THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
Top 2 of 5 candidates advance to general election
14th July, 2022 0
Saginaw County has five Circuit Court Judges who are elected by the citizens of the County for six-year terms. The Circuit Court provides a forum for the resolution of disputes such as felony cases, civil cases with a value in excess of $25,000, divorce and family related matters and appeals from Probate and District Courts and administrative agencies.
This year Judge James T. Borchard is retiring as 10th Judicial Circuit Judge for the County of Saginaw. The usual practice in Michigan is for a judge to retire early, allowing the appointment of a replacement judge by the governor. The replacement judge is constitutionally entitled to be designated as an incumbent with “Honorable Circuit Judge so and so” on the ballot, and their first race is a re-election campaign. Incumbent judges are not typically challenged as incumbents, and almost always win if they are.
Judge Borchard has given the citizens of Saginaw County the rare honor of selecting our own replacement in an open election by selecting one of 5 candidates, and since the winner would likely be re-elected as circuit judge well into the future, this election is an important one.
All the candidates are attorneys in good standing, and none have run for judge before. All will face off in the non-partisan primary election August 2nd, and the top two vote getters will advance to the November 8 general election.
The Review asked the candidates to introduce themselves, and answer a few questions designed to elicit their background and qualifications. They are presented in alphabetical order below:
• Andrew D. Concannon • admitted to practice 1994 https://www.concannonforjudge.com/
Experienced. I am a seasoned trial lawyer with more than 28 years of experience, including dozens of jury trials and more than 50 appeals in front of the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court. I have successfully argued civil and criminal matters ranging from trusts and estates, family law, municipal matters, commercial litigation, and liability matters.
Trusted. I have been a trusted counsel to Saginaw County businesses and families for decades and I believe I am the overwhelming choice of the trial bar in the Great Lakes Bay Region. I am an AV rated (“Preeminent) by my peers in the bar and was the youngest attorney to achieve AV rating in Saginaw County’s history when I first received it more than 20 years ago. I believe that I am the overwhelming choice of trial bar in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
I also have the most judicial endorsements than any other candidate and, unlike other endorsed candidates in this race, I have actually tried cases before the judges who are endorsing me!·
Fair. I have real world experience representing clients facing challenging legal problems, from farmers involved in succession planning, plaintiffs seeking remedies for injuries, businesses handling complex loan workouts, and municipalities involved in complex state and local litigation. I believe that I have earned a reputation for integrity and honesty in my dealings with clients, judges, and other attorneys. I stand ready to be a fair and impartial judge for Saginaw County.
Megan Cottington-Heath - admitted to practice 2010. https://www.votecottington-heath.com/
Twenty-nine years ago, I was a child in the middle of my parents’ heartbreaking divorce. My brother and I lived through a very painful time, and from that time forward I have wanted better for children and families in the same position. Now, as a married mother of three children, I don’t just want better, I know we must do better for families - especially for the children that are involved in the cases before the courts. The Judiciary needs to lessen the adversarial nature of domestic matters and help find peace for families.
I mention my experience as a child because it is important to remember the circuit court judge elected to replace Judge Borchard will handle almost exclusively family law domestic cases - things like divorce, custody, parenting time, and child support.
As a result of my personal experiences, I have devoted my 12-year career to representing and working with actual clients in family law cases. Not only that, but I am also a domestic and civil mediator, a National Institute of Trial Advocates trained attorney, and in 2019, the same year I opened my own practice, I was awarded the pro bono attorney of the year award by the Saginaw County Bar Association and Legal Services of Eastern Michigan. I am committed to helping provide equal access to justice for all families, not just those who can afford an attorney.
I run my law firm very differently than other attorneys, and I think some of my practices would translate to a better prepared and more compassionate judge for Saginaw County. I have trauma training and recognize that divorce, custody, and parenting time cases are a traumatic event for the parties and their children. This means I do everything I can to lessen the trauma in their cases and to recognize trauma responses in my clients.
