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Wednesday, October 27,2010

Streamlining district court

by Andy Balaskovitz


You know the economy is in the pits when judicial candidates in a District Court race run on the platform of making court efficient and saving money whenever possible.


Such is the case for Ingham County’s 55th District Court, which has incumbent Judge Donald Allen Jr. facing off against private attorney Paul T. Joseph.


District Court judges preside over civil cases under $25,000, misdemeanors, traffic fines, landlord/tenant disputes and preliminary examinations for felony cases, among other duties.


Allen, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2008, got his law degree from Wayne State University in 1983. He went on to be an assistant attorney general, deputy legal counsel for Granholm and the state “drug czar” for two-and-a-half years — “All of that is a rich history,” Allen said during an Oct. 15 debate.


Allen, 54, reasoned that the county budget problems, especially when it comes to cutting bed space in jails, is affecting the way District judges do the job. He said the budget problems show no relief in sight and that the light at the end of the tunnel “sometimes (is) a train.”


Joseph, 55, does not limit his work life to the courtroom. Aside from his practice, Joseph & Associates, he also owns an accounting firm, co-owns a restaurant in Williamston with his wife and recently acquired an old flower shop.


Joseph said the “thousands and thousands of cases in district court” he’s handled over his 30-year career qualify him for the job. He pointed at revenue shortfalls and case backlogs as two main challenges for the court.


“When your inventory (cases) is growing in the court business, it means people are not getting a timely hearing,” he said.


Joseph estimated that one-third of the cases he takes are criminal and the rest are civil matters that may not involve the courtroom. Most often they are tenant/ landlord disputes, he said.


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