Ingham County prosecutor’s race heats up

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Billie O'Berry

Billie O’Berry

By Taylor Reid and Shannon Kelly
MI First Election

After the resignation of Stuart Dunnings III, Ingham County is preparing to elect a new prosecutor.

Currently there are four candidates in the running. Patrick O’Keefe, Brian Jackson, and Carol Siemon are registered as Democrats, while Billie O’Berry is running as a Republican.
O’Keefe, owner of his private practice O’Keefe Law, said that being a prosecutor is his calling in life.

“There are two types of attorneys. There’s the type who prefers paperwork, and the other who prefers being in the courtroom and trialing cases. I’m the second type,” said O’Keefe. “I’ve tried over 100 cases. It’s important to be fair and give people a fair trial.”

If elected as prosecutor, private attorney Brian Jackson wants to look for alternatives to incarceration.

“Drug addicts should seek help, not jail. I want to stop prosecuting the mentally ill. We need to stop treating our jails as hospitals,” said Jackson. “We’ll save a lot of money that we can allocate to the community.”

O’Berry, a Lansing city attorney, said he is passionate about creating positive relationships with the community.
“The integrity of the office has been severely wounded. I would meet all the individuals of the community, go to the townships and introduce myself,” said O’Berry. “I would ask them to identify the issues and ask how I could better serve them. Then, I’ll evaluate our policies.”
Carol Siemon was not available for an interview. However, she said via email she plans to focus her campaign around “where the prosecutor’s office and the community can go from here to enhance justice in Ingham County.”

Regardless of who wins the election, the new prosecutor will need to rebuild the reputation that was left shattered after Dunnings admitted to paying for prostitutes. Dunnings was elected prosecutor in 1997.
East Lansing residents Steve Hammar and Irene Smith say they are disgusted with the Dunnings scandal and hope the new prosecutor will repair the trust in the community.

Irene Smith

Irene Smith

“The next prosecutor should be someone who has the county’s best interests in mind. After everything that Dunnings has done, I don’t think it could get worse, at least I hope it doesn’t get any worse,” said Hammar. “But I think that whoever gets elected should be aware of how serious this position is and to not do things that could jeopardize this county’s reputation.”

“Hopefully, the new prosecutor is someone who has enough respect for themselves and for women to not do those things,” said Smith, 74. “I hope the next prosecutor knows the position that they are getting into and can take it seriously.”

As an East Lansing resident, Jackson understands the frustration of the community towards Dunnings.
“I know the system is failing, and I can change it and bring new ideas. Also, I’m from Ingham County, so I have a better understanding of the community dynamics,” said Jackson.
O’Keefe worked with Dunnings for six years as an assistant prosecutor in Ingham County. He said he left the office due to Dunnings’ lack of leadership.

“Mr. Dunnings was an absentee landlord. He failed to be there for his assistant prosecutors, who looked up to him,” O’Keefe said. “When I’m prosecutor, it’s not going to be about getting as many convictions as possible. With me, people know they’re going to be treated fairly, and I’ll be transparent. Even the guilty deserve to be treated fairly.”

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