Middlebrook, Jackson running for district court judge.

September 24, 2020

Middlebrook, Jackson running for district court judge.

#Election2020

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

On Tuesday, Nov. 3, voters in Mason and Lake counties will select a new judge to preside over the 79th District Court. Two men are running for the position. Glenn Jackson, 38, is currently the district court’s attorney magistrate. John Middlebrook, 59, is an assistant prosecutor for the Mason County Prosecutor’s Office. To learn more about the role of the district court, click here.

MCP recently asked both men a series of questions. Here are their responses. 

MCP: Please talk about your education history: 

MIDDLEBROOK: I graduated from Southfield-Lathrup High School in 1980; I then attended Albion College, graduating in 1984 with a bachelors of arts degree in History. I attended Wake Forest University Law School, graduating in 1987 with a juris doctor degree in law and was on Law Review there.  In 2004 I received my teaching certificate from Appalachian State University to teach high school history and civics. 

Glenn Jackson

JACKSON: I have a bachelor’s degree from Hiram College in political science and a juris doctor from Thomas M. Cooley Law School.  My particular areas of interest in school were the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and 14th amendments of the United States Constitution.

MCP: Please talk about your work history: 

JACKSON: In my last year of law school, I was involved in an externship program that allowed me to practice law in Washtenaw County as a public defender.  I practiced in the district court of Chelsea and Ypsilanti and in the circuit court of Ann Arbor.  During the course of this program, I learned a great deal from the attorneys, court staff, and defendants that I worked with.

After graduating, I was admitted to practice law in June of 2008.  By August of 2008, I was hired by (then) Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Susan Sniegowski to be an assistant prosecutor.  In 2009, Paul Spaniola became Prosecutor, and I was subsequently promoted to chief assistant prosecuting attorney.

I spent the next six or seven years at the prosecutor’s office covering the district court docket and filling in on the circuit court (51st Circuit Court), probate, and juvenile court dockets.  I then volunteered to take over working with the Department of Health and Human Services on child abuse and neglect in juvenile court.

In April of 2019, I was hired by Chief Mason County Judge (and Probate Court Judge) Jeffrey C. Nellis, and current 79th District Court Judge, Peter J. Wadel, to become the attorney magistrate and court administrator for the 79th District Court of Mason County.

I was also an adjunct professor at West Shore Community College for approximately seven years.  While there, I taught prospective police officers criminal law and procedure.  Many of our local police officers were once my students.

MIDDLEBROOK: After graduating from law school and passing the North Carolina Bar exam, I began my law career as an associate attorney in Winston-Salem, N.C. working under attorney Robert Hinshaw. While working with Mr. Hinshaw, I was on the court-appointed attorney list for indigent criminal defendants, and I also did general legal practice and real estate work. Next, I took a job with the law firm Womble, Carlyle, Sanbridge, and Rice, where I was involved in civil litigation. 

John Middlebrook

In 1990, my wife and I moved to Norfolk, Va., where I passed the Virginia Bar exam and was hired as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney working for the City of Newport News. Eventually I was promoted to a deputy commonwealth’s attorney, and later became chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney.  As a commonwealth’s attorney, I handled all types of criminal cases, including: 16 murder trials, a capital murder case, rapes, robberies, drug trafficking, burglaries, and larcenies. In addition, I was the prosecutor assigned to a domestic violence court for several years.

In 1996 our family moved to Loveland, Colo.  I was not required to take the Colorado Bar exam and was admitted to the practice of law there based on my years of legal experience.  I was hired as an assistant district attorney for Larimer County, Colo. I was assigned as a prosecutor to the district court in Loveland. Additionally, I handled special prosecution felony cases for neighboring counties when needed. As a district court prosecutor for Loveland, I managed all types of misdemeanor cases, including DUIs (drink while under the influence), assaults, and property crimes, for the southern half of Larimer County.

In 2002 we moved to Boone, N.C., to live closer to my wife’s parents.  The local prosecutor’s office was not hiring at that time, so I returned to school at Appalachian State University and received my certification to teach high school history and civics. While obtaining my certificate, I was a substitute teacher in Watauga and Ashe County Schools. After becoming certified to teach, I taught high school history and civics for several years in the Ashe County and Watauga County school systems. 

In the fall of 2006, I accepted a position as an assistant prosecutor with the 24th   Judicial District in Boone, N.C., where I served as a circuit court prosecutor until September 2013. While working for the 24th District, I handled all forms of felony trials and misdemeanor appeal trials for that District, which encompassed five counties. During that time period I handled hundreds of criminal cases every year and averaged approximately 20 jury trials per year.  

In 2013, when our two oldest daughters decided to attend college at the University of Michigan, our family moved to Ludington. I was allowed to waive into the practice of law in the State of Michigan based on my prior years of legal experience.  I was then hired by (Mason County Prosecuting Attorney) Paul Spaniola as an assistant prosecutor in Mason County at the start of January of 2014.  As an assistant prosecutor for Mason County, I have handled a broad range of misdemeanor and felony cases, but my primary assignment has been as the assistant prosecutor in district and juvenile courts.  

MCP: Please talk about your work history and your current position and how they have prepared you to be a judge: 

MIDDLEBROOK: During my legal career, I have handled thousands of criminal cases. I have handled almost every conceivable criminal case from misdemeanors to felonies. I have conducted over 150 jury trials in my legal career, including 16 murder trials. The other types of cases that I have brought before a jury include rape, robbery, burglary, larceny, embezzlement, drug trafficking, felony assault, domestic violence, and OWI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated).  Being a prosecutor it was my task to present the state’s case because the prosecution always has the burden of proof. Therefore, I know how a trial is properly run and fairly presented.  I know the rules of evidence and elements of the crimes. I know how to prepare jury instructions. Finally, I know the proper demeanor a judge needs to have while conducting a trial. 

In addition to trial experience, I have a lifetime of people experience. I have spoken to the victims of the cases I have prosecuted, and I’ve empathized with what they have gone through and how the actions of criminals have affected them. As a result, I will hold defendants accountable for their actions. 

Having interacted with defendants throughout my career as well, I understand that many are good people who have made mistakes. I have always treated defendants fairly and respectfully. In cases involving young, first-time offenders, when appropriate, I try to divert them so they don’t ruin their future with a criminal conviction. In a majority of criminal cases, the defendant is embarrassed, and truly remorseful for his/her actions, and never returns again to the criminal system. Unfortunately, some individuals do not share these traits and they are repeat offenders.  This is an especially bad situation when the repeat offenders commit violent crimes against a person or crimes that involve public safety.  When I’m dealing with these individuals, the safety of the public and the victims is my priority. If elected judge, I will not hesitate to use every means at my disposal to protect our community from these individuals.  

While a prosecutor for the 24th District in North Carolina I had the opportunity to participate in a drug treatment court. I saw firsthand the success that this court had in changing the lives of people with drug and alcohol addictions. I would like to see a similar court started here in Mason and Lake counties. In criminal cases involving substance abuse, and/or mental health situations, we must seek out solutions that help end the cycle of recidivism involving their crimes. We need to try every means to help these individuals redevelop into productive members of our community.

I believe my experience as a teacher has helped shape my views on youthful offenders. Having worked for two years at an alternative high school for troubled teenagers, I understand and sympathize with youthful offenders. I have witnessed how growing up in disadvantaged and dysfunctional home settings has affected young adults in and out of the classroom. If elected judge will try to redirect youthful offenders so they do not end up in the criminal system as repeat offenders.    

During my legal career I have had the opportunity to argue cases before approximately 80 judges, including the judges here in Mason County. As a prosecutor, I have handled cases before Judge (Pete) Wadel, Judge (Richard) Cooper, Judge (Susan) Sniegowski, Judge (Jeffrey) Nellis, and Judge (Mark) Wickens.  My experience in appearing before so many great judges will help me bring the appropriate demeanor and integrity to the court as a judge.

For almost seven years I have been primarily assigned as the assistant prosecutor handling cases in the 79th District Court and Juvenile Court for Mason County. This has given me great insight into what is going on in this District and I will take that knowledge with me should I be elected judge. 

JACKSON: Although the stakes may not be as high as in circuit court, district courts are high volume courts that cover a wide variety of cases. Thus, district judges need to be able to efficiently handle both civil and criminal matters.  Through my roles as a prosecutor, attorney magistrate, and court administrator, I have gained the requisite diverse knowledge and experience to become District Judge.  Whether it be a civil infraction, misdemeanor, felony, or a case involving landlord/tenants, dangerous dogs, claim and delivery, general civil, or any other type of case, I have experience with the entire slate of cases.

