Traverse City Record-Eagle

Election 2010

October 27, 2010

District court campaign call criticized

Candidate says it may have broken judicial ethics rules

TRAVERSE CITY — A candidate for 86th District Court judge contends his opponent violated judicial ethics rules with false statements in automated telephone calls to voters.

Traverse City attorney Mike Stepka said his opponent, State Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, falsely portrayed him as a liberal endorsed by local Democratic Party officials in a "robo" call created by one of Elsenheimer's supporters.

Elsenheimer stood by the robo call until Monday, when he said his "campaign made a mistake" when he approved a recorded campaign call that relied solely on information passed on to him by former Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes, another Elsenheimer supporter.

Elsenheimer said Estes told him he observed a document that listed Stepka as being endorsed by local Democrats. Estes provided no documentation and Elsenheimer said he didn't ask for proof before he approved a robo call that also accused Stepka of believing the Constitution is a "living document."

Grand Traverse County Democratic Party officials said they have not endorsed Stepka, and Estes last week told the Record-Eagle he may have been "somehow mistaken" when he relayed that information to Elsenheimer.

"I'm dumfounded," Estes said. "All I can say is I must have been wrong because I don't think they would lie."

Estes said he glanced at campaign literature that included local Democrats' slate of candidates and thought he saw Stepka's name. Later that day he passed the information to Elsenheimer. He said he threw away the flier.

"I hope I didn't screw this up," Estes said.

Stepka, a Republican Grand Traverse County commissioner, said Elsenheimer's robo call leveled false charges against him and damaged his campaign.

"It's a blatant fallacy that I've been endorsed by the Democratic Party or that I've ever said anywhere that the Constitution is a living document," Stepka said.

Elsenheimer learned last week that Estes backpedaled on what he said about Stepka. On Monday, Elsenheimer said he had not spoken with Estes, but said, "Clearly, then, our campaign made a mistake in relying on Mike Estes' information."

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