Keeping the grass roots growing!!
race between Lapeer County Prosecutor Mike Sharkey (left) and incumbent Lapeer County Probate Court Justus Scott is personal. Sharkey is calling Judge Scott a “good ‘ol boy” member and part of a “broken” court system, while Judge Scott says Sharkey is about “smoke and mirrors” and challenges the prosecutor’s integrity and experience level to serve as judge.
MAYFIELD TWP. — Justus C. Scott is running for re-election in November to serve the Probate Court judgeship for another six years. Challenging him to wear the black robe is Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sharkey.
Incumbent Scott is running on his record of the nearly 18 years he’s served on the bench during which time he’s handled thousands of cases, while Sharkey is running to “restore integrity and root out corruption” in the Lapeer County Courthouse which he claims Scott is part of as a member of the court’s “good ‘ole boy network.”
Scott first took office as a probate judge on Jan. 1, 2001. Before being elected judge, Scott served in the Lapeer County’s Prosecuting Attorney’s office for 21 years.
Sharkey has served as Lapeer County’s Prosecuting Attorney for only 21 months of the four-year term he was elected to in November 2016. Previously, he was in private practice as an attorney.
Sharkey’s tone and intent is similar to when he ran against incumbent prosecutor Tim Turkelson whom he claimed played favoritism with people he knew. Sharkey represented Lapeer County Circuit Court Judge Byron Konschuh when he faced what he called multiple “trumped up” felony charges in an embezzlement case. Sharkey had been vocal in his criticism of then Lapeer County Prosecutor Tim Turkelson, before unseating him in the 2016 primary.
In the audience of approximately 40 people was Judge Byron Konschuh, who supports the election of Sharkey.
Scott and Sharkey fielded 14 questions Tuesday evening from area citizens who attended a Lapeer County Tea Party forum held at the Mayfield Township Hall. While the seasoned public servants took the opportunity to introduce themselves to the public, they also expressed stark differences in the reasons they want to win the Nov. 6 election.
Scott was the elected Prosecuting Attorney for Lapeer County for eight years beginning in 1993, and was elected to serve as Probate Judge in 2001.
“I’m going to work hard, listen to people and try to help them … I look it kind of like heart surgery. Do you want someone who has a lot of experience and has done this for a long time, or do you want someone who has no experience?”
Sharkey said he “dared to get involved” in the election for probate judge because he wants to change the court. “I’m running for the judge position because I don’t like what’s going on in the courthouse. People need to be treated fairly… You should know what’s going on in your courthouse.”
The Probate Court handles estates, guardianships of adults, guardianships of minors, guardianships of developmentally disabled persons, conservatorships of minors, conservatorships of adults, trust proceedings, mentally ill proceedings, adoptions, name changes, emancipations, and wills for safekeeping.
While some questions were general in topic and ranged from court policy and procedure, most were more pointed and appeared directed at specific candidates to draw out responses associated with issues swirling about their campaigns and friction between them.
A question from an audience member asked Scott and Sharkey what injustices they’ve witnessed in the courtroom and what they did about it.
Scott answered, “I’m the judge. If someone is caught contradicting or exaggerating stuff I will speak with them, and if it happens again they will not be allowed to testify again.” Scott added he can and has fined people and called deputies if people are disrupting a court proceeding.
Sharkey responded, “This system is broken. The decision makers have friends.”
Then he said he’s submitted a complaint to the state Attorney General’s Office and a corruption board regarding an assertion that Scott abused his authority to influence the outcome of a case against his brother-in-law for a drunken driving offense.
Scott replied, “This is nonsense. This is dirty politics … I did nothing of the kind.”
On Friday Scott told The County Press, “My brother-in-law was represented by Earl Morgan, an excellent attorney, who put on a vigorous defense but ultimately pled guilty to the original charge of operating under the influence, second offense.”
Another question demonstrated the contentious nature of the race and the strained relationship between Scott and Sharkey. The question was, “Do you think the court system is working?”
Sharkey answered first.
“I feel so compelled to step up and make a difference…I’m running because everyone should get a fair shake, and not because someone in the court will give special favors.”
Scott answered, “Unlike my opponent I think we have a great system.”
A resident asked, “Do you think lawyers should be investigated and are investigated?”
Scott answered, “I’ve never been investigated. There’s a system in place to investigate and I believe there’s a process in place that works.”
Sharkey replied, “No, maybe it’s a lack of resources (to investigate attorneys and judges)…I don’t have faith in the system to protect you.”
The final question of the evening asked, “How do you define injustice?”
Sharkey responded first. “My concern is for each and every client and to make sure they get a fair shake. You know why I ran for prosecutor, and now I’m running for judge. No favors to anyone.”
Scott responded by holding up a copy of a two-sided Sharkey campaign handout that reads “Restore Honor and Integrity to our Lapeer County Courts.” On it is a small photo of former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Clifford Taylor with Sharkey with the rest of the Supreme Court when they held a court case in the historic county courthouse about 10 years ago.
Scott said he made arrangements with the Lapeer County Bar Association for attorneys to get their photos taken with Supreme Court justices with the stipulation that the photo cannot be used for “political purposes.”
Sharkey responded that nowhere on the campaign literature did it say the judge endorsed him. “I don’t want his endorsement,” said Sharkey, referring to Justice Clifford Taylor, who recently told The County Press that he supports Scott. Taylor described Sharkey’s unauthorized use of the photo as “outrageous.”
In closing statements Scott said the Tuesday evening Tea Party forum was his third event of the day. “I go around the county and meet with people. My opponent does not. I’m here with a positive record for 39 years. You need the real experience. I’ve dedicated my life to genuinely listening to people … Instead of smoke and mirrors and ‘look over there,’ this is who I am.”
Sharkey closed with, “This is the democratic way … I think you need someone who has integrity. I did not have to run for prosecutor and I did not have to run for judge. I believe we need a new system, new justice … I’m willing to stand up for what I believe.”
On Friday, when The County Press asked for further information from Sharkey related to his accusations against the local court system he responded, “The most important quality for a judge is to remain independent and free from what George Washington called ‘entangling alliances.’ A judge simply cannot take sides and play favorites with his friends. Unfortunately, some of the judges in Lapeer County appear to have lost sight of this basic principal. This has turned the Lapeer County Courthouse into the ‘Just Us’ Club.”