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Ingham County Commissioners Thomas Morgan (left) and Ryan Sebolt.THURSDAY, NOV. 29 — Ingham County commissioners are looking to condemn what they labeled as “racially charged” statements made by 54-B District Court Judge Andrea Larkin against mixing college students with those facing “more dangerous” felonies from Lansing.
“Judge Larkin’s comments are divisive, disgusting and despicable,” said Lansing Commissioner Thomas Morgan, who co-authored the resolution with Lansing Commissioner Ryan Sebolt.
In a 12-1 vote, the Board of Commissioners referred a draft resolution condemning Larkin’s views to the Law and Courts Committee, which meets tonight. Only outgoing Commissioner Deb Nolan, who represents southern Meridian Township, voted no. Commissioner Kara Hope was absent.
The resolution reads: “Judge Larkin’s comments appear to advocate for two justice systems: One for so-called upwardly-mobile citizens and students, and another for people living in urban environments.”
It adds that her view “only serves to divide our region.”
The controversy stems from interviews City Pulse conducted with Larkin in which she spoke against court consolidation. In them, she expressed concerns about transporting and jailing college students with those facing “more dangerous” felony charges in Lansing.
Larkin also submitted a rebuttal of sorts. In a letter to the Board of Commissioners, she noted the communities of East Lansing and Lansing are inherently different and again emphasized that younger defendants shouldn’t be housed with higher-risk defendants regardless of their enrollment status, hometown, race, culture or political affiliation.
“The most important consideration is whether residents want to lose their local courts which are reflective of their city’s needs,” Larkin wrote, listing other concerns about costs and the potential for a “one-size-fits all” justice system. “Each city will lose the opportunity to elect local judges who reside in the city where they serve.”
However, Sebolt still found sentiments addressed in her followup statements to be “deeply offensive” and “insensitive” to Lansing residents. He said the letter incorrectly indicates that East Lansing residents are only prone to misdemeanors while violent felony charges are more likely to be levied against Lansing residents.
“One size does fit all in the justice system,” Sebolt added. “We’re all supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law.”
Larkin, in one of two separate interviews with City Pulse, explained that one of her children attends Michigan State University.
“If they got picked up for urinating in public or assaulting someone outside a bar in East Lansing, would I want them to be housed with people from Lansing facing more dangerous felonies? I'm speaking as a parent, but I would not,” Larkin said. Later, in an on-the-record meeting at City Pulse with editor and publisher Berl Schwartz, she denied saying “from Lansing.”
However, a source told City Pulse that in a private meeting with public officials, Larkin had tied Lansing to her comments about college students. The source’s information is what led City Pulse to interview Larkin on the issue.
In another interview, she noted that East Lansing is “just different” from Lansing in terms of demographics.
“People recognize the differences between a college town and the rest of the county. A lot of young people may get into a fight outside the bar or something. The issue is A.) Do you want them to be transported for a long period of time? And B.) Do you want them to be held in a lock-up with people from some other areas?”
Larkin elaborated on the “trauma” of younger defendants crossing paths with hardened criminals from outside of East Lansing. In the context of this interview, Larkin was specifically asked about how East Lansing defendants would be impacted from potentially sharing a lock-up with defendants from Lansing.
“It's the experience,” Larkin said during the recent interview. “It's the trauma of being housed or being bused with somebody who might act out violently or have a serious mental illness and not be able to bond out for a few days. It's about the degree of the seriousness of the offense. It's not about superiority.”
“I'm just saying we have a lot of college students in East Lansing that are young and don't have their full frontal lobe development from a psychological standpoint,” Larkin added. “That maybe would've prevented them from doing something in the first place. There needs to be some recognition of the demographics in East Lansing.”
She also noted that “a lot of research” corroborates a theory that more violent criminal offenders serve as a bad influence for lower-level offenders when they’re housed together in the same facilities. But it’s only about the age of the defendant and their “criminogenic” risk factors, she later emphasized in the meeting at City Pulse. “Criminogenic” refers to conditions that cause or are likely to cause criminal behavior, such as homelessness or, in this case, association with more violent offenders.
Still, the resolution considered her sentiments to be “beyond the pale for a supposed impartial arbiter of justice” and sought to condemn the “coded, elitist and racist” statements. It also demanded a public apology and sought a judicial review of Larkin’s previous treatment of criminal defendants.
“Particularly coming from a judge that’s supposed to be fair and impartial, I’d like for her to apologize immediately and spend some time looking at the Constitution,” Morgan said previously. “If she’s unable to do that, then maybe being a judge isn’t the right thing for her.”
Lansing City Council, spurred at least in part by Councilman Peter Spadafore, is also exploring a similar resolution, though no formal action has been taken. Several other officials have also taken umbrage with a perceived subtext in her remarks.
Larkin couldn’t be reached for additional comment.
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for previous and continued coverage on regional court consolidation.