Candidates discuss platforms at OU

With primary elections looming, several local candidates running for office came to Oakland University’s Fireside Lounge Wednesday to talk about key issues. The event was co-sponsored by Oakland University’s student congress, The Michigan Campaign for Justice, the American Political Enlightenment Student Organization and Cooley Law School.

The candidates who participated were Casandra Ulbrich, Ted Golden, Lois Golden, Tom McMillin and Mary Ward. Ulbrich, Ted Golden and Lois Golden are candidates for the State Senate seat from the 12th District. McMillin and Ward are candidates for the State Representative seat from the 45th District.

The focus of the event was to discuss the issue of public defense reform in Michigan.

Before the candidates approached the podium, guest speakers John Nussbaumer, the associate dean of Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills Campus, and Stephanie Chang, the deputy director of the Michigan Campaign for Justice, spoke about the reasons why public defense reform is an issue.

According to Nussbaumer, there is a large gap in the funding for the independent and institutionally funded prosecutor’s offices and the county funded trial court public defense system. He said that, in most counties in Michigan, indigent defense lawyers receive a flat fee, regardless of how hard they work.

“The only way to really make any kind of money in that kind of a system is to do the least work possible to get the case wrapped up and disposed of,” Nussbaumer said. “I don’t mean by saying that to be mean to lawyers who do that kind of work. There are a lot of people of good will and good faith who try to do a good job. At the end, typically they don’t get enough money to cover their expenses much less make any kind of money on that kind of work.”

McMillin, a Republican running for re-election, was the first candidate to speak on the issue.

“If there’s a place for government, one of the few places, is to make sure that our criminal justice system is fair and the people that are accused have the ability to have a good defense,” McMillin said. “I feel it is extremely important devoting time and resources and time to try and change our system.”

“We have to give everyone adequate defense, whether poor, middle class or wealthy,” said Ward, a Democrat and Oakland University graduate.

The candidates running for State Senate spent less time speaking on the public defense system; instead they chose to focus on their respective platforms.

Ted Golden, a Democrat, spoke about the Golden Legal Oversight Amendment, which is a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution designed to create an independently elected board to police the Michigan legal system. Golden also said that he supported retention elections for judges running without opposition.

Ulbrich, a Democrat, focused on education. Ulbrich, who was elected to the Michigan State Board of Education in 2006, said that she would work to increase spending on higher education in particular. She said Michigan currently ranks 34th in the nation in the proportion of adults with a four-year degree, and 49th in state funding for the higher education system.

Lois Golden, a Republican, spoke about her desire to reform government spending. Golden said that her experience managing a budget as a member of Rochester Hills’s city council from 1998-2003 will help her succeed in the state senate.

The primary election is on Tuesday, August 3, with the general election following on November 2.