Oct. 27 2010 12:00 AM

A Q&A with candidates for the 30th Circuit Court


Lansing assistant city attorney Billie Jo O’Berry, 54, is in her fifth judicial race. Clinton Canady III, 62, is a trial attorney who owns a private practice. This is his first time running for an elected position.
The two are running for the seat of James Giddings, who is retiring.

What are the three most important attributes of a judge?

Canady: The ability to listen to all sides of the issue with impartiality; to treat all parties respectfully; and wherever possible, to attempt to explain the basis and rationale of the decisions that one is making.

O’Berry: A judge must be impartial when hearing a case. Personal opinions about the parties, their attorneys and the issues should have no bearing on the judge's decision. Remember Lady Justice who holds the scales in her hands wears a blindfold.  A judge must be willing to work hard to study the relevant law and have the courage to make a decision based upon the individual facts as applied to the law.

What are the five most important cases you have handled and explain why you believe so?  

Canady: I have handled many cases over my 37 years of practicing law. It is difficult to pick out a “most important” case, because each case is of utmost importance to the parties.  All cases are important to the persons involved.

Some significant cases I have handled, however, would include, but are not limited to, being co-counsel in the Kalamazoo Public School Teachers versus the Kalamazoo Board of Education, teacher racial discrimination matter; several major criminal cases involving armed bank robbery in the Federal District Court and second degree murder in Barry County; and, several large civil suits wherein either trial or settlements were reached for injured Plaintiffs.

O'Berry: One case was a probate matter where the attorney and personal representative had overcharged the estate. It was important because at the time of death no one should be allowed to take advantage of the other parties involved. It was significant because I had to disregard my relationship with the parties involved. Although it was a long fought case, it proved that everyone must follow the law and  be responsible for their wrongdoing.

Another case was when I was appointed as a Special Hearing Officer in a Veteran's Preference case. It involved the termination of a police officer who had been terminated after a criminal conviction. By statute, a veteran who is employed in a public position is entitled to a separate hearing to determine the appropriate discipline for the misconduct. I knew the police officer involved, but had to hear the testimony and make a recommendation for discipline without regard to my acquaintance with the officer.

Generally, decisions of the District Court Judge are not appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals. However, the case was appealed by the defendant after conviction to the Circuit Court. Because the Circuit Judge had not applied the legal standard of review, the decision was appealed the Court of Appeals where I was successful. Again, important because everyone must follow the legal standards.

Another case was when I was court appointed to defend a juvenile accused of a theft. The juvenile indicated that he was falsely accused. At the time of trial I discovered a problem with the identification. As a result of my attention to detail and further investigation, all charges were dropped against my client. This case taught me to listen to the parties, never just accept information as true and pay attention to details, they can be the real key to the truth.

Parents were charged with allowing their minor son to engage in illegal activity. This was a situation where a sixteen year old boy was taking underage girls to his room and giving them alcohol and engaging in sexual acitivity. The parents were home and knew was what was going on in their home. The parents were not exercising their responsibility under the law. The importance of this case was to hold the parents accountable for failing to exercise parental control.

Describe the personal philosophy you will bring to the position of a circuit judge, if elected.  

Canady: It is my intent to “protect” the public’s right to justice. I will follow a philosophy of fairness and impartiality. I have the credentials as a result of the legal and community activities I have been involved in. I have the practical experience, based on the broad range and extent of representation. I would bring all of these to the bench, if I were elected.
O’Berry: It will be a privilege to serve this community as their judge. This is not a retirement position, it requires a dedication to working full time. I want to continue my public service to all of Ingham County as a Circuit Judge and would never take the privilege for granted. I am ready to accept the responsibility of being on the bench, without this commitment justice cannot be served.

In the past 10 years, what percent of your work as a lawyer has been in the following fields? These should add up to 100 percent.
Canady: Criminal: 20 percent; family: 30 percent; business/commercial: 0 percent; negligence: 10 percent; juvenile matters: 20 percent; government: 0 percent; estate planning: 10 percent; and other/Social Security and bankruptcy: 10 percent.

O’Berry: I am in a unique position in trying to quantify the types of work that I handle. For example I handle a lot of criminal cases. However, these may involve issues with juveniles. I handle real property issues which may include contracts, land transfers, zoning or commercial interests. I handle disputes between families and neighbors which can involve various types of issues.

50 percent is Criminal and the other 50 percent is a combination of the rest: Family (divorce, child custody, parenting time, adoption), business/commercial, negligence (personal injury, automobile accidents, malpractice), juvenile matters, government, estate planning (wills, trusts) probating, housing/building, zoning, labor employment, administrative (Liquor Control Commission, Civil Rights Commission, etc.).