In Conversation: Eli Savit, candidate for Washtenaw County Prosecutor

Thursday, June 25, 2020 - 8:09pm

Eli Savit is running for Washtenaw County prosecutor

Eli Savit is running for Washtenaw County prosecutor Buy this photo
Courtesy of Eli Savit

Editor’s Note: The Michigan Daily does not officially endorse Eli Savit for prosecutor. This story is one in a series of stories profiling the candidates for Washtenaw County prosecutor. The Daily previously interviewed Arianne Slay and Hugo Mack as part of a series on the 2020 candidates for Washtenaw County prosecutor.

Eli Savit may not be a prosecutor by training, but he believes his experience in education and law makes him a strong candidate for Washtenaw County prosecutor. Savit grew up in Ann Arbor and attended Ann Arbor Pioneer High School before becoming a history and special education teacher. 

He later returned to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan Law School. After law school, Savit worked for two federal judges and as an appellate and Supreme Court lawyer before clerking for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sandra Day O’Connor (ret.) on the Supreme Court. Afterwards, he accepted an appointment as the City of Detroit’s senior legal counsel and now, he is running for Washtenaw County prosecutor in lieu of incumbent Brian Mackie retiring. 

Savit told The Daily in an interview that he is running because he has observed inequities in the current system. 

“I got in the race to challenge our 28-year incumbent because what I had seen in this county reflected what I had seen in the United States as a whole,” Savit said. “Decisions made by the local prosecutor’s office are really fueling racial inequalities in our justice system, our system of mass incarceration and a system that treats health issues like criminal issues.”

Savit discussed how his campaign started over a year ago as a collaborative effort with local activists. 

“I didn't get into this race by myself,” Savit said. “I started my campaign sitting around the table sitting with activists around the community. We sat together, listened together and came up with a plan of what needed to change and came up with a plan about how to do it.” 

Savit detailed his journey and how he found himself back in his hometown of Ann Arbor after pursuing work as an attorney and clerk in Washington, D.C. 

“I have spent the vast majority of my life (in Ann Arbor),” Savit said. “A lot of people decide to stay in D.C. to work with big law firms and make a lot of money, but I never wanted to do that. I don't want to be strictly (a) D.C. person, I wanted to be here. My heart has always been in this community and when I saw our justice system not reflecting our communities values I really felt compelled to run to change it.” 

Savit also addressed that while he is not a prosecutor by training, his unique experiences and qualifications will help him address many of the current issues facing the community. 

“This is a moment right now that (people) in prosecutor’s offices that have different backgrounds are willing to stand and fight for equality.” Savit said.

Savit also discussed his plans to address a variety of issues facing the community, but explained why racial and socioeconomic inequity were at the forefront of his list. 

“Eliminating racial and socioeconomic inequity in the justice system is a top priority for me,” Savit said. “We have two systems of justice in this county and the United States. We have one system in which poor, working class and largely Black and brown and indigenous are often compelled to plead to a crime and do not have access to high powered legal representation. We (also) have a system in which wealthier people and corporations are able to get away with crimes because, frankly, prosecutors’ offices — even when there's a lot of evidence — they don't want to prosecute those cases because they are afraid that they might lose.” 

Savit said if he were elected prosecutor that he would close these loopholes. 

“If wealthy people and corporations harm our community … they will be held accountable,” Savit said. “We need a justice system that works for everybody.” 

Savit also discussed the immediate changes he will make, if elected, and said that many of the current policies are not working well for the community. 

“The current prosecutor's office has zero-tolerance policies for certain categories of crime, which make a great bumper sticker but ultimately don't take stock of the human story at the center of every case,” Savit said. “There are individuals and a story whenever someone goes through the criminal justice system, and I will eliminate these policies on day one and will treat every case with seriousness and attention to detail that it deserves.” 

Savit said current prosecutor Brian Mackie has not addressed issues of inequality in Washtenaw county. 

“We have tremendously severe racial inequity in Washtenaw county’s justice system,” Savit said. “The current prosecutor’s position on this has been to do nothing and I’m going to change that. We are going to open up our files and we are going to partner with a third party that isn’t tied to the prosecutor's office and we're going to see where in the system where are people of color being treated differently from white people in the criminal justice system. We can’t pretend this problem doesn't exist anymore.” 

Savit talked about his plans to prioritize and fund programs that provide alternatives to incarceration for those whose problems, such as substance abuse and homelessness, he doesn’t believe are criminal offenses. 

“If you invest in things like education, housing and healthcare; you infinitely reduce the chance that a person is going to be in the criminal justice system later in life,” Savit said. “And ultimately, that keeps us all safer.” 

Savit concluded the interview by discussing his long-term goals for the county. 

“What I am confident in –– and what I am hopeful (for) –– (is) that we’ll achieve a system that prioritizes equity, fairness and rehabilitation and that saves money in the long term (while) prevent(ing) future crime from occurring,” Savit said. “When you’re not just focusing on punishment, (that will) make us all safer.” 

Summer News Editor Sarah Payne can be reached at paynesm@umich.edu.