Friday, Nov. 2 — The two candidates for a 30th Circuit Court judge seat are defending themselves in light of a television ad launched this week by Ken Ross’s campaign attacking opponent James Jamo.
Both candidates appeared separately on “City Pulse on the Air” Wednesday. (You can listen to the interview here.)
Ross defended the ad that criticizes Jamo for his role in a 2009 West Michigan lawsuit involving high school students who alleged they were victims of physical and sexual abuse related to a hazing incident. Ross claims Jamo tried to cover up the settlement amount in the case and says the public had a right to know how public tax dollars were spent. Jamo represented the Coopersville School District in federal court.
Subsequently, the Grand Rapids Press filed suit in state Circuit Court against the school district after it was denied a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the settlement amount. The victims had initially sought $5 million; the settlement totaled $150,000.
The ad was “designed to provide a contrast for voters to understand ways that we view the necessity for public transparency,” Ross said on the show. “Whenever there’s public dollars spent to settle a case, that information is public.”
In the 30-second ad, a man’s voice says Jamo “engineered the secret settlement of a $5 million lawsuit filed by students physically and sexually abused at school. After promising full disclosure, Jamo got a judge to keep taxpayers in the dark about how tax dollars were spent. Jim Jamo: Secret deals with our tax dollars.”
However, Jamo countered that both the school district and the plaintiffs asked the federal judge to keep the settlement sealed due to the sensitive nature of the case. Todd Flood, an attorney who represented the victims, confirmed that was the case earlier this week.
In such cases, keeping a settlement amount confidential “is the kind of protection the court has regularly afforded victims,” Jamo said on the program. “It was a legitimate interest of the parties to try and have confidentiality and let kids put it behind them without more publicity about it.”
While Jamo claims the amount shouldn’t have been disclosed because the settlement was paid by the district’s insurance provider — and therefore did not involve public tax dollars — the Circuit Court judge disagreed, saying public dollars were spent to pay the insurance premiums.
Ross said Wednesday: “The ad is absolutely factual.”
Jamo said the characterization that he was trying to hide the payment of tax dollars “was not at all accurate.”