Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 14, 2010

Judge's position finally will be filled

BY ALEX PIAZZA
apiazza@record-eagle.com

SUTTONS BAY — Leelanau County's probate court hasn't had a full-time probate judge for 15 months.

That will change after voters take to the polls Nov. 2 and decide whether Marian F. Kromkowski or Larry J. Nelson will sit atop the county's probate and family court.

"I think the citizens are better served with a full-time judge," said Nelson, a private-practice attorney from Leland. "I don't think things have been moving as quickly as they would if a full-time person was there."

Kromkowski, a private-practice attorney from Suttons Bay, agrees.

"There's no way to time when an abuse or neglect case comes in," she said. "It is a daily responsibility."

The position became vacant after the July 2009 death of Judge Joseph Deegan. Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration interviewed potential replacements for Deegan, but ultimately refused to appoint a successor and instead left the vacancy in voters' hands.

Kromkowski also works as a part-time domestic relations referee for 28th Circuit Court in Wexford and Missaukee counties. If elected, she plans to reach out to various community groups and school districts, and act as a liaison for the court.

"It's more than putting on the black robe and sitting behind the bench," she said.

Nelson has been in private practice since 1981, and before that served a term as county prosecutor. He hopes to expand upon the court's electronic filing system and strengthen its volunteer program to assist with juvenile mentoring.

Both candidates said they're comfortable with handling cases in district or circuit courts, if needed.

They defeated several other candidates in the August primary election, but both traveled lengthy roads to the November finale. They traveled to Lansing a year ago to interview for the vacancy, then waited in vain nearly eight months for an appointment.

"I have no idea why the governor didn't make an appointment ... just no word or any real explanation," Nelson said.

Meanwhile, three local judges continue to handle Deegan's former duties. Domestic cases and administrative duties are managed by 13th Circuit Court Judges Philip Rodgers and Thomas Power, while Judge David Stowe handles probate and family cases.

Rodgers also said he doesn't understand why Granholm refused to make a judicial appointment.

"It's bizarre," he said.

No matter who's elected on Nov. 2, Betsy Fisher will be relieved.

"We will welcome whoever it is with open arms," said Fisher, Leelanau County Family Court administrator.

Fisher and her staff have awaited a full-time probate judge since Deegan's death. She commended the efforts of Rodgers, Power and Stowe for their assistance, but said the county deserves a full-time judge.

"We are all looking forward to having a new judge," she said. "It's been very challenging. We're very eager to have somebody here."

The elected judge will serve a partial two-year term to complete Deegan's term. Candidates for a six-year term in the post will be on the ballot in November 2012.

Coming Friday: Scripps and Franz square off in repeat of 2008 race for state House.