Two Southgate attorneys — John Graziani and Elisabeth Mullins — will face off in the Nov. 3 election to succeed retiring 28th District Judge James Kandrevas, who’s held the position for nearly three decades.
Kandrevas was last elected to the court in 2014 for a term that expires Dec. 31. He is completing his last term because state rules prohibit candidates over age 70.
While he is not endorsing anyone in the race, Kandrevas said he is making a "non-endorsement" in the contest and cannot support Graziani. He said the two have clashed in the past, adding that he considered Graziani "infantile."
District judges are elected to six-year terms and receive annual pay of $138,000. District court cases include:
• Small claims where the amount in dispute is $5,000 or less
• Civil lawsuits where the dispute is $25,000 or less
• Adult misdemeanor and ordinance criminal cases where the maximum jail sentence is less than one year
• Traffic and parking offenses
• Preliminary examinations of felony criminal cases
• Land-tenant cases
Graziani is a longtime Southgate resident and a graduate of Schafer High School. He is current president of the Southgate City Council and has served on the council for 18 years. A graduate of the University of Michigan with a law degree from the University of Detroit, he has practiced law in Southgate for 30 years. He has worked as a research attorney for Wayne County Recorder’s Court, assistant prosecutor in River Rouge and as a law clerk to Wayne County Circuit Judges Robert Colombo Jr. and Louis Simmons.
Mullins, a graduate of Boston College with a law degree from Suffolk University Law School, is a prosecutor for the city of Detroit and a Wayne County special assistant prosecutor. She previously was in private practice in Southgate, managing a caseload that included criminal defense, landlord-tenant matters, civil cases and collections matters. Her volunteer activities include the Rotary Club of Southgate, the Southgate Education Foundation and Downriver for Veterans.
The News-Herald asked Graziani and Mullins to respond to two election questions.
Why are you the best choice for this position?
Graziani: I have the most relevant experience as an attorney, have been a longtime resident and possess a proven track record in public service within the city. My good reputation, unwavering commitment to improving the quality of life for the residents of Southgate and 18 years of municipal budget experience will enable me to hit the ground running from day one with no learning curve. I firmly believe that I am the best candidate for Southgate district court judge and, as proof, point to my 30 years as a successful attorney and 18 years of unsullied service as an elected Southgate council member.
Mullins: My experience and qualifications make me the best choice. I am an accomplished prosecutor and team member of the Veterans/Drug Treatment Court in Detroit where I manage a large caseload in one of the busiest courts nationwide. My previous work in private practice gives me a unique understanding of the roles, challenges and issues facing both the prosecution and the defense in any given case. I have ample experience in the types of cases the next judge will preside over and I understand the challenges of running a program like Southgate’s Veterans Treatment Court while managing a courtroom and caseload.
Why should residents care who is elected as their district judge?
Graziani: The district court is known for being a “people’s court” as it primarily hears legal issues that arise out of conduct and transactions that take place in the city. District court judges should have a longstanding reputation for being involved in the district that they seek to serve. Southgate’s next judge needs the background, experience and proven track record that residents can rely on. I possess nearly 20 more years of relevant experience as an attorney than my opponent. I am also the only candidate with experience in managing a municipal budget, which is a major part of the job as a district court judge.
Mullins: This election will determine the role the court plays in our community. For years, residents have largely interacted with the court only when they received a traffic ticket, had jury duty or were in legal trouble. Rather than continue with the status quo, I want to make the court a positive and active part of the Southgate community. I want to improve Southgate’s Veterans Treatment Court by working with local businesses and nonprofit organizations to provide veterans with job opportunities and skills training. I also want to provide educational opportunities to our students by returning the Court to School program.