Two thirds of the candidates for city offices in Lansing this year have court records. Those records range from civil matters, such as debt collection and evictions, parking tickets, and traffic violations to more serious criminal allegations and convictions.
A review of court records in 54-A District Court in Lansing, 54-B District Court in East Lansing and the 30th Circuit Court in Ingham County revealed nearly 100 citations against 19 candidates for city offices and 13 civil cases against six candidates, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars of judgments against them.
All but two candidates are in races, for mayor and the City Council that will be on the Aug. 8 primary ballot. The exception is the clerk’s race, where since there are only two candidates will only be on the General Election ballot.
The most serious criminal charges have been levied against mayoral candidates Harold Leeman Jr. and Danny Trevino Jr.
Leeman has been charged with a felony for allegedly embezzling over $1,000 from the city of Lansing through the Gier Park concessions program, for which he was volunteering. Those allegations include misuse of a credit card as well as absconding with cash. The case was sent to Circuit Court last month for a trial unless he pleads guilty.
Trevino is facing a felony charge for assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, one misdemeanor count of domestic violence and two counts of misdemeanor malicious destruction of property. His case is still pending in District Court, where a hearing will be held to determine if enough evidence exists to send the case to Circuit Court for prosecution.
City Clerk candidate Jerimic Clayborn III was charged in 2010 and again in 2012 with domestic violence. The 2010 case was dismissed by prosecutors, and in the 2012 case prosecutors decided not to proceed.
“My past is my past,” said Clayborn.
“It’s nobody’s business. It’s between God and me.”
He is running against incumbent Chris Swope, whose only court record shows a moving violation he did not contest for going one to five miles above the speed limit, for which he paid a $145 fine.
And 27 years ago City Council At-Large candidate Rosalinda Hernandez entered a guilty plea to having a vicious dog. She said by email that she did not recall the case.
Second Ward candidate Jeremy Garza was arrested in June 2001 on charges of fighting in public and failing to obey a police officer. Those charges were dismissed, court records show, and Garza said the incident was one of self defense in front of Rumrunners, then a downtown bar.
Clayborn reappears in several civil matters.
Court records in 54-A District Court reveal he was sued twice for nonpayment of rent — with one case being dismissed because his landlord couldn’t serve him the paperwork. The other case resulted in a $931.20 default judgment against him and an eviction. A default finding means he didn’t show up in court.
The records also reveal the clerk candidate was sued for $3,412.51 by Wolverine Mutual Insurance Co. Again, Clayborn failed to appear for a hearing in the case and a default judgment for that sum was entered against him. He tried twice to set the judgment aside, but the court refused. The records reveal an order was entered prohibiting him from asking for a setaside again.
“What does it matter?” Clayborn asked in a phone interview Sunday. “I am seriously asking, why does it matter?” If he were elected clerk, he would oversee a budget of just over $1 million. Those seeking to be mayor or on the City Council would oversee a total citywide budget of over $200 million.
Fourth Ward candidate Jim Mc- Clurken was sued by Summit Bank for $370,385 in 2011. It was for loans given to him and his companies. The court ultimately removed McClurken from the case because he had declared bankruptcy, but it found his businesses were liable for the debts.
In 2009, the city of Lansing sued McClurken and his businesses for $2,964 in unpaid income taxes. A default judgment was entered against him. In 2010, Federal Home Mortgage filed suit to evict McClurken from the 1926 Potter House, but that suit was withdrawn, apparently as a result of his bankruptcy filing. The Potter House, on Cambridge Drive near the Country Club of Lansing, is nearly 10,000 square feet and has a value of $368,700, according to the city assessor’s property information program on the city’s website.
“It was part of my bankruptcy,” McClurken said. “Everything was settled seven years ago.”
“It’s made me keenly aware of what small business owners face all over the city, even now,” he said.
Also in the Fourth Ward race, Jason Durham was sued last July for nonpayment of rent. The court entered a default judgment against him for $1,081, court records show.
Kathi Raffone, also running in the Fourth Ward, was sued in 2010 by GE Money Bank. The bank won a $1,970 award, which it has been recouping through garnishing Raffone’s income tax returns from the state. The record shows the bank has received $1,907 through those garnishments through 2013.
Meanwhile, in the Second Ward, incumbent Tina Houghton, who is seeking her third term, has faced her own debt-related civil lawsuits in District Court. Records show she faced four lawsuits for unpaid medical bills in 2010 and 2011. Two of those cases were dismissed, and two had default judgments on them. Details on the cases have since been purged from the 54-A District Court files.
More recently, Houghton was sued by Emergency Medical Associates in 2012. She didn’t show up for an October hearing, and Judge Louise Alderson approved a default debt of $650.28 against Houghton. Attorneys for the company sought and received a garnishment of Houghton’s wages at Michigan State University in November 2012. The debt was paid off through that garnishment by April 2013.
“Given that I have over seven years on city council, it seems like a more relevant analysis would be my voting record and the progress the city has made over the last several years,” Houghton said in an emailed statement.
Traffic and parking issues The bulk of the citations are for traffic and parking issues.
Traffic fines and parking tickets are an important revenue source for the city. Budget documents from March show the city raised just over $900,000 in such charges in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. That money funded the operations of the court. In the fiscal year 2016-2017 budget, officials estimated it would take in $1 million. But in March, officials estimated when the books closed June 30, the city would have only taken in $500,000. The rest of the money will have to come from the city’s general fund, ultimately impacting other programs in the city.
Topping that list is current City Councilwoman At-Large Kathie Dunbar. Between East Lansing and Lansing parking and traffic fines, Dunbar has shelled out at least $1,143 since 1998. All but $75 of those fines were racked up since 2011. For five of those tickets, Dunbar defaulted. Dunbar did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Jaron Green, a candidate for the Second Ward, comes in second with tickets and fines. He’s racked up 16 tickets since 2013. Two of them were dismissed, and the rest resulted in fines totaling $1,013. Of those tickets, six were for parking on the street overnight in violation of Lansing and East Lansing ordinances.
He is paying off a parking ticket in East Lansing. “I personally don’t think they’re that big of a deal,” he said. “History shows I pay my parking tickets eventually.”
He said some of the overnight parking tickets were the result of sharing a home with multiple residents with not enough parking. That’s something residents on the eastside have been complaining about, because they say the on-street parking makes it difficult for emergency vehicles to navigate the street.
He said his delays in paying parking tickets do not reflect on his ability to oversee the city’s budget.
Houghton, who is seeking reelection in the Second Ward, has had $768 worth of tickets since 1995.
Those include two parking tickets at MSU and one in Lansing.
Last month, Houghton was in court before Judge Patrick Cherry over an unpaid parking ticket. She’d failed to pay the ticket or appear in court to explain why and a warrant for her arrest had been issued. When she learned of the warrant, she called City Attorney Jim Smiertka. His office filed a motion to quash the warrant which Cherry approved.
But she also racked up fines for failing to have current tags on her car — three times — and for failing to have proof of insurance twice. In 2005 she was cited for having an unlicensed dog. Her opponent, Garza, racked up $742 in fines and fees. Among his infractions were speeding, no proof of registration and no proof of insurance.
“I’ll be the first to admit I have a bit of a heavy right foot and have accumulated some tickets,” Garza said in an email Sunday night.
“I take full responsibility for that. I have always taken care of those, with most of them being dismissed. Maybe I can take up a second career on the NASCAR circuit. My wife would probably prefer I just slow down instead.”
Justin DeBoer, an at-large candidate who has advocated filling budget holes by raising parking and traffic fines, racked up $652 in fines and fees for five tickets since 2007. He had nine total tickets in that time frame, four of them dismissed by the court. In 2010 he received a ticket in East Lansing for parking in a handicap spot, and finally paid that off in March of this year.
“I dont think its too important for voters because these are common tickets that a lot of people get when they make little mistakes,” DeBoer said in an email. “But I have nothing to hide.”
DeBoer’s fellow at-large candidate, Michael Ruddock, a recent graduate of MSU, had five tickets in East Lansing from 2014. He racked up a total of $361 in fines, after defaulting on three of the tickets. He was found responsible for parking on private property in another case, and in the last case, he admitted not having proof of insurance and paid a $25 fine.
In an email, Ruddock called the tickets “minor.” “ Certain information such as this is important to individual voters,” he wrote. “I’m not sure everybody will find this of top importance, but I’m glad it’s getting published.
Our campaign strives for total and unadulterated transparency.”
Other at-large candidates
Alexander Rusek: failure to yield, 2011. Paid $150 fine in East Lansing
Thomas Harris Jr.: three tickets totaling $206 in fines since 1998.
Hernandez: failing to stop at a stop sign, 1992. Paid a $60 fine in Lansing.
Peter Spadafore: overnight parking, East Lansing. Paid $35 fine in East Lansing.
Guillermo Lopez: three tickets in Lansing since 2002. One, for speeding, was dismissed. In 2002 and 2009 he paid $25 for not having proof of insurance with him.
Other 2nd ward candidates
Julee Rodocker: failure to yield, 1995. Paid $74 fine in Lansing
Other 4th ward candidates:
Brian T. Jackson: three tickets since 2001.
He paid a total of $320 for two speeding tickets, one in 2001 and the other in 2016, and a 2005 ticket for blocking access.
Amanda Bernes: four tickets, 2011. She paid a total of $195 in fines to East Lansing for three of those tickets, two for no proof insurance and one for speeding. She had an expired plate ticket dismissed by the court.
Swope: speeding 1-5 over, 2011. Paid $145 fine in East Lansing.
Clayborn: $682 in traffic fines and parking tickets since 2009. Those infractions include speeding, overnight parking equipment issues and no proof of insurance. He received 11 citations since 2009, but four of those tickets were dismissed.
Andy Schor: blocking a driveway ticket, 2012.
He paid a $45 fine in East Lansing.
Leeman: four tickets since 1995.
Two of those were for speeding, a 1998 citation was dismissed, while a 2000 citation was paid. He also had a fine for failing to show proof of insurance and failing to use his traffic signal. He paid a total $174 in fines.
Trevino: Three tickets since 2014.
He paid $478 in Lansing for fines. His citations included expired plates, no proof of insurance and equipment violations.
No court records were identified for the following candidates:
Mayoral Michael Joseph Gillenkirk Judi Brown Clarke
At-Large Christopher Jackson Yanice Jackson Evelyn Pech-Vasquez Kyle Bowman Jim DeLine
Fourth Ward Elvin Caldwell Jr. Larry Hutchinson
(Elo Wittig contributed research to this report.)
Because of an editing error, the age of Jim DeLine, who is running for the Lansing City Council in the 2 nd Ward, was wrongly stated. His age is 63.
A question to candidates running for mayor and the City Council in last week’s City Pulse that referred to tax credits should have said: “Tax incentives have been used as an economic development tool, but critics say they are a giveaway to developers. Where do you stand on tax incentives?” Tax credits are no longer available in Michigan for economic development.