My goal from the start is to get my clients back to a place where they are not scared and fearful, but educated and calm. From that space they can make decisions that are best for their families. Everything from dim lights to soft music, to an assistant answering my phone who is very kind, can be the difference between a client who is angry and looking for blood and a client who wants to find peace for themselves and their family.
I also use my mediation skills to help clients come to their own realizations about what their family needs, and to come up with creative solutions that resolve conflict. As a judge, I could use a lot of these skills to help the parties before me realize that I want to do what is best for their families. The parties before me will know that I see them as equals and humans who just need help finding peace.
Brittany Dicken - admitted to practice 2013 https://brittanyforjudge2022.com/
I am a dedicated public servant with nine years of experience in family law serving as a law clerk for the Honorable Fred L. Borchard, Staff Attorney at the Friend of the Court, Circuit Court Referee and Director of the Friend of the Court. I am running for the family court seat on our circuit court because of my experience in family law, compassion for people, and desire to continue my work in public service.
I am a certified domestic relations mediator and have handled thousands of family law cases for Saginaw County. I am the only candidate to have held a quasi-judicial position where I heard and made decisions on family law cases. I am the only candidate who has served the County of Saginaw in a public service capacity, and my experience as the Friend of the Court Director where I implemented positive change to better serve our community make me the most qualified and best suited candidate for this position.
I have widespread support and endorsements from the community, judges, and local attorneys who know the work I have done and that I will be fair, impartial, and respectful in my decision making. I care about the people and families of Saginaw and want to be impactful in my community. I am Saginaw Township resident, wife to my husband Chase, mother to my daughter Charlotte, and true public servant who would be honored to continue this community in a judicial capacity.
Debra S. Kauten - admitted to practice 2009. firstname.lastname@example.org
My name is Debra Kauten. I am an attorney practicing law with an office in Birch Run, Saginaw County.
My motto for this campaign has become “experience matters”. I feel that I am the only candidate that has the experience that matters for the Circuit Court seat available in Saginaw County. The seat that I have decided to run for primarily handles family law matters which includes divorce, custody and parenting time issues.
Approximately 75% of my practice for the last 13 years has been family law including appeals and appointments as guardian ad litem. As guardian ad litem, it is my job to investigate a custody and/or parenting time case and provide a recommendation to the Court. My recommendation must include an appropriate application of the law as it applies to the case at hand. I also have experience with custody and parenting time appeals. This is another area that I feel sets me ahead of my competition.
While filing and preparing an appeal, it is the job of an appeals attorney to look at the entire record of the court and point out to the Michigan Court of Appeals where the Judge, parties, and/or attorneys made errors in the trial which led to a ruling contrary to law. Or in the alternative, review the record of the court and all pleadings leading to the court’s ruling and advise a client that their case may not meet the proper standard to appeal their case.
Not only do I have experience in family law, I also have 13 years of experience in criminal law including traffic, misdemeanors, and felonies. For the past 2 1/2 years, I have participated in Michigan Assigned Counsel in both Saginaw County and Tuscola County. My experience in criminal law includes a lot of courtroom attendance including pre trials, preliminary exams, motions, plea hearings, evidentiary hearings, restitution hearings, mental competency hearings, probation violations, trials and sentencings. I have had hundreds of courtroom appearances in the past year alone. The constituents of Saginaw County deserve to have a Judge with this amount of courtroom experience.
My practice in Birch Run also handles files for estate planning including probation litigation. I've also received guardian ad litem appointments in probate courts to address issues of guardianships and conservatorships for adults. In addition, I have handled bankruptcies, landlord tenant files, civil litigation, corporate litigation, debt collection, corporation matters and other areas of the law. As Judge in Saginaw County, this experience would allow me to change tasks with smooth transition should the Judge seat hear matters other than family law.
For the past 13 years I have practiced in multiple counties on a regular basis including Saginaw County, Tuscola County, Bay County, and Genesee County. Over the years, I've also had court cases in Shiawassee County, Grand Traverse County, Wayne County, Huron County, and Macomb County. I believe that my courtroom experience is what sets me above the other opponents in this race. When voting in this Judge election, voters need to consider my vast areas of legal practice; my vast experience in multiple counties and courtrooms; and my hundreds of courtroom appearances and experiences.
My pro bono work over the past 15 years has been primarily working with active military personnel drafting wills and powers of attorney for deploying soldiers and their families. I have also provided representation for soldiers that return to Michigan with divorce custody or parenting time issues.
I have promised the people of Saginaw County that I will be timely in legal matters before me as Judge; I will be respectful of the people appearing before me and hear their matters and concerns; I also promise to be knowledgeable in all matters before me prior to deciding the matter from the bench.
Janey Lamar - admitted to practice 2017. https://www.janeyforjudge.com/
I’m Janey Lamar and I'm running for 10th Circuit Court Judge because I want to serve Saginaw from the bench. When I learned this seat would impact children and families, it was easy to decide to run. I was inspired to run because my late mother dedicated her career to serving children right here in Saginaw. I plan to continue my mother’s legacy of service as a judge that is fair and compassionate to all.
Before becoming an attorney, I worked in child welfare where I gained social work experience. I worked with children, the elderly, disabled veterans, and many people from diverse backgrounds. I’ve worked directly with hundreds of families and helped them overcome issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse, unemployment, housing, mental health, co-parenting and many more. I’ve been in the mud and trenches with children and families and that’s experience that no other candidate has. I have real world experience, which is what Saginaw needs.
In addition to my family law and social work experience, I’ve litigated cases in district, circuit, and probate courts in Michigan. My experience shows that I have always been committed to serving those in need. Because of my experience, I believe I’m able to handle any case that might come before me that isn’t family related.
Notable work experience
• Lamar Law- Managing Attorney
• Michigan Department of Health & Human Services- Child Welfare Advocate
• Department of Veterans Affairs- Veterans Services Representative
• Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic & Center for Social Justice- Children’s Rights Student Attorney
• Louisiana Civil Justice Center- Law Clerk
• Orleans Criminal District Court- Law Clerk
• Justice & Accountability Center- Law Clerk
• Born and raised in Saginaw
• Saginaw High School graduate
• Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy graduate
• Michigan State University graduate
• Loyola University New Orleans College of Law graduate
• Helping parents and families work together
• Easy access to the courts
• Self-help resources for all parties
Questions to Candidates:
REVIEW: What positions of government authority have you previously sought or held?
Megan Cottington-Heath: I have not previously sought or held positions of government authority.
Brittany Dicken: I served the County of Saginaw in various legal positions for 8 years. I was appointed by the Chief Judge as a Circuit Court Referee for the Saginaw County hearing family law cases including divorce, custody, parenting time, child support and paternity in a quasi-judicial capacity. I was later appointed by the Chief Judge as the Director of the Friend of the Court where I managed an office of 40+ public servants and oversaw 26,000 family law cases. I have served as a Regional Director for the Michigan Friend of the Court Association and on the legislative committee advocating for changes in family law.
Debra S. Kauten: None
Janey Lamar: I have previously held several important government positions at the state and federal levels. I worked for the State of Michigan at the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS) as a child welfare worker. My job was to investigate cases of child abuse and neglect.
I had to evaluate the needs of each family I came into contact with and create service and treatment plans for them. Daily, I made judgment calls about the best interests of children to ensure they were protected. I made these judgment calls based on the department’s policies and procedures and Michigan’s child welfare laws. The common goal was to make great effort to keep families together. Working in child welfare required a great deal of court involvement. There were many cases where children needed courts to get involved so I was responsible for writing, filing, and presenting petitions to the courts. I worked closely with judges and attorneys to advocate for children.
