Letters

Letters 08-31-2015

Inalienable Rights This is a response to the “No More State Theatre” in your August 24th edition. I think I will not be the only response to this pathetic and narrow-minded letter that seems rather out of place in the northern Michigan that I know. To think we will not be getting your 25 cents for the movie you refused to see, but more importantly we will be without your “two cents” on your thoughts of a marriage at the State Theatre...

Enthusiastically Democratic Since I was one of the approximately 160 people present at when Senator Debbie Stabenow spoke on August 14 in Charlevoix, I was surprised to read in a letter to Northern Express that there was a “rather muted” response to Debbie’s announcement that she has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president...

Not Hurting I surely think the State Theatre will survive not having the homophobic presence of Colleen Smith and her family attend any matinees. I think “Ms.” Smith might also want to make sure that any medical personnel, bank staff, grocery store staff, waiters and/or waitress, etc. are not homosexual before accepting any service or product from them...

Stay Home I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read the letter of the extremely homophobic, “disgusted” writer. She now refuses to patronize the State Theatre because she evidently feels that its confines have been poisoned by the gay wedding ceremony held there...

Keep Away In response to Colleen Smith of Cadillac who refused to bring her family to the State Theatre because there was a gay wedding there: Keep your 25 cents and your family out of Traverse City...

Celebrating Moore And A Theatre I was 10 years old when I had the privilege to see my first film at the State Theatre. I will never forget that experience. The screen was almost the size of my bedroom I shared with my older sister. The bursting sounds made me believe I was part of the film...

Outdated Thinking This letter is in response to Colleen Smith. She made public her choice to no longer go to the State Theater due to the fact that “some homosexuals” got married there. I’m not outraged by her choice; we don’t need any more hateful, self-righteous bigots in our town. She can keep her 25 cents...

Mackinac Pipeline Must Be Shut Down Crude oil flowing through Enbridge’s 60-yearold pipeline beneath the Mackinac Straits and the largest collection of fresh water on the planet should be a serious concern for every resident of the USA and Canada. Enbridge has a very “accident” prone track record...

Your Rights To Colleen, who wrote about the State Theatre: Let me thank you for sharing your views; I think most of us are well in support of the first amendment, because as you know- it gives everyone the opportunity to express their opinions. I also wanted to thank Northern Express for not shutting down these types of letters right at the source but rather giving the community a platform for education...

No Role Model [Fascinating Person from last week’s issue] Jada quoted: “I want to be a role model for girls who are interested in being in the outdoors.” I enjoy being in the outdoors, but I don’t want to kill animals for trophy...

Home · Articles · News · Features · Felonies Way Up
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Felonies Way Up

Is it because there’s a new hard-charging prosecutor in town?

Patrick Sullivan - May 13th, 2013  

Blue and orange-clad Pugsley Correctional Facility inmates were once a rare sight inside the circuit courtroom in Traverse City.

Defense attorney Paul Jarboe, who started practicing law in 1982 and who handles retained cases and is on the court’s roster for indigent defendants, said over the years he rarely saw the inmates in court.

That is, until recently. Last Friday, Jarboe said, he saw as many as five prison inmates in court waiting to take part in various criminal hearings.

And it’s not just more felony cases originating from the minimum security prison located to the east of Kingsley that are crowding the courtroom lately. Felony cases are up all around -- more than double if you compare the first quarter of 2013 with the first quarter of 2012.

“There’s clearly a palpable change, a noticeable change, in the volume of felony cases that are being issued,” Jarboe said.

Generally speaking, in Michigan, a felony is any crime that carries a sentence of a year or more in prison, while misdemeanor crimes are those punishable by one year or less in jail.

INCREASE IN COMPLAINTS

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Robert Cooney, who took office in January, said he doesn’t believe he is charging cases differently from his predecessor, Alan Schneider, with the exception that he is now taking drug cases from Pugsley. Those used to be handled in-house at the prison.

He said he believes cases from the prison account for some of the increase and the rest can be attributed to an increase in complaints handled by police.

There is no question the number of felonies charged under Cooney is an increase from recent years.

Through April of this year, 117 felony cases were filed, according to 86th District Court records. During the same period a year earlier, just 47 felony cases were filed. Notably, misdemeanor cases are up, too.

At this rate, 2013 is on track to see well over twice as many felony cases as 2012. There were a total of 226 felony cases filed through all of last year.

The contrast is less stark if you compare the first quarters of 2011 and 2010 with 2013’s first quarter. There were 82 felony cases filed in 2010 and 59 in 2011.

A REPUTATION

Cooney, who has been with the prosecutor’s office since 1993, said he knows people think he’s a tough prosecutor, but he said he believes crime is increasing in the county.

“I have a bit of a reputation for being a bit tougher when it comes to charging and plea offers, but I don’t think that accounts for it,” Cooney said.

Cooney said he believes population growth in the area is catching up to crime statistics, much like it did a decade ago.

