Judge candidates differ in experience

November 1, 2012

Nellis, left, and Krieger

This story first ran last week. We felt it was important to re-run it for those who may have missed it on the front page. 

Who will be Mason County’s next probate court judge?

Will it be Nick Krieger who grew up on North Rath Avenue in Ludington, graduated from Ludington High School and has worked as a law clerk for the Michigan Court of Appeals for the past eight years?

Or will it be Hamlin Township resident Jeff Nellis who has lived here and owned his own law firm in Mason County since 1993?

Nick Krieger and Jeff Nellis got a chance to face each other last week during a candidates’ forum held at West Shore Community College.


The debate-style forum offered one last opportunity to see the two candidates respond to questions and interact with each other.

In many ways, on the surface, Krieger and Nellis, offer the same views about the probate court, which handles juvenile, family and property issues, among many other important tasks.

Both truly care deeply about Mason County and its people. They both see the interest of the child as one of the most important tasks of the court, in regards to juvenile matters.

But, there are differences between the two.


Krieger, 35, is a graduate of Michigan State University and Wayne State University law school. Upon receiving his law degree he was recruited by the Michigan Court of Appeals, where he serves as a law clerk for Judge Kathleen Jansen in Detroit.

As a law clerk, it is Krieger’s job to review cases for the judge. He said probate issues account for the majority of cases dealt with in the appellant court. Reviewing the cases means reading through the transcripts of a trial and determining if the letter of the law was followed. This requires several hours of researching the law.

Nellis, 48, is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Wayne State University law school. He has worked as a trial lawyer for 23 years, 19 of those years in Mason County. He said he was asked by the late Judge Ben Bourisseau to become a family lawyer and serve in the probate court. That experience has lasted through now two judges – Bourisseau and retiring Judge Mark Raven, who has served on the bench for the past 18 years.

This experience between the two candidates seems to be the major difference between the two.

Krieger sees his lack of experience in Mason County’s court system as a benefit. Nellis, on the other hand, feels his experience in Mason County’s court system is his strength.

This issue of who has the most experience with the local court came out Tuesday night as well.

Krieger said he has a lot of experience with cases of juvenile delinquency, though he said most of the cases in Mason County are minor offenses such as drinking and cigarette violations.


Nellis told the audience he couldn’t disagree more.

“I have represented many juvenile delinquents and we do have some serious crimes here, they are not all smoking and drinking,” Nellis said.

Another issue that was brought up Tuesday was the amount of actual experience each candidate has in regards to dealing with people in a courtroom.

In a story that the Mason County Press ran earlier this week, retiring Judge Mark Raven said: “Being involved in hands-on courtroom experiences is indispensable for a judge. It’s important to remember that just because someone claims they know the baseball rule book from cover to cover doesn’t mean they can play baseball.”

“I have dealt with people,” Krieger said Tuesday night. Krieger said his mother was a long-time Ludington teacher and he saw kids everyday while growing up. “I know so many people in this community.

“A judge needs to know the law,” Krieger said. “It’s not that I haven’t dealt with people.”

Nellis, again, disagreed.

“We aren’t running for court of appeals,” Nellis said. “We are running for Mason County Probate Court. You’ve got to be able to handle a situation. I’m not saying your work isn’t important, Nick, but it’s a different type of work.”

The probate court works with many different agencies. The court also consists of a clerical staff, probation officers and lawyers.

“I am the only candidate who has worked in this court,” Nellis said.

Krieger, though, said his lack of contacts in the local probate court is to his benefit.

“I think it’s a positive thing I don’t have a relationship with the Department of Human Services or the lawyers in this town,” he said. “The law is blind and the different types of experiences we have is critical.”

“I believe since I started my legal career I think I have been more committed to this community,” Nellis said. “I have been here. I have made family law my life’s work.”

Story and photos by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief




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