Management would give me the hardest cases on purpose because of my experience and because of my ability to advocate. Some of these cases included severe child abuse and neglect including incidents of domestic violence and unfortunately child deaths. I had the honor of serving as a Law Clerk at the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to the Hon. Tracey Flemmings-Davilier. As a law clerk, I researched different areas of criminal law and responded to applications for post-conviction relief, which were filed by parties who were incarcerated and who didn’t have an attorney. In this position, I learned a lot about the importance of a court’s ability to treat all litigants fairly and with compassion.
I worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) where I helped ensure veterans received the benefits they were entitled to. The veterans I assisted had a number of experiences serving our country and often times suffered disabilities as a result of service. Many veterans were unaware of the benefits they qualified for so I used my understanding of VA laws and disabilities to advocate for maximum benefits for veterans.
Finally, I think it’s also worth mentioning, after high school, I drove just about every road in Saginaw County for four summers working for Saginaw County Mosquito Control.
REVIEW: When did you first aspire to become a judge and why?
Andrew Concannon: Most attorneys who litigate as I do consider whether they may wish to pursue becoming a judge. For me, I have spent the last 28 years litigating cases on behalf of individuals, families and businesses. In that way, I pursued justice one case at a time and one client at a time. At this point in my career, however, I have the desire to leverage the service I can provide to a greater number of people in this community, not just one client at a time. If I am honored by the voters of Saginaw County to become their next Circuit Judge, it would be a privilege to attempt to be a positive force for justice for more people than just my clients!
Megan Cottington-Heath: I first aspired to become a judge when I was 12 years old, and this is not something I made up for the campaign. You can ask my family and friends. I very honestly had this aspiration that young. After my parents had just finalized a heartbreaking and adversarial divorce, I knew I wanted to be a judge. I did not feel heard by the judge or the court officials I spoke to, and I wanted to do better for other families.
Brittany Dicken: Being a judge has been my primary aspiration since I began law school. I have always wanted to have an impactful career centered around public service. I worked for a local law firm, Anagnost and Hall, P.C. following graduation from Central Michigan. That experience inspired me to go to law school as I witnessed the many barriers that people face within the legal system and saw a huge opportunity to help people.
I wanted to educate myself thoroughly in the law so that one day I could be a leader in the legal community and help implement positive change in our courts. I went to law school wanting to work in public service and have dedicated the majority of my career to that cause. I started in public service while still in law school at the District Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, NC where I served on the homicide and sexual assault team. When I returned to Michigan, I interned for the Honorable James T. Borchard and for the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office.
Following my last semester of law school and while awaiting the bar exam, I accepted a position as a law clerk for then Chief Judge, Fred Borchard where I served until I accepted a position at the Friend of the Court as a Staff Attorney about a year and a half later. I remained at the Friend of the Court in various positions (Staff Attorney, Circuit Court Referee and Director) for seven and a half years until my departure in November 2021. Therefore, the majority of my legal career has been focused on public service and for almost 8 years, exclusively family law.
This specific judicial position is going to hear the entire family court docket for Saginaw County. That is the only type of case it will hear as opposed to the other Circuit positions that hear general civil cases over $25,000 and criminal felonies. Therefore, experience in family law is pivotal to providing competent service through this position to our community.
I think I will make a great judge in this position specifically because of my vast knowledge and experience in family law and my dedication to this community. I am known in the Saginaw legal community as the area expert in family law and am often consulted by local attorneys and judges on complicated family law issues. I have taught seminars to the local bar on changes in the law, interpretation of new laws and drafted policies and procedures to ensure that Saginaw courts are up to date in family law.
I have firsthand knowledge of how our courts function as I personally drafted the procedures for many of the court services that we utilize today. I have built positive relationships and have worked closely with local agencies including Underground
Railroad, the Mustard Seed Shelter, Child and Family Services, Westlund Guidance Clinic and Child Protective Services all of which will assist me in knowing how to best serve the families of Saginaw by utilizing local resources.
