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Judge It Yourself District Court Elections

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This article is anoiker in a series focusing on the August tli Pfbnary election races. Next issue will conduele with features on those running for State Representative, Sta Ie Senator, Congress and County Commissioners. A complete list of all canclidates and SUN endorsenicnts will also appear next time. - - f The winner of the August 6th Primary will go on to compete in the November eïection. We at the SUN urge people to vote in the Primary and again next November. The American politica! system is obvtously in need ofmassive overhaul, but in the mean time the individuals in each r of these positions directly affect the concrete activitks ofus all. Have you ever been to court on the 5th floor of Ann Arbor 1 City Hall? Maybe for parking or traffic tickets? Or a weed bust, landlordtenant hassles, even shoplifting, or stumbling drunk. If so, you've been formally introduced to the 15th District Court for the City of Ann Arbor. The District Court deals with city ; inance violations, low misdemeanors that carry less than a year in the County Jail, ' Civil Suits under $10,000, and Small Claims Court. District Court Judges also . hold preliminary examinations to determine if there is enough evidence to bind someone over to Circuit Court in felony ! cases which carry a year of more penalty. For most people, first impressions of the court system are formed through contact with the local District Court; it has dia te and everyday effect on thousands of people's lives. District Court Judges try violations of City ordinances such as sign ordinances, parking ordinances, building ordinances, and of course the $5 weed ordinance. District Court Judges also try "low misdemeanors", raps like d&d (drunk and disorderly), shoplifting, and malicious destruction of property, wliich carry up to a year in the County Jailhole. In Small Claims Court, judges sit informally to hear civil suits of under $300. For example, if you wanted to sue your landlord, or if you paid someone to hx your car or paint your house and they didn t do it, you could sue them in Small Claims. The nice thing about Small uaims is that you üon t neea tolure a lawyer. lt sjust you ana the person you're sueing, before the Judge. You run your side of the story, your opponent runs their side, and in the wink of ■ an eye the Judge pronounces who wins. Two Judges Up For Elección In our next election we will be electing two judges to the 15th District Court. One of the seats up for grabs in I ently held by S. J. Elden, the reactionary judge who voidi . ed Ann Arbor's first $5 weed law two years ago. He'll ■ be running against Don Koster and Peter Collins. The j other seat is new. just created this year by the State [ Legislature. Five candidates are running for this $33,000 a year judgeship. The runoff primary tor both seats will be August 6lh, with the gen eral election in November. The State Legislature determines how many juüges mere win oe in a given district based J ' on population and case load. However, the j . bankrupt City of AA has no money to ï pay the new judge, nor do they even have J a courtroom, or an office, or money for . a staff. Whoever wins will certainly be restricted in wliat they can do and ■ will be in tor some weiraness when they take office. District Court judges are ful, they can turn people's lives around in a minute. They deal with more people than any of the other courts. They also have the power to change the whole way the court operates. In Detroit, for instance. corders Court Judge Chuck Ravitz does not display the American flag, or wear robes, he speaks people's languaee rather than the King's English. People don't have to stand when he enters the courtroom. He views and interprets the law through the eyes of the poor people who elected liim. Our District Court Judges have the same ability to change the court program. It's a sad tact, however, that few of the candidates running for the upcoming udge seats will even attempt to impiement any really tive programs to bnng people s courts into being. None ot the oanaidates are revolutionary, or even radicáis, such as Ravitz. although all painl themselves as at least reformeis. None of the present candidates will blow your mind and turn the court around. but we feel that two of the candidates have a significant history of practice and experience in Ann Arbor and warrant our support and endorsement. SUN Endorsement Don Koster and George Alexander get our nod for the District Cour! seats up lor election. Don Koster is 36 years old and far and away the most progressive candidate in ilic race. Don has practiced law in Ann Arbor for the past 8 years. and has been involved m local progressive itics for al least that long. He was active in detending peopie wno got Dusted üunng the '69 street fightin which erupted on South U after the City refused to allow the Free Concerts to eo on Whcn mass arrests happened during the LSA sit-in oí 1 970 he defended - protesteis and worked on the legal defense of BAM stnkers during '72. as well as defending a number of local activists over tne years. Koster's candidacy statement leads off with " is the function of the court to strive for the fair and equal application ot the laws of the state of Michigan, keeping firmly in mind that it exists to serve the people ahead of the state." Don wants to implement many progressive forms; if he can get away vvith even nalt ot tnem the court will be, j at least, more humane, open and accessible to the people. Most "professionals" view the court as a j collection agency for landlords and other businesses. Don wants to change this by inJ suring reasonable bond to people who wish J to plead not guilty and fight their case. He Josees it as the job of the court to "assure that ' ' it is not more difficult and expensive to have j! a hearing before a judge than to plead guilty and pay a fine." He wants to expand the l' court so that it has evening and weekend sessions for the convenience of working peo4 pie. Small Claims Court too, should hold ' evening and weekend sessions to make it easier for poor and working people to útili ize Small Claims. Don's work and commit ment in this community over the years, aJ long with his understanding of the change $ necessary in the court, make him our favor♦ ite candidate. George Alexander gets our support in the '. race for the newly created judge seat. 1 George is 43 years old and was the primary ' organizer of the Washtenaw County Public Defenders Office. He has been the director of that office since its inception in 1971. George wants to see the court streamlined to save the court's time and money, as well as the citizens'. His experience in organizing and directing the first Public ; Defender's office in Washtenaw County. his experience in being before iudges more than any of the other candidates except Koster, give him ; excellent credentials for being judge. He believes that the court personnel . the clerk, bailiff and court recorder have a lot to do with the atmosphere of the court. George wants new blood in the courtroom, so that it need not be a stuffy, intimidating place, but a more open and less uptight situation. Others in the race include: Ann Arbor Assistant City Attorney (prosecuting attorney) Bruce Laidlaw, somewhat of a liberal vvho carne with the Harris administration; Ann bor attorney Shiiiey Burgoyne, the only woman running j and a near winner of a Circuit Court Judgeship two years ago; local hiwyer Glynn Barnett from the tiini of Hiller. McCormick, Barnett und Creal; and James ♦ smith, Washtenaw County assistant prosecuting ï' torney. j. These candidates all run basically the same rap: ï1 streamliuing the courts. more people-oriented J' courts witli easy access to the citizens. tair and j. equal justice ander the !aw regardless of race. ■ color, creed or national origin. The same rap ' we've been hearing for years, the same rap . which later is ignored, creating the ■ tion we find ourselves in today. continued on page 22 J DEMOC? rs F L Y IMA, v v ■r-l GUST 6 Judges continued from page 4 From where we sit there is no indication from the statements of these candidates, or from their practice or activity over the years, that they would move to make even the minimal reforms necessary to make the courts begin to function on behalf of the people which they are supposed to serve. We believe Don and George are positive steps in the right direction. Use the power, register and vote.