If you get in a dispute with your landlord or receive a minor in possession or a serious traffic violation and need to go to court, you’ll end up in the 15th District Court. This year, students have an opportunity to shape how their cases will be handled well before they set foot in the courthouse. That’s because voters will elect either Chris Easthope or Eric Gutenberg next week to serve on the court — a choice that pits two equally qualified candidates with very different styles against each other.
Gutenberg brings unmatched experience handling complex litigation in an evenhanded, by-the-book way. Since 1998, he has served as the first assistant prosecuting attorney for Washtenaw County. For nine years before that, he also worked in the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office. These positions have given him a wealth of knowledge about felony cases, but less experience with the cumbersome, yet still important, traffic, tenant and small claims cases he will hear as district judge.
By comparison, Easthope is a defense attorney and Ann Arbor City Council member. As a defense attorney he has handled a wider variety of cases, though he has less experience with the higher profile and more complex criminal cases Gutenberg has handled. Because of his eight years on city council, Easthope is also better versed in people’s everyday concerns. This is particularly true of student concerns, since Easthope is one of council’s two liaisons to the Michigan Student Assembly.
While both of these candidates would be intelligent, fair judges, students should be looking for someone who best understands their interactions with the legal system. Though the law strictly prohibits judicial candidates from explaining how they will rule if elected, Easthope has mapped a decision-making process that includes more discretion. He knows that many of the people who will come before his court, especially students, don’t understand the judicial system and can unfairly get swept up in it because of this misunderstanding. These people overcrowd our jails and suffer unnecessary disruptions to their normal lives.
Though Gutenberg shares many of these same understandings, he doesn’t appear to be as sensitive to them. And while his experience with complex felony cases is impressive, he would be responsible for handling more of the mundane ones as district judge. Because we believe he would bring a more compassionate approach to the court, the Daily endorses CHRIS EASTHOPE for 15th District Court judge.