I am kind, compassionate and fair but do not hesitate to make a decision. As the only candidate who has already heard family law cases in a quasi- judicial capacity, I have earned a reputation for having a respectful judicial temperament and
have proven that I will make decisions fairly and based on established law. I have served at the State level as a regional director for the Michigan Friend of the Court Association and served on the legislative committee to advocate for necessary changes in the law. I was one of five people in the nation to be recognized by the National Child Support Enforcement Council for the work I did in offering online child support services to Saginaw residents. But above all, I am truly dedicated to serving the public and helping the people of Saginaw and that is what I most look forward to if elected to this position.
Debra S. Kauten: It has been something that I have been considering for a few years now. Due to my vast experience in courtrooms in many counties, I have often thought about how I would or could have done things differently than they were handled by a particular court. Deciding to run for this open seat in Saginaw County was more of a conviction than a decision. When I heard that this seat was opening in Circuit Court, I felt that I could serve the constituents of Saginaw County in a greater capacity then I am serving them now as an attorney. Although I have the opportunity to serve hundreds of clients a year, I am certain that I can make an even greater impact on the community by serving as Circuit Court Judge. I considered my experience versus the experience of my opponents, and felt that I had a heart for Saginaw and the knowledge, compassion, and experience to offer them a candidate that would truly serve the people and work hard for Saginaw County and its families.
Janey Lamar: My aspirations to be a Judge in this community began at an early age. Growing up, I witnessed my late-mother work tirelessly to lift up disadvantaged youth in Saginaw, who oftentimes were negatively impacted by the court system. I saw how a caring judge can give hope to youth.
Seeing how important it is for our community to have advocates and judges who care, I set on a path to become a lawyer and return to this community. After graduating from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, I returned to Saginaw and opened my law practice, representing the disadvantaged and underrepresented in our community. Because of my experience with the State of Michigan working with families, as a lawyer, I continued my advocacy for families and children in the courtroom, still with the ultimate goal of becoming a judge.
Early this year, I saw the right opportunity for me when I read an article about this judicial seat being saved from elimination and knew the retiring judge was responsible for the County’s family law related cases. I knew it was the right time and position for me. I look forward to continuing my mother’s legacy of service. I believe my experiences in life and law have brought me to this moment and have equipped me to be a great servant and judge for Saginaw County.
REVIEW: Do you favor incarceration and punishment or rehabilitation for crimes?
Andrew Concannon: This question cuts close to what judicial candidates can say about their views and how they might rule on certain matters, which are limited by the Canons of Judicial Ethics which also govern the five candidates in this race.
What I can say, is that I have handled more felonies (well over 100) than several of my opponents and I know what goes into sentencing decisions. A judge needs to evaluate the specifics of the crime, the prior record of the offender and balance the communities needs for punishment, deterrence and safety.
The judge’s job is to fairly balance those factors and decide what is fair, both to the offender as well as the victim and our broader community. Rehabilitation has a role to play in that and may be vitally important in certain cases. But this is on a case-by-case basis. So, it is not a question of favoring one sentencing concept over another. Instead, they all have a role to play when a judge sentences a convicted offender.
Megan Cottington-Heath: I don’t think the question can be that simple. In general, I favor rehabilitation over using the justice system as a form of punishment. If elected to this seat that will handle domestic cases such as divorce, custody and parenting time, I would see the family court as playing an important role in keeping kids and families connected and reducing trauma, so that we don’t have children who feel isolated, broken and traumatized. When children feel isolated, broken, and or traumatized, we know they are much more likely to commit crimes, and also to grow up as adults who commit crimes. A family law court can play a big part in preventing this from happening.
Brittany Dicken: This specific position is a family law position and will not hear criminal law, so my opinion on sentencing for crimes is not relevant to the duties that I will be executing in this position. Further, Judicial Canon 7(B)(1)(c) prohibits judges from indicating how they would rule on certain cases as each set of facts and circumstances may alter the judicial determination on a case. Our judges should be fair and impartial and not make statements that would disrupt that impartiality. Sometimes incarceration is appropriate in a case and other times rehabilitation is more appropriate. If I were to hear a criminal case and had to make a decision on whether incarceration or rehabilitation is more appropriate, I would look at the facts of the case, the history of conduct, and other surrounding circumstances to make the most appropriate decision under the law.
Debra S. Kauten: It depends on the circumstances. I do believe that our legal system needs to take into consideration addiction problems, mental illness, upbringing, and circumstances. I do believe that people need to be held accountable for their actions, however, I feel that we have a responsibility to offer alternative solutions and programs for rehabilitation that will hopefully deter or eliminate repeat offenses. Saginaw County has programs such as mental health court, Veteran’s Court, and Sobriety Court. As a Judge in Saginaw County, I would like to assist the court with expanding these programs and implementing programs that will insure that everyone is treated fairly and with respect.
Janey Lamar: My hope for anyone who has violated the law is that the person not violate the law again and be rehabilitated. How to achieve that goal depends on the unique circumstances of each conviction. Sentences can include imprisonment, therapy, treatment, training, or a combination. In some instances, imprisonment to punish the offender may be legally required and the most appropriate. A judge must act in accordance with the law and sentencing guidelines.
REVIEW: What is your perspective on virtual courtrooms with remote participation compared to live in-person court, and electronic filing of court papers?
Andrew Concannon: As a litigator, I find the virtual courtroom is a great addition to handling and disposing of cases, both more efficiently and cheaply. Clients in most cases now can avoid paying their attorney to drive to the courthouse, wait for a considerable period of time to have their case heard and then argue the case. Attorneys on Zoom can now work on other matters while they await their case to be called. It is a win for attorneys and a win for litigants who get to pay less in legal fees.
I have maintained a continued federal practice where electronic filing has been in place for nearly twenty years. Electronic filing is also available in roughly 5 or 6 state court circuits where I practice as well, although it is not fully available yet in Saginaw.
Saginaw County’s Clerk has worked to facilitate electronic filing and some manner of e-filing is currently available due to her efforts, and as a practicing attorney, I am grateful for her efforts and that of her staff in doing the work they have thus far. If I am elected, I intend to do my part to arrive at a fully electronic filing system with its searchable data base to retrieve and copy court filings.
Electronic filing is cheaper for litigants and for attorneys alike. And the citizens of Saginaw County deserve the efficiency that it provides.
Megan Cottington-Heath: I fully support electronic filings. They are more efficient, easily accessible, and they are more environmentally friendly. I also am a big supporter of virtual courtrooms; however, while I believe it is important to have equal access to justice, I also believe it is critical that the justice is authentic and fair. Thus, I believe there are some hearings, such as those in which a great deal of testimony is required, that should be held in person. It is a lot easier to lie under oath while sitting in your bedroom in sweatpants than it is to lie while sitting in a courtroom. People deserve both access to justice, and at the same time actual justice.
Brittany Dicken: I am a huge proponent of utilizing technology to expand services to the public. I implemented zoom hearings and video chat appointments at the Friend of the Court to accommodate parties who were not able to come in person or found online services more accommodating. I plan to continue utilizing these services and would encourage the courts to move forward with e-filing so that parties do not have to come to the courthouse or use postal service to file their documents.
Debra S. Kauten: Some issues can be handled more efficiently on zoom such as preliminary exam conferences and certain pretrials. However, custody and parenting time issues and more extensive criminal matters are better handled in person as the law allows for defendants to confront witnesses, etc. As a Judge, I firmly believe that having that in person contact with witnesses and litigants, can allow a Judge to have more of an insight as to body language and credibility of the people before them.
Janey Lamar: Virtual courtrooms kept the courts from being severely behind when the pandemic began and I’m glad courts implemented this option for both convenience and safety. The courts have been hearing cases in person again, however, I believe maintaining a virtual option would be beneficial to the public, especially for those without transportation and those that are out of state.
There are some matters that require parties to be in person in court such as trials. I enjoy electronic filing of court papers because it is easy and doesn’t require printing documents. While this may be the case for me, I’m mindful of the fact that not everyone has access to technology. Courts have to be accessible to all so I believe the courts must always maintain both e-filing and filing in person.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)