As Mason County’s attorney magistrate, I already perform a number of functions that district court judges often perform, including:  probable cause determinations, probable cause conferences, search warrants, arraignments, traffic tickets, small claims, plea and sentencings, and a number of other matters.

As Mason County District court administrator for the past year and a half, I’ve managed and developed great relationships with the court’s staff.  I have also managed the court’s budget, policies, and reporting requirements.

Finally, over the past year and a half, I’ve had the added benefit of being able to review and discuss the law and different types of cases with Judge Wadel.

While I learned a lot in my 10 years at the prosecutor’s office, I believe that it’s been my time in the district court as attorney magistrate and administrator that’s puts me in the best position to be district judge.  It would be much more difficult to take over the district court without the valuable experience of actually working in the court.

MCP: Why do you want to be District Court Judge? 

JACKSON: At the time I applied for the attorney magistrate and court administrator position, Mason County was to lose its district court judgeship in 2020 (legislation had been passed that was to eliminate the position when Judge Wadel retired). I knew this would have a huge impact on our court system and would require a magistrate that was willing to make a major commitment. I dove in and got to work.

Since being hired by Judge Wadel and Judge Nellis in April of 2019, I have been working incredibly hard.  I’ve been one of the first persons in the door in the morning and have spent many late nights working remotely. I consistently work through lunch and am at the courthouse nearly every Saturday and Sunday morning. I have been working or on call virtually every minute of every day.  I don’t say this to brag or in an effort to receive praise. Rather, I say this to show how invested I have been in the District Court. Long before I knew that I would have the opportunity to become district judge, I was working tirelessly for the court and for my community.

When I became aware that our judgeship had been saved, I knew I needed to run to ensure the future judge of the 79th District Court would have the same level of commitment, passion, and responsibility that I have shown for the past year and a half.  Mason and Lake counties, and the hardworking staff at the 79th District Court, deserve a judge that’s going to be fair, knowledgeable, organized, reliable, and open to change.  I believe that my work ethic and quality experience makes me the right person for the job.

MIDDLEBROOK: I want to help people feel safe, secure, and happy in Mason and Lake counties, so that these wonderful communities can continue to thrive. As a prosecutor, I am limited in my role to help. I want to hold people accountable and cut down on repeat offenders in our system. As a district court judge, I will have the opportunity to help make positive changes in people’s lives. 

Since I first became a lawyer, it has always been a dream of mine to one day climb to the judge’s bench. I knew I needed to get as much trial experience as possible to prepare for the job, which is one of the reasons I have continued to work as a prosecutor for all of these years. I have always felt that judges needed a wide breadth of experience, not only in the law but also in life in general. I believe that I have that experience and more now. I was thrilled when (State Rep.) Curt VanderWall (R, Ludington) was able to save the district court Judge position earlier this year, giving me an opportunity to campaign for this judgeship.  

MCP: What is the most important role of a judge? 

MIDDLEBROOK: The most important role of a judge is to be fair and impartial. Justice requires this. A judge must follow the law even if that decision is unpopular or brings ridicule. The only recourse an individual has sometimes is to seek redress through the courts.  Courts must be free of bias, and not influenced by wealth or power. Decisions should never be made on the basis of whom you know or what your position is in the community. Justice is blind, which is the reason Lady Justice wears a blind fold.  Justice must be based on the facts, proven in court, and never on outside influences. 

JACKSON: Regardless of the task at hand, the role of a judge is to know the law and apply it to the facts of the case.  It’s how that role is performed that’s critical.  Judges should be accessible, transparent, consistent, open-minded, and firm but fair.

MCP: What is your perspective of the current national, state, and local trend to set minimal bail amounts? 

JACKSON: This is a hot topic, and I understand this concept may seem controversial or trendy.  One side of the debate cites the disproportionate impact of cash bail on the poor and middle-class and further points out that approximately 60% of individuals in Michigan jails are innocent people (by way of the presumption of innocence) who are unable to post bond while they are awaiting trial.  The opposite side of the debate points to the “revolving door” in the state’s jails.

