Circuit seat

By Andy Balaskovitz

Last-minute ad spices up judicial race

A field of five candidates in August’s primary election for a vacant 30th Circuit Court judge seat was narrowed to two — and things between those two have gone sour.

On Tuesday, Ken Ross’ campaign released a TV ad attacking opponent Jim Jamo for engineering a “secret settlement for 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.”

The ad refers to a settlement — which was $150,000 — from 2009 involving a lawsuit filed in Coopersville by hazing victims on a junior varsity baseball team. Jamo represented the school district. The Grand Rapids Press sued the Coopersville School District for not disclosing the settlement amount in a Freedom of Information Act request. Jamo also represented the school district when a Circuit Court judge ordered the school to disclose the amount to the newspaper.

Jamo, in an interview Monday, defended his representation of the school district, saying he was asked by the hazing victims’ families to keep the settlement amount confidential. “They did not want any further harm or exposure or notoriety,” he said. “In other words, the kids had been through enough.” Todd Flood, the student plaintiff’s attorney, confirmed that on Tuesday.

Moreover, Jamo said he’s “very disappointed that the Ross camp would choose to run a negative campaign in a judicial race like this.”

The ad also underscores the divide that the two candidates say distinguish them: Ross, 45, as the “watchdog for consumers” (as the ad points out) who formerly served as the state’s insurance and banking commissioner; and Jamo, 54, who’s running on his 28 years of mostly civil litigation experience representing a variety of clients.

“I think we’ve taken different paths in life,” Ross said of his opponent.

Ross, an openly gay candidate, is the assistant general counsel for the financial services firm Citizens Republic Bancorp. He was also hired as an assistant attorney general by former Attorney General Frank Kelly and served as vice president for the Michigan Credit Union League. He has the endorsements of the UAW Region 1-C, Michigan Education Association, Michigan Nurses Association and the Lansing firefighters union.

This is Jamo’s second run for a vacant Circuit Court seat. He lost in the 2010 primary to Billie Jo O’Berry and Judge Clinton Canady III. He is a partner in the local firm Grua, Jamo & Young and has extensive backing by active and retired local judges as well as Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth and the Greater Lansing Labor Council. He says it’s his courtroom experience that separates him from Ross.

“If you have not been handling cases,” he said of potential judges, “it is I think difficult without having been there.”