Incumbent takes on lawyer in Muskegon County district attorney race
MUSKEGON, MI – Two candidates face off in the race for the Muskegon County district attorney.
Incumbent DJ Hilson, a Democrat, takes on lawyer Joshua S. EldenBrady, a Republican, in the Nov. 3 ballot.
This elected position represents the county government in criminal matters. They are running for a four-year term.
This year, MLive Media Group partnered with the League of Women Voters of Michigan to provide candidate information to readers. Each candidate was invited to present their positions on a variety of public policy issues.
Information on all state and federal races and many Michigan county and local races will be available at Vote411.org, an online voter guide created by the League of Women Voters.
Here is general information about the two candidates:
- Hilson (D), the incumbent, is running for a third term as county attorney general. Before being elected in 2012, he was deputy district attorney in Muskegon County. He holds a BA in Psychology and Economics from Marquette University and a JD from Thomas M. Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University.
- Elder Brady (R), is a lawyer. He holds a BA in English from Michigan State University, an MA in Education from Western Governors University and a Juris Doctor from Thomas M. Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University.
Here is an overview of the position of the candidates on some major questions, according to their answers to Vote411.org. (MLive did not modify these answers.)
What, in your education and experience, makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?
Hilson: Prior to working in the Muskegon County Attorney’s Office in 1999, I graduated with Distinction from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. I have been involved in the criminal justice system as a prosecutor for over 20 years. I served two terms as a Muskegon County District Attorney (eight years).
Former Brady: I have the rare prospect among prosecution candidates of coming from a defense background. I have seen the faults of our local attorney’s office and the effect these faults have on our community and the cause of justice. Additionally, for the past decade or so, I have lived in one of the areas most affected by violent crime in our county and have seen its effects firsthand (a perspective I don’t think I share. by one of the attorneys currently working in the Muskegon County District Attorney’s Office). During this time, I have built relationships with members of my community that will allow me to better serve the most underserved areas of Muskegon.
What are your goals if you are elected and how will you work to accomplish them with currently limited resources?
Hilson: I intend to continue our efforts to reduce crime through the use of my diversion program, my involvement in our specialized courts and my extensive work in the community.
Former Brady: 1. Increase the use of diversion programs for non-violent offenders while advocating for alternative sentences where appropriate. 2. Establish a witness relocation assistance program in violent criminal cases. 3. Eliminate charge reduction plea negotiations for violent crimes, especially those involving weapons, and ensure that all such cases (including those where law enforcement and other government employees are offenders) are charged with the maximum crime supported by reasonably questionable facts. 4. Publish clear guidelines and office policies regarding these programs so that the community can hold all members of the prosecutor’s office accountable for their effective implementation. With the exception of number 2, which can be funded in part by donated funds, all are achievable by changing policy and redirecting existing staff to new programs.
Are you ready to expand the use of restorative justice programs in the county, especially where young offenders are involved?
Hilson: I am a member of the board of directors of our local mediation and restorative justice center. Through this relationship, I have implemented programs that use mediation and restorative justice, including in our absenteeism program as well as an option in juvenile delinquency proceedings. For adults, we were able to incorporate the restorative justice mission into a brand new Michigan Department of Corrections grant program involving people affiliated with gangs and violence. Part of this multi-part program will use the mission of restorative justice to connect perpetrators with their victims or with the community in which they committed their crime. We are one of three sites across the country to receive this grant.
Former Brady: Restorative justice options should be explored in all cases involving non-violent offenses. I will explore all options permitted by law and available funding sources and post all office policies online. There must be clear and universally enforced policies to determine which cases are appropriate for restorative justice and other diversion programs.
Do you think the county public defender system is working as it should? What would you do to improve it?
Hilson: After my election in 2012, I had the chance to play an important role in the development of our public defender system. This county system has been in place since 2013. Having practiced with public defenders in the old system as well as the new, it is clear to me that Muskegon County is leading the way in how indigent defendants are currently represented. . Our public defender’s office is top notch and needs no improvement.
Former Brady: Our county public defender system works well given its relative youth. One of the biggest shortcomings is that its current funding is not comparable to the investigative budget of local police forces. Recognizing that the reform of the public defender’s system does not fall within the remit of the prosecutor’s office, I am in favor of additional funding for the investigators of the public defender’s office. In addition, more funding is needed in order to maintain a sufficient roster of dispute defense lawyers.
What new methods or technologies would you recommend to prosecute crimes more effectively?
Hilson: Over the past three years, my office has moved to an electronic content management system that allows the office to run more efficiently. We no longer carry a stack of files to court, just our laptops. Thanks to this system, we can access our offices and any file from any location. It has allowed us to work from home and keep the cogs of justice moving during the COVID-19 crisis. We are only a few steps away from the dematerialization of the entire system, which will make the justice function more efficient and effective.
Former Brady: The adoption of body cameras and the enhancement of other patrol monitoring systems by our local law enforcement agencies have been extremely helpful in the effective prosecution of cases in Muskegon and elsewhere. I will encourage their continued expansion.
The biggest change in method of change that I would work to implement, however, is not technological. One of the biggest obstacles we face in prosecuting major crimes is the fear of reprisal from potential witnesses. We need a local witness relocation assistance program to help these witnesses escape the same violence that they are helping us fight.
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