The Legislature and Michigan Supreme Court have provided the procedure for how bail is to be determined.  There’s a lot that goes into it, but in a nutshell: defendants should only be required to post bail when they are:  (1) a flight risk; or (2) a public safety risk.  While I have my own personal opinions on this topic, they’re irrelevant.  I believe firmly in checks and balances and the separation of powers.  If these things need fixed, it’s incumbent upon the Legislature and the Supreme Court to do so.  In the meantime, I intend to follow the law as it’s written.

One related thing I would like to work on at the district court is monitoring the terms and conditions of pretrial release (aka bail/bond) and probation.  Currently, Mason County does not employ a district court probation officer or pretrial release officer.  Additionally, the terms of defendant’s district court probation or pretrial release orders (with exception of no contact orders) are not readily available to law enforcement.  I would like to work on these issues.

MIDDLEBROOK: The argument in favor of setting a minimal bail amount is that a higher bail amount can unjustly penalize people with less money before they are actually convicted.  I would concur with this argument in cases that do not involve the threat to public safety and/or repeat offenders. I am very troubled, however, by this trend to set minimal bonds in all cases because it takes away from local courts the discretion to do what is right. The purpose of a bond is to ensure two things: first, that the accused appears in court; second, to try to protect the safety of the victims of the crime and the safety of our community in general. When groups of people, no matter how well-intentioned they might be, interfere with the discretion of the court without knowing the intimate details of the case, dangerous outcomes can occur.  Using a generic set of guidelines to set a bond may not be appropriate in every situation. Judges and the courts need to be able to use their discretion to do what is right based on the particular facts and circumstance of each individual case without being influenced by outside groups. If elected judge, I will use my discretion to set bonds that I feel are appropriate and fair under the circumstances with a strong emphasis on protecting the victims of crime and our community.  

MCP: Most people think of the courts in relation to criminal matters, can you discuss some of the other roles of the district court? 

MIDDLEBROOK: In addition to criminal matters, the district court has several other very important functions. These include: small claims cases involving amounts $6000 or less, civil lawsuits involving amounts less than $25,000, landlord-tenant cases, civil municipal infractions, civil traffic infractions, and civil weddings.  

JACKSON: District courts also have a busy civil docket, including small claims, summary proceedings, dangerous dog complaints, general civil matters, claim and delivery complaints, and more.  While the criminal side of things tends to get more attention, the civil justice system is also important.

MCP: Please include any other comments you would like to make: 

JACKSON: Readers may be curious as to how the district judge serves both Lake and Mason counties.  While the 79th District Court covers Lake and Mason counties, Lake County also has the Lake County Trial Court.  In effect, Judge Wickens of the Lake County Trial Court covers nearly all of the probate, district, and circuit court matters in Lake County.  The 79th District Judge has historically presided over court hearings in Lake County only one day a month and has had limited involvement with the administration of the Lake County Court.  This is why the majority of the discussion has focused on Mason County.

My wife Jennell and I, and our two children, Sophia and Lucas, are residents of Pere Marquette Township.  Both of my children are attending Franklin Elementary School.  I consider myself fortunate to live in this great community.  If elected, I aim to help the community by maintaining a court that is efficient and effective.

Thank you to the voters who have taken the time to read this in an effort to inform yourselves.  I am a humble public servant that has never forgotten and will never forget that I work for the people of this community.

MIDDLEBROOK: My wife Tammy Middlebrook and I live in PM Township.  Tammy is a pediatrician and works for Spectrum Health at Ludington Pediatrics.  We have raised four children; Hailey, Darby, Carson, and Luke. Our three daughters have all graduated from college and are now supporting themselves and pursuing their various careers.  Our two youngest children, Carson and Luke, were both graduates of Ludington High School.  Luke is currently in his sophomore year attending Kalamazoo College. 

I really like the fact that a judge is a non-partisan position.  I feel party politics have become too divisive in our country.  When I speak to people and explain that I am not affiliated with a political party, I’m registered independent, all the tension in their faces melts away. Being a judge is a job that requires fairness, impartiality, and independence from outside influences.  If elected judge my job will be to follow the law as written and apply it to the facts as proven.  I will uphold the Constitution.  I will not let partisan politics or outside factors influence me.  

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