By Jerome Stuart Nichols
For Ken Ross, candidate for Ingham County 30th Circuit Court Judge, the decision to run for the position was simple. After Judge Paula Manderfield announced her retirement in March of 2012, he was faced with a set of replacements that didn’t represent his ideal. Drawing on what he calls “fundamental principles of democracy,” Ross felt it was time to stop complaining and simply do better.
“I think it’s a fundamental principal in democracy that when you’re presented with a choice of people running and you don’t like the people running… You basically have two choices: you can complain about it or run yourself,” he said. “I didn’t particularly care for the options that we had when Judge Manderfield announced she wasn’t running. So, I threw my hat in the ring.”
“A big part of being a judge is having a well-grounded… decision making process so that you’re equipped to make tough decisions…,” he said. “I think my background has prepared me well for that.”
Ross’ approximately three-and-a-half-year stint as Commissioner for Insurance, Banking & Securities for the Michigan Office of Financial & Insurance Regulation through April 2011, coincided with the recent economic crash. Having successfully navigated the financial downturn is a source of pride for him and, he suggests, a great measure of his abilities.
“The time that I was commissioner also happened to be during the financial turmoil,” he said. “It was the biggest upheaval in our financial market since the Great Depression. That presented us with a lot of challenges that we met and overcame.”
“Most of my predecessors used that position to essentially facilitate the business of insurance in their state, to essentially offer aid and comfort to the insurance industry. Instead, I used that position as a way to be a consumer financial advocate for Michigan’s working families. ”
He points to his fight against the use of credit scores to determine insurance policy rates and so-called “gotcha clauses,” which gave insurance companies a way to avoid covering certain claims, as two hallmarks of his everyman, woman and in-betweener approach to justice.
Ross claims to have a bug for civil service. He has been involved in the revitalization of Lansing’s Durant Park and fundraising for Planned Parenthood and the Greater Lansing Housing Commission, among others.
On Oct. 11, he spoke on a panel for Michigan State University College of Law’s Triangle Bar Association’s National Coming Out Day celebration with openly gay Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope about the experiences of being an openly gay professional.
During his time living in DeWitt he was elected to the City Council twice, sat as the Mayor Pro Tem, was active in the Lion’s Club and, as a part of the Parks and Rec board, helped build recreational areas called “all-kids playgrounds” that are accessible for children with physical limitations.
Although he’s quite proud of his abilities and accomplishments, he insists a vote for him is a vote for justice not a boost for his ego.
“I’m not really running for judge to be a judge of people, so much as I am interested in making sure justice is done,” he said. “Many times you find that individuals feel powerless when they’re up against large corporate interest, in today’s society,” he said. “I think it’s important for a judge to be aware of that fact and make sure that they don’t automatically and reflexively rule for who has the most expensive attorney in court that day.”
Outside of his judicial responsibilities, he spends his time with his children and partner of five years, realtor Brian Huggler. They maintain a sizeable garden and split maintenance responsibilities. Ross takes vegetables while his partner cares for the flowers.
Unlike many urban gardeners, Ross and co. enjoy the bounty of their labors. What’s not eaten fresh is preserved through canning. A few chickens provide them with fresh eggs. Never one to shy away from getting a little dirty, Ross also enjoys hunting. It’s a hobby he’s enjoyed since he was a child. “My dad was a big sportsman so I grew up hunting and fishing,” he said. “Whenever I have a chance to go fishing I’m up for it.”