Voters to choose two District Court candidates
Posted by Lynn Turner
July 08, 2008 09:51AM
Four attorneys vie in primary to replace Judge Benson
KALAMAZOO -- With four attorneys running for one vacant District Court judicial seat, Kalamazoo County voters will decide Aug. 5 which two candidates will face each other in the November election.
And for the first time since the law was changed last year, all Kalamazoo County voters will be allowed to cast ballots in the races to replace 8th District Judge Quinn E. Benson.
Benson, 71, is prohibiting from seeking re-election under a state law that bars judges from running again after their 70th birthday.
The candidates vying to replace him -- Jeff M. Gagie, William K. Murphy, Sondra G. Nowak and Julie K. Phillips -- have varying levels of experience as lawyers and different areas of expertise. They all cite a desire to serve their community as a main reason for running for the seat.
The winner of the non-partisan position gets a six-year term on the bench, annual salary of $138,272 and a black robe.
District Court, also known as the "people's court," handles criminal misdemeanors that don't result in jail sentences of more than one year, arraignments, some sentencings, bail levels and preliminary examinations for felony cases. On the civil side, litigation of up to $25,000 is heard.
Garnishments, evictions and land contract forfeitures are also handled in District Court.
Because judicial candidates may have to rule on various issues if elected, they cannot make known their personal feelings on issues or say how they may rule.
Jeff M. Gagie
Jeff M. Gagie, 45, touts his experience as a criminal-defense attorney as one of top reasons voters should elect him to the bench.
"I think I have good experience, unique experiences ... and more of a criminal defense background" than the other candidates," Gagie said.
Gagie has been an attorney for 14 years, and about 50 percent of his practice is criminal defense, he said. Much of his work has been in Van Buren County until joining the roster of attorneys who represent indigent defendants in Kalamazoo County in 2007.
Gagie ran four years ago and lost to incumbent District Judge Carol A. Husum.
Now, as then, Gagie said he knows some people question his ability to be a judge because he was arrested in 1997 on a charge of domestic violence. The charges were dropped 10 months later, according to court records.
Gagie said he and his wife were having marital problems at the time. She had filed for divorce. He had filed for legal separation. He maintains she hit herself in the head with a plastic box and tore her own collar.
Gagie was arrested just hours after being sworn in as a Kalamazoo County District Court magistrate, he said. Gagie spent the night in jail, was arraigned the next day and fired the following morning.
"I never beat my wife," Gagie said. "Some people are going to think I'm a wife beater whether I run or not."
The couple was divorced in October 1998. He has custody of their two children.