MUNISING - Voters in Alger and Schoolcraft counties will decide a race Tuesday for probate and family court judge between incumbent Charles Nebel of Munising and challenger Dan Beaton of Manistique.
Nebel received an appointment to his 5th District probate judgeship from Gov. Jennifer Granholm in March 2009. Michigan Asst. Attorney General Beaton is a Manistique native.
The winner of the non-partisan race will fill an unexpired term, which ends Dec. 31, 2012. Beaton and Nebel were the top two vote-getters in the primary election, with challenger Kirt Harmon of Munising also running.
In the primary, Beaton received the most votes of the three candidates with a total of 1,963 votes, including 1,356 in Schoolcraft County and 607 in Alger County. Nebel received a total of 1,526 votes, 470 in Schoolcraft County and 1,056 in Alger.
Both candidates have had hurdles to overcome in the minds of voters. Nebel was convicted of impaired driving in July 2009 and censured by the Judicial Tenure Commission. He received a 90-day suspension without pay. Beaton, though a registered voter and property owner in Schoolcraft County, has had a long-time job with the state in lower Michigan, which has projected an image of him as an outsider for some.
Each of the candidates was asked to provide a statement about why voters should elect them. Word limits were imposed.
Nebel is a 1979 Munising High School graduate and a 1983 graduate of Albion College. After graduating from the Detroit College of Law and passing the bar exam in 1986, Nebel clerked for a judge in Bay County until he returned to the Upper Peninsula in 1988.
Prior to his judicial experience, Nebel partnered with his father in the Nebel and Nebel law office in Munising. He regularly appeared as a trial attorney in the various courts throughout the central Upper Peninsula for more than 20 years, including frequent contact with the probate and family court in Alger and Schoolcraft counties.
Nebel's statement about why voters should choose him said: "As the probate and family court judge, I handle cases that are often charged with emotion. At the heart of every divorce, contested estate, child protective proceeding, custody matter, juvenile delinquency, adoption, and adult protective proceeding, are the men, women, and children.
"Every ruling has a profound effect on these individuals and their families. I have consistently applied my best efforts to these tough decisions and am proud to say that everyone that has appeared in our court has been treated fairly, with courtesy and respect. Even when litigants have disagreed with a ruling, these individuals know they were given an opportunity to be heard and that their legal arguments were reasonably considered.
"As an administrator, it is also my job to make sure that we are efficient and cost-effective. During these economically challenging times we have been able to operate within our budget and without sacrificing personnel by eliminating non-essential items and streamlining services.
"It is also important that a judge be community-connected. The reason the Michigan Constitution requires that local judges reside in a given district is to ensure that a voter has an opportunity to select a judge that has a shared sense of values. I have been fortunate to live, work and raise my family here in the Upper Peninsula, where we all do what we can to contribute to the quality of life for our families. Since returning to Munising in 1988, I have enjoyed being part of various volunteer organizations concerned with our children and affordable housing.
"The combination of my two decades of trial court experience, my commitment to our community, and especially, my experience on the probate and family court bench make me the most qualified candidate."
Beaton attended Manistique Area Schools and was a member of the class of 1978. The son of the late Harold and Frances Beaton of Manistique, Beaton's father was the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, which includes the U.P.
After high school, Beaton attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., where he received his bachelor's degree in history. After two years as a legislative assistant in the Wisconsin Legislature, he enrolled in the Michigan State University College of Law and received his juris doctor degree in 1990.
After law school, then Attorney General Frank Kelley appointed Beaton assistant attorney general. He has represented the state and various departments and agencies across Michigan, including primary representation for his assigned clients in the U.P.
Beaton has extensive experience in family courts throughout the state, and acts as lead counsel in adoption cases for the Michigan Children's Institute for western Michigan and the U.P.
Beaton's statement on why he should be elected said: "The role of the probate and family court judge in the courtroom and the community is among the most important positions in the judiciary. I believe this is so, because of the tremendous impact that probate and family court judges' decisions have on our families, and in particular our children's lives. These decisions, by extension, often have lifelong consequences for these children, their families, and at times, our community as a whole.
"Helping troubled children get back on the right track, guiding families through the difficult challenges of divorce, child custody, child support, and putting their lives back together requires not only critical and deliberate legal thinking, but also compassion and understanding for those affected by life's difficult challenges.
"I believe that my 20 years of service as a Michigan Assistant Attorney General; handling family court cases throughout Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula, my extensive experience handling cases at every court level in Michigan, and teaching Child Advocacy Law at Michigan State University Law School for 10 years make me uniquely and exceptionally well qualified for this position.
"As a dedicated husband and father of five, I have sound understanding of family dynamics and relationships. My respect and appreciation for Upper Peninsula family values and my exemplary professional and personal record of conduct, all contribute to my ability to serve as the kind of judge the people of Alger and Schoolcraft counties deserve."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.