Judge Raven says conflicts of interest would be minimal

October 21, 2012

Judge Mark Raven

THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH NICK KRIEGER’S RESPONSE.

In a recent newspaper interview Mason County Probate Judge candidate Nick Krieger stated that if his opponent, Jeff Nellis, were to get elected, Nellis would have many conflicts of interest as a judge because of the cases he’s tried in probate court.

“It will cost the taxpayers money,” he said, because the court would have to have another judge hear cases when Nellis has a conflict. Krieger stated that he expects there will be several conflicts because the same people return to court time and again, the newspaper article stated.

Mason County Probate Court Judge Mark Raven recently told the Mason County Press that Krieger’s statement is not true.

“I’ve had a number of constituents ask me that question and they have told me that Mr. Krieger has been making that claim,” Judge Raven said. “It is disheartening to hear this. Either Mr. Krieger is unaware of the facts or he is making statements that serve his political needs and desires. Either way, it is groundless.”

Raven has served as probate judge for 18 years and is retiring the end of this year. Earlier this fall he endorsed Nellis as his replacement.

Raven said if a conflict of interest were to arise, another one of the two Mason County judges – District Court Judge Peter Wadel or Circuit Court Judge Richard Cooper – would sit in place of the probate judge. If another judge were to be called in from another county the only cost to taxpayers would be mileage reimbursement.

“Visiting judges are not compensated. It’s not extra pay,” Raven said.

Raven sees the potential for conflicts of interest to be minimal.

“I have lived in Mason County most of my life,” Raven said. “My dad was the Michigan State county extension officer for 30 years, served as the county board of commissioners chairman and on the West Shore Community College board of trustees. I know just about everybody in this county.

Nick Krieger

“The issues with a judge isn’t whether you know a person or not, if that was the case then every time I turned around I would have to excuse myself. You need a judge who is active in his community. It’s irrational to think there would be multiple conflicts of interests, that’s why it doesn’t happen that often.”

“I respectfully disagree with Judge Raven that the conflict-of-interest question is a non-issue,” Krieger told Mason County Press.

“It is true that Judge Cooper and Judge Wadel are currently cross-appointed to decide any cases that the probate judge is disqualified from hearing. That tracks very closely with state statute, which requires that another judge inside the county have priority to hear the matter if one of the county’s judges is disqualified.

“Once Judge Wadel resigns or retires, Mason County will only have two judges. That bill has already been signed by the Governor and is part of Michigan law. It is going to happen. At that point, the probate judge will assume the duties of the district judge, and there will be a new agreement entered into regarding the disposition of cases, which will have to be approved by the Michigan Supreme Court.

“As has happened in other counties, the family division work will likely then be transferred back to the circuit court where this family law work legally belongs. Once this occurs, the circuit judge will have a much greater caseload and the probate judge, now acting as the district judge, will as well. It will then become likely that the circuit judge will not be available to hear the cases from which the probate/district judge must recuse himself. Remember, this will be true of both probate court cases and district court cases.

Jeff Nellis

“I’m not trying to manufacture issues here, and I don’t want to be seen as a “negative campaigner” for mentioning this. I did not even think of it as a potential issue until some of the Court of Appeals judges who I work with brought it to my attention.

“My intention is to simply point out that I will not have these conflicts of interest. And yes, the cost to the taxpayers for bringing in visiting judges will probably be limited to mileage and other incidental expenses. But why incur these costs? Those are just my thoughts on the matter.

“The critical question is not whether the judge knows a litigant,” Krieger said. “If this were the case, Judge Raven, Judge Cooper and Judge Wadel would all be perpetually disqualified from hearing cases. The relevant questions under the court rule are whether the judge has represented the litigant previously, whether the judge has worked on a case in which the litigant was involved, and whether the judge has intimate knowledge of the facts of the litigant’s case. As everyone knows by now, I don’t represent individual clients. Most of the prohibitions of MCR (Michigan Court Rule) 2.003 therefore would not affect me in the same way that they would affect Jeff.”

Mason County Press has been told that Judge Wadel also has publicly denounced Krieger’s statement as well.

 

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

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