One of the most contested races regionally in the 2014 campaign has been the bid for Saginaw County Probate Judge, which largely handles matters involving juveniles and minor children. The seat is being vacated by the retirement of the Honorable Faye M. Harrison, who served the position over an expanse of three decades, and involved a large field of five candidates during the August primary.
The two highest vote getters in the primary were Barbara Meter and Kent Greenfelder and both are facing off for the position in the November 4th general election.
In advance of the general election, The Review submitted the following two questions to Meter & Greenfelder.
Review: Please explain how your education & experience distinguishes you from your opponent in terms of your ability to most effectively serve as our next Probate Judge.
Greenfelder: I graduated from Grand Valley State in 1986 and Cooley Law School in 1999. Since graduating law school I have practiced law in the Family Court on a daily basis and attended local, state and federal educational programs to enhance my understanding of the unique laws that apply to Saginaw County youth and families.
Having prosecuted and defended people, I have actual experience in assessing whether or not a law has been violated and have the experience to apply the appropriate services or punishment to help prevent the violation from happening again. My opponent has not handled a case in the family court in years and has only looked at cases from one side.
Meter: As a mother, teacher and assistant prosecutor, I have a unique perspective on guiding the lives of the young people of Saginaw County. I raised children of my own. I was formerly a 1st grade public school teacher. As an assistant prosecuting attorney over the past 19 years, I have practiced law on a weekly basis in all of the Courts of Saginaw County.
My husband and I are parents to five beautiful children who are now adults. There is nothing that can take the place of the experience of being a mother. I am trained in the education of children and am qualified to teach kindergarten through 8th grade as well as 9th grade mathematics and fine arts. As a teacher and mother, I understand the need to guide and nurture our youth as well the need to hold our children responsible when necessary in order to address and correct their actions and move them forward in a positive direction.
For the past 19 years I have worked extensively in the Courts of Saginaw County. My work as an assistant prosecutor has allowed me to prosecute many different felonies and misdemeanors. Over the years, my practice has included cases involving child abuse, child sexual assault and domestic violence both as it relates to the victim and the perpetrator. I have passionately advocated for children of assault and for mothers and families displaced by domestic violence. I have prosecuted violent and non-violent offenders in the juvenile and adult courts. I have a very close, working relationship with all of our County’s courts and police agencies who understand the serious issues that our youth and families face.
I have overwhelming support of the judges, law enforcement agencies, educators, clergy, community leaders and organizations in Saginaw County. We must unite to effectuate significant, positive change for our troubled youth. I am proud to have 12 public safety endorsements. I am honored to have the exclusive endorsements of 17 judges who personally know me, my abilities, experience, and work ethic and courtroom demeanor because I have practiced in their courts.
My judicial endorsements include the Hon. Fred J. Borchard, Chief Judge of the Probate and District Court, and the Hon. Patrick J. McGraw, the Presiding Judge of the Probate Court. Ten of the twelve current sitting judges endorse me along with retired judges from District and Circuit Court, and judges from the Court of Appeals. My endorsements overall are from individuals in the judiciary who believe I would be a competent, effective and ethical judge. These Judges are looking forward to working with me to make the court system more effective for our children and our families and more efficient for the benefit of all.
I am committed to making Saginaw County a better place as exhibited by my past and present service and community involvement. For years, I was a board member of Child and Family Services, Underground Railroad, and the Domestic Assault Response Team. I taught elementary religious instruction at St. John Vianney. I am a member of the Saginaw County Law Enforcement Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.
As a mother, teacher and prosecutor, I have extensive experience with children inside and outside of the courtroom. The Probate Judge of the Juvenile Division must understand the delicate balance of holding children responsible for their actions when they commit crime and how to guide them to be better citizens for the benefit of all. I will bring a new energy and a new outlook to the juvenile court system and our youth. I will continue work tirelessly for our children, families and community as a whole.
Review: How would you best distinguish your top priorities & challenges for this office and what will you do to set those priorities and meet these goals?
Meter: Several of the most challenging problems facing the Probate Court - Juvenile Division are the serious issues of fatherless children, drug and alcohol abuse, and truancy. It is important to note, the three largest categories of the Juvenile Court's docket are delinquency (approximately 70%), the abuse and neglect of children (approximately 20%) and termination of parental rights (approximately 5%). I have effectively litigated cases in all of these areas.
I seek to work with the spiritual community, educators, law enforcement agencies, community leaders and concerned citizens to foster mentoring programs for our troubled youth who are in desperate need of role models and guidance. Our children need access to responsible and caring adults and safe places to go where they can observe and model good behavior. I will seek the assistance of groups such as The Crime Prevention Counsel and reach out to our community to find positive solutions, people and environments for our children in need.
I believe Juvenile Court is in critical need of a Family Drug Court. I am the only Felony Drug Court Prosecutor in Saginaw County. I have extensive training in the principles and application of drug courts. Since its inception over two years ago, the 10th Judicial Circuit Felony Drug Court has seen tremendous success in guiding drug addicted adults to become drug free, responsible and productive citizens. Drug addicted parents involved in abuse and neglect proceedings in Probate Court can't be expected to become long term, healthy parents until they face their addition. Drug Court is a proven, highly effective means to help parents suffering from addiction to become clean, sober, functioning adults for their children.
Saginaw County needs to put in place an aggressive truancy program to get all of our children in school. Far too many children are missing their opportunity to receive an education. This is simply unacceptable. It is critical to our children that we reverse this trend. My campaign slogan is "Keep Kids off the Streets and in Their Seats". I will seek to bring truant children and their parents before one court, Probate Court - Juvenile Division, to address this serious and ongoing problem.
I will bring a new energy and outlook to the juvenile court system and our youth. The new philosophy in the courts is to have one court of common jurisdiction. This means that all courts work together and are interchangeable to some degree. This concept is current and being implemented in our county.
I have overwhelming support by every court in Saginaw; Circuit, Probate and District, as well as retired judges and judges on the Court of Appeals. Ten of the twelve sitting judges have endorsed me. These judges have gotten to know me over my 19 years as an assistant prosecutor practicing in their courtrooms day in and day out. I have 12 public safety endorsements and support of many community leaders throughout our county. These endorsements comprise individuals who trust me and want to work with me to make the court system more effective and efficient for our children, for our families and for the benefit of all.
Greenfelder: My first priority is to determine if a child accused of breaking a law, or parents accused of neglecting or abusing children, are guilty or not. I will use my 15 years of experience working with those that have broken a law or abused or neglected a child to fashion dispositions (sentences) that will keep innocent children and the public safe. Next, I will make sure that the funding that is available to pay for the delinquents and families is used appropriately an protected. Third, I will locate and use local resources to prevent children and families from coming into the court.