District judge candidates speak out

ESCANABA – Three candidates seeking voter approval in a very contested race for Delta County District Court judge were on the hot seat during a public question and answer forum at city hall Wednesday.

Candidates vying for the seat of retiring Judge Glenn Pearson are County Prosecutor Steve Parks and local attorneys John Economopoulos and Trenton Stupak. The top two vote getters in the Aug. 5 primary will advance to the general election ballot in November.

More than 50 people attended Wednesday’s candidate forum sponsored by the Delta County League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women, and the Delta County Area Chamber of Commerce. The event was also televised live.

Questions began with the contested race for Delta County’s district 1 commissioner. Incumbent Tom Elegeert is being challenged by John Malnar, both on the Democratic ticket.

Next, candidates for the 38th District State Senate seat were featured. Christopher Germain and Chris LaMarche are both running on the Democratic ticket.

The district court judge position is a non-partisan race which all voters will have an opportunity to cast a vote on during the Aug. 5 primary.

During Wednesday’s public forum session for the district court judge, the three candidates answered a variety of questions about their experience, the judge’s duties, and local crime issues.

Economopoulos, 42, has 16 years experience as an attorney and currently operates his own legal firm in Escanaba.

Parks, 59, has 31 years experience as an attorney including being the assistant county prosecutor and his current position as county prosecutor.

Stupak, 39, has 12 years experience as an attorney and has offices in Escanaba and Menominee.

Economopoulos said his judicial philosophy for the district court judge position is about “impartiality and fairness.”

Parks said he believes “the law is the law” and all parties involved should be treated with dignity, respect and justice.

Stupak said his belief is “justice for all and equal treatment to all,” saying the district court judge serves as an “impartial umpire.”

Economopoulos said he has experience in felony cases, noting the district court judge plays an important role in these cases because of the responsibility to bind over cases to the circuit court level.

Felony charges go before the district court judge who determines – based on evidence presented during a preliminary hearing – if there is probable cause a crime has been committed and the accused committed the crime. If so, the charge is bound over to the higher court.

“All felony cases are born in the district court,” Economopoulos said.

Parks also spoke of his experience with a wide range of felony cases. He said, “It’s true the district court judge is the gatekeeper when felony cases are first filed.”

Stupak said he has tried several felony cases including many as a court-appointed attorney.

“I have a lot of understanding of felony law… to determine probable cause,” he said.

When asked what each viewed as the largest problem in the court system, Economopoulos replied repeat offender rates. Budget concerns including fees that the court used to levy, are also an issue, he said.

Parks said substance abuse and addiction are causing huge drug-related crimes as well as spin-off crimes in the county, all resulting in costs to the court system.

Stupak said controlled substance and alcohol abuse is the biggest issue in court cases. He also noted that defendant requirements for being assigned court-appointed attorneys need modification to save taxpayers money.

The three judge candidates agreed on several issues including the serious drug problem in the county and the need for a drug court within the court system.

All three favor video conferencing of inmates for appropriate district court cases. They each are against video recording of trials in place of a court reporter.

The three candidates favor, in some cases, to grant a delay of sentencing which allows defendants to have convictions removed from their record if they follow probation requirements.

In addition to the above contests, voters will decide on a ballot proposal on Aug. 5. If approved, Proposal 14-1 would reduce the state use tax and be replaced with “a local community stabilization share to modernize the tax system to help small businesses grow and create jobs.”

Wednesday’s public forum featuring the three contested races will be aired again on Charter channel 8 at 2 p.m. July 29 and 3 p.m. Aug. 4.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net