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Home News  Could fifth time be the charm for O'Berry?
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Wednesday, May 5,2010

Could fifth time be the charm for O'Berry?

by Kyle Melinn

Assistant Lansing city attorney Billie Jo O'Berry is at it again. She's on the Ingham County ballot for 2010.
She's running for the Ingham County Circuit Court this go around, marking the fifth time in the last six election cycles she's put her hat in the ring for some local judicial post.


She said she's not a glutton for punishment, but is she? Running for public office is an emotionally and physically exhausting venture for everybody involved — candidate, family, friends, supporters — especially when the candidate loses, which has been O'Berry's track record since 2000.


In three straight elections — 2004, 2006 and 2008 — O'Berry, a Mason resident, ran for a seat on the 55th District Court in Mason. Each time she lost, the most heartbreaking loss coming in 2006 when she fell by 426 votes (50 to 49 percent) to Judge Thomas Boyd.


Ten years ago, she tried the Circuit Court. She finished fifth out of a five-candidate field.


This time she's running with three other attorneys for the spot on the 30th Circuit Court. Judge James Giddings is leaving.


"Honestly, I didn't intend to run for Circuit or District Court," O'Berry said." Judge Giddings pointed out the fact that he wouldn't be able to seek re-election and suggested that I consider running for Circuit Court. I didn't think about it much at first. I told myself, 'No, I'm not going to do that.'"


But the next time O'Berry was in court, Giddings mentioned it again, telling her that he thought she had the experience, depth of legal knowledge and temperament needed to be a judge.


"When you start hearing this from several people, you begin to think seriously about it," O'Berry said. "I talked with my family, other attorneys and several of my other colleagues. I wanted to make an informed decision."


What she found was enough support to put her name in by last week’s filing deadline. The other candidates in the race are Lansing attorney Clinton Canady, Okemos attorney Gregory Crockett (who ran against Ingham County Probate Judge Richard Garcia for the slot in 2008, but lost)  and Lansing attorney Jim Jamo.


So before we chuck O'Berry into the "Melissa-Sue-Robinson-perennial-candidate" territory, let's keep a few things in perspective. O'Berry isn't getting crushed in these elections. Since '04, she's finished with more than 40 percent of the vote every time.


(O’Berry likened her election record to Lincoln's, saying that the 16th president lost seven races. But if the website “Abraham Lincoln Online” is correct at http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/education/polbrief.htm, Lincoln lost just three races and won seven — and lost only one before he began a winning streak.)


Also, she has picked up a few things from her prior losses to put her in a favorable position for the August primary, where the field of candidates will be halved to two. For one, she realizes that this time she needs to get serious about raising money.


Signs, billboards, and radio ads are the only way to boost her name ID in Lansing. That said, she is drawing the line at having fundraisers thrown by attorneys. She will not go there.


O'Berry has a few things working to her advantage. She's the only woman in the field, which I'm told research shows helps with a few percentage points. She's not running against a sitting judge. That's a huge bonus. Knocking off an incumbent, particularly an incumbent judge, is difficult.


O'Berry's pink signs should be familiar to Okemos and rural Ingham County, at least. Crockett ran last year, but the other two candidates haven't run for office before.


O’Berry points to a solid reputation among her peers as well as accomplishments, such as saving the city $200,000 in police officer overtime by jimmying the court schedules so officers aren't blowing as much time in the courthouse and fewer witnesses are needed.


She credits herself with creating a zero-point ticket plea system for the city. Those busted for a traffic violation can, in some case, pay a fine without worrying about the points showing up on their driving record as long as they agree not to show up in court. That saves the city money, too.


Maybe more important, O'Berry sounds genuine in why she wants to run. She's not looking to climb a legal ladder. When asked which Michigan Supreme Court judge best reflects her own positions, O'Berry couldn't come up with a name.


"I'm content to working with the community at this level," she said. "I like being connected to the local community. I don't aspire to being a Supreme Court justice. It's too far removed from the people."

Jones introduces speed-trap bills
Last year, the Michigan State Police confirmed to me that the speed limits on several streets in Lansing, including the Capitol Loop, are not properly posted based on a recent Michigan law that lays out the formula cities must follow when setting speed limits.


The City of Lansing and other municipalities are claiming a way around the law. But state Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, says he's had enough. The former Eaton County sheriff said he's set to introduce bills in the state Legislature to clear up the law and eliminate what he feels are speed traps in Lansing and throughout Michigan.

Child's health worries lawmaker
Rep. Brian Calley, R-Portland — considered the frontrunner to succeed Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, in the Clinton County-based Senate district — has had his head and heart on more important matters in recent weeks.
Calley's newborn daughter, Kara, was born with holes in her heart, and the 33-year-old lawmaker has found comfort in sharing the story of Kara's struggles through frequent Facebook posts. His tender posts never fail to generate multiple replies from well wishers.


"Kara received oxygen while the meds were increased to get some of the pressure off her lungs," Calley posted Tuesday morning. "She also received a breathing treatment. She is doing better now."
Keep strong, Brian.


(Kyle Melinn is the editor at the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekly. Melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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