is key. She would look at prior criminal record, as well.

“Also, to me substance abuse is a big factor,” she said. “If someone is using heroin, they aren’t going anywhere. Severe or chronic alcohol use is also a big factor; they are either staying in or getting an alcohol tether.”

In terms of cost savings, she said video arraignments are one way to help curb costs.

“I am told there is state money available for the equipment to facilitate this,” she said. “This would free up police from escorting defendants in and out of the courtroom (which is also dangerous and a potential flight risk; I remember one guy running across Harper). 

“Also, an online system of paying tickets and looking up cases, and an automated answering program directing callers to specific people, would save money,” she said. “Finally, incorporating the previously mentioned court work program would make some money for the court while helping the community.”

As for the future, she believes she has a good temperament and the intelligence it takes to be an effective judge.

“I believe that I would be there for the long haul,” Dunn said.

Keith Clark

His vision of the court’s future deals with making sure matters are litigated fairly and impartially.

“I would make sure that each person before the court would be treated with respect and given an opportunity to be heard,” he said. “I would use my experience teaching about the law to make sure that everyone in front of the court understands the nature of the proceedings. 

“I would use my experience on all sides of the legal system to hold people accountable through the use of increasing sanctions,” he said. “Finally, I would make sure that criminal defendants understand the impact of their behavior on the community at large and take responsibility for their own actions and their own future.”

In terms of legislation, he named a recent Michigan Supreme Court ruling that courts “have no legislative authority to impose court costs on criminal defendants.”

“This will have a tremendous impact on the operations of all district courts in Michigan,” he said. “There is a need for legislation to address this issue, creating authority for court to impose costs on convicted criminal defendants based upon the severity of the charges.”

When it comes to the court’s role in turning around juvenile offenders with programs and activities, he feels a court can be an important part of turning around juvenile offenders but that the district court does not have jurisdiction for most juvenile offenses.

“The 3rd Circuit Court Family Division-Juvenile handles cases with juvenile offenders,” he said. “Some courts have juvenile diversion programs, but in order for those programs to be effective, the courts need funding for specifically tailored programs.”

When asked about changes or programs that he would like to see implemented, he wants to consider alternate hours for people who work days so they don’t have to miss work to pay fines or other court business.

He wants to look at creating “problem-solving courts” that work on the “underlying roots of behavior while holding people responsible.”

“This includes any of the various drug courts which use judicially monitored intensive supervision, regular drug testing, mandated substance abuse treatment and increasing sanctions to reduce recidivism rates and substance abuse among nonviolent offenders,” Clark said. “Veterans’ court and mental health court are similar programs that focus on the particular needs of veterans and the mentally ill.”

He also mentioned a community court for things like ordinance violations, petty theft and similar offenses.

“The emphasis of community court is compensation to the community by making the offender pay back the neighborhood by giving back to the community damaged by their actions,” he said.

“I would also like to consider providing alternate hours so that working men and women can resolve traffic matters and ordinance violations without the extra costs of missing work.”

With setting bonds, he said public safety is the top priority and prior criminal record, seriousness of offense, threats, a defendant’s character and reputation for dangerousness are all determining factors.

In terms of cost savings, he doesn’t see a means for immediate savings, but possible long-term savings could come from a paperless system after investing in upgrading equipment and other needs.

“The focus should be on increasing revenue and taking full advantage of grant opportunities,” he said.

As for the future, he intends “to serve as district court judge until the citizens of Harper Woods no longer wish (him) to serve or (he retires).”