Crime was also up in Grand Traverse County in 2004 when jail overcrowding became such a problem the county needed to assemble a commission to look at it.

That led to the expansion of the jail by around 40 beds and a shift in the district court toward putting more resources into diversion programs like sobriety court and domestic violence court.

Cooney said he believes those measures staunched the growth of crime in the county for a while, but population growth has caused the county to see a growth in the crime rate again.

“I think we’re getting back to where we were back then,” Cooney said. “The numbers show that even if you implement all of the diversionary programs, ... that we are still under the number of beds that we ought to have in this county.”

PRISON & DRUGS

Cooney said he learned how to charge criminal cases from Schneider and, before him, from Dennis LaBelle. He said he believes he makes roughly the same decisions they would make.

He noted, however, that for the past eight years he served as civil counsel in the prosecutor’s office, so he wasn’t involved in a lot of the decisions about criminal cases.

“I was more involved in the civil end of it, what was going on in the criminal cases is something I don’t know about,” he said.

Cooney said he started to take drug cases from Pugsley because drugs have increasingly become a serious, destabilizing problem at the prison and administrators there asked him for help.

“I can see that there’s a serious problem going on with drugs and I’ve talked to the warden,” he said. “The prison is asking for help. They feel it’s important to send a message.”

He said the advantage of prosecuting drug cases is that a conviction means whatever sentence the inmate receives, it is automatically consecutive prison time to their current sentence.

Cooney said more drugs in the prison leads to other problems.

“It can cause a lot of fighting, turf battles, and other types of criminal behavior,” he said. “I want to make sure that I’m doing what I can to give them some support,” He also said the Pugsley cases cost the county less than typical cases because the state covers most of the costs.

ANOTHER VIEW

Randy Smith, a seasoned defense attorney who works in the circuit court, disagrees with Cooney about the cause of the increase in felonies.

Smith believes Cooney is charging everything he can.

“The increase in felony cases stems from the fact that we’ve got a new prosecutor in town who is charging anything and everything brought in by a law enforcement agency,” Smith said in an email. “At this juncture, from the outside, it appears that the exercise of actual prosecutorial discretion is kept at a minimum, in terms of what or who to charge.”

Smith said he believes prisoners caught with drugs at Pugsley could be handled more effectively and more efficiently by the jail administration, which can increase their minimum sentence. Inmates can be made to spend more time in prison for drug infractions without taking them to court, he said.

“Every infraction of a prison rule does not warrant keeping a prisoner until his maximum sentence either,” Smith wrote. “Discretion needs to be carefully exercised in determining what is or is not an appropriate administrative sanction.”

Keeping people locked up, he noted, costs taxpayers $30,000 to $40,000 per year.

OVERWHELMED COURT?

Defense attorney Jarboe said he also believes Cooney is charging more felonies in general than were being charged before he took office.

“I think that any time that there’s a newly elected prosecutor, there’s always a change in charging decisions, and we’ve seen quite an increase in felony cases coming through the Grand Traverse County’s Prosecutor’s Office in both retained cases and appointed cases,” he said. “The pendulum has swung.”

Jarboe said the influx of criminal cases is already seeming to tax the court. The calendar is filling up with pretrial conferences and trial dates.

“I’m not saying I think what he is doing is wrong,” Jarboe said. “I think those are administrative decisions he has to make.”

He added: “I think there is a potential that the prison cases, if they’re charged as new felonies, could overwhelm our county’s resources and the court’s resources.”

 
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01.20.2014 at 03:59 Reply

It doesn't help that you have an Assistant Prosecutor in Grand Traverse County who is as "dishonest" as they get. I am talking about Noelle Moeggenberg.  She acts like she's in denial and covers up mistakes with more lies. Also, when the cops run to the prosecutor's office, charging happens because i'm sure they get bored and want something to do in small-town USA. So, why not put an innocent man's liberty at risk by allowing for sloppy investigations, appointing inadequate public defenders who only plea-bargain, malicious charging even though the evidence doesn't show "proof beyond a reasonable doubt", the continuance of charges when state's witness changes stories, and pretending to be some kind of victim's advocate? This all happens in Grand Traverse County's courts.  Who will be the next court's VICTIM?

 

01.20.2014 at 04:00 Reply

It doesn't help that you have an Assistant Prosecutor in Grand Traverse County who is as "dishonest" as they get. I am talking about Noelle Moeggenberg.  She acts like she's in denial and covers up mistakes with more lies. Also, when the cops run to the prosecutor's office, charging happens because i'm sure they get bored and want something to do in small-town USA. So, why not put an innocent man's liberty at risk by allowing for sloppy investigations, appointing inadequate public defenders who only plea-bargain, malicious charging even though the evidence doesn't show "proof beyond a reasonable doubt", the continuance of charges when state's witness changes stories, and pretending to be some kind of victim's advocate? This all happens in Grand Traverse County's courts.  Who will be the next court's VICTIM?

 

 
 
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