As the November election draws nearer, Americans won’t be voting just for a presidential candidate, both state and national candidates will be voted upon, too. In Michigan, there will be dozens of candidates running for the first time and for reelection across the state. Between The Lines has reached out to pro-equality candidates to get a sense of their goals and priorities for the LGBTQ community if they are to be elected. To get a full list of the pro-equality candidates running, visit mivoterguide.com.
Here, Karen McDonald answers questions about why she would be a good fit for Oakland County prosecutor.
Why do you think you’re a good fit for the office?
Well, I have experience both as a former assistant prosecutor and as an attorney in private practice. I was a partner at the largest law firm in Oakland County, The Jaffe Law Firm, and 6 ½ years being an Oakland County Circuit Court judge. In fact, I think in the history of the prosecutor’s office, there hasn’t been a more qualified candidate who has experience in all three of those positions as an assistant prosecutor, in private practice and on the bench.
What experience do you bring to the table that makes you stand out from the other candidates?
I think the single most significant thing that distinguishes me from my opponent is my experience being a judge, as well as my experience in private practice and as an assistant prosecutor. But as a judge, [what] I think would be particularly relevant to your readers is that I finalized the first same-sex adoption in Michigan and have been an advocate for the LGBT community my entire career. In fact, one of the first people to endorse me was Dana Nessel, and I’ve talked extensively to her and to her team about implementing a hate crimes division. And, as you know, that’s a unit that’s designated to address crime that was a result of racial [and] ethnic [discrimination] and crimes that were inspired against somebody because of how they identify. Right now, as you know, a large group of those crimes are committed against the LGBT community.
What are your top 3 priorities as a prosecutor?
Treatment courts and diversion programs for low-level nonviolent offenders. Complete transparency about who we’re charging and why we’re charging them. And addressing the racial disparities that exist.
In light of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, many communities are looking closely at criminal justice reform in large ways and small. As a prosecutor, what can you do to promote fairness in your courtroom and more broadly, in the criminal justice system?
Criminal justice reform is my platform. And I think the reason for that is that we have a racially biased system. We have a system that hurts two groups of people: people of color and poor people. And we have to address that. We have to be smarter on crime. We have to stop this practice of mass incarceration with no care in the world about what happens to these people once they return to our communities. And it doesn’t make sense from a taxpayer’s standpoint. And, more importantly, it doesn’t make sense from a place of caring about every person in our community. I want to address the underlying reasons why people come into the criminal justice system. And a lot of times what I’ve seen — I’ve seen it from all sides now as a prosecutor, as a judge, as an attorney in private practice —some of these issues are mental health issues, and I don’t believe the Oakland County Jail is a proper facility to address mental health concerns, nor do I think that two years in prison is going to help somebody with an addiction. So, committing to, investing in treatment courts and diversion programs, that’s important. And the criminal justice system needs the reform in a smart, common-sense way. You know, my opponent out there right now is really shameful. They’re really attached right now — because of what’s going on at the national level — to, “I’m a law-and-order- prosecutor.” Well, that would really be easy, right? To walk around and say, “Tough on crime. Tough on crime. Tough on crime.” And you know what? I would do that if I thought it worked, but it doesn’t work. And as a judge, I saw that every day. First and foremost, my top priority is public safety. It has to be. That’s the job, right? And that’s what I want to do. I want to be an advocate for our most vulnerable people. But we also owe it to our community to approach it in a common-sense way so that we can lower crime and incarceration rates. The crime rate is fairly low in our county and in Michigan, but our incarceration rate is one of the highest in the whole country. Why is that?
Why is working for equity, particularly regarding the LGBTQ community, valuable to you?
I left the bench because every day I saw people that were in our most vulnerable population, and I just was at the point where I knew that a lot of the things that I think are wrong in the criminal justice system I couldn’t fix as a judge and I wanted to be an advocate. I have [specific] experience because I presided over the child abuse and neglect docket and the juvenile docket. And, actually, many of the issues that are important to your community came up a lot in our courtroom. We had children in the system who really needed special attention and care because of how they chose to identify and that wasn’t being supported by the people in their placement or the treatment programs where they placed. So, I insisted upon it and feel very strongly that this is not the time to elect any people or elected official to any position who come from a place of hate and prejudice. And how you address the issues facing people of color and LGBTQ communities is, in my mind, is the most important issue facing us.