Three to vie for probate judge in Aug. 7 primary

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(CORRECTION: Please note that the Advance article published in the July 26, 2018 edition erroneously said candidate Katy Conklin had “two years experience” litigating cases. In fact, she has more than 22 years experience litigating hundreds of cases in circuit, family, district, probate, U.S. federal district and federal administrative hearings, including securing disability benefits for veterans and other individuals with disabilities. We regret our error.)

by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor

The county race that has received the most attention so far in 2018 has been the one for probate judge.
The well-respected, Judge Donald J. McLennan, is retiring at the end of the year and his successor will be voted in Nov. 6.
The three candidates vying for the six-year term on the bench are Katy Conklin, Kenneth A. Radzibon and Erik J. Stone.
There are not many roadways in the county without one of their campaign signs on a lawn or the edge of a farm field.
As the election process plays itself out, there will be one less name for voters to ponder after Aug. 7, because only the two candidates with the highest vote count in the primary will move on to Election Day in November.
As a way to help voters make a more informed choice Aug. 7, Presque Isle (PI) Newspapers provided a questionnaire that was filled out by all three candidates.
Each candidate provided background information, as requested, and the answers to four questions. Their names are listed below as they will appear on the ballot.
Katy Conklin is a Rogers City native and resident. Her parents were George and Sandra Conklin (Meredith). She has MORE THAN 22 (not “two years’ as erroneously published in the July 26 Advance)  years’ experience litigating hundreds of cases in circuit, family, district, probate, U.S. federal district and federal administrative hearings, including securing disability benefits for veterans and other individuals with disabilities. Conklin is a graduate of Michigan State University (MSU) and Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School.
Kenneth A. Radzibon was raised in Detroit and became a Presque Isle County resident, homeowner, registered voter and taxpayer in 1979. He obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and Juris Doctor from Detroit College of Law in the top 10 percent of his class. Radzibon served 24 years as probate judge and has 40 years of experience as a licensed attorney in general practice covering probate, family law, real estate and civil law. He also has four years under his belt as prosecutor/assistant prosecutor.
Erik J. Stone graduated from Rogers City High School, MSU with high honors, and Wayne State University cum laude, where he was a member of the Law Review. Stone started work for a large Detroit law firm, and has been a full-time lawyer here since 1999.  He is married with two adult children.
The questions posed to the candidates, and their answers, follow:
PI Newspapers: What are the specific aspects of this judicial position that moved you to run for it?
Conklin: Serving as probate judge fits my passion for justice. It’s the logical progression of my professional career. I have many legal accomplishments, recognitions and rewards; with comprehensive expertise in training, legal education, advocacy and public policy. I have demonstrated abilities as a litigator, legal scholar and trainer, for which I have been recognized both nationally and statewide. I feel the community deserves a judge that possesses these skills and values. The community deserves nothing less.
Radzibon: Probate judge is a unique court in that you deal with families and their problems, whether the death of a loved one, the problems associated with the aging process, juveniles that are acting out, or parents who are neglecting their children. For 24 years in previous service as probate judge, I enjoyed the challenges presented and the rewards of helping families with these struggles. The Michigan Probate Judge’s Association motto says it best – “To protect and serve those least able to protect themselves.”
Stone: The right judge can have a profound and positive impact in helping families, children and seniors.  Your probate judge decides all probate cases and most lawsuits in the county.  This requires legal knowledge and experience on many different subjects, which I have. I’ve represented clients in Presque Isle County on all the matters the probate judge will decide.  It’s my turn to give back to my community, neighbors and the place I call home.
PI Newspapers: Describe the ideal judge.
Conklin: Judges must be experienced lawyers with impeccable professional records plus broad experience in the subject matter before the court. Judges must lead with patience, civility, diligence and fairness; traits indispensable to an independent judiciary. Judges must comprehend other disciplines relevant to issues before the court to make informed decisions and must commit to continuing judicial education. Judges have a duty to the people they serve, as they are final arbitrators of their rights.
Radzibon: The ideal judge should bring a wealth of knowledge and experience in the law for the subject areas of their jurisdiction. They should have law practice and prior judicial experience, if possible. Personal experience in family life such as marriage relations and raising children is also helpful. Finally, judges should be considerate to parties appearing before them, giving all the fair opportunity to be heard. The judge must then have the moral courage to make decisions fairly and impartially based upon the evidence presented and the applicable law.
Stone: Your judge should have the people’s trust and knowledge of the community, which only comes from being a resident and having worked as a lawyer in Presque Isle County for a long time. Courtroom experience in the county is necessary. Having raised children provides the necessary perspective and understanding to best assist families and children. And, having family and friends in the community assures the judge will be dedicated and accountable to the people.
PI Newspapers: What experience and skills would you bring to the position?
Conklin: A legal career of increasing accomplishments, recognition and awards, with over 20 years of litigation experience in circuit, family, district, probate, U.S. federal district and federal administrative hearings. I have demonstrated leadership, problem-solving, team building, and case and docket management abilities. I am skilled at managing people and organizations, including fund and budget development and fiscal management. I am proficient in legal research, writing, editing and review, and possess exceptional oral and written communication skills.
Radzibon: Twenty four years as probate judge, 40 years as a licensed attorney, six years as a circuit court referee and four years as prosecutor/assistant prosecutor. In my law practice, I handled many different areas of law as is common for a northern Michigan lawyer. Between time on the bench and practicing law, I have been involved in more than 2,000 probate cases, 750 juvenile delinquency/neglect abuse cases and 150 divorce/child custody/child support cases. As a husband and father I can relate to the stresses encountered in family life by litigants.
Stone: I am a full-time attorney trusted by many clients.  I have had my law office here continuously since 1999 and I work in all Presque Isle County courts. My parents and grandparents are lifetime residents. I was raised and educated here. Making decisions as probate judge requires a thorough knowledge of the applicable law and the community. I am qualified based upon my knowledge of the community, my legal educational credentials and my experience.
PI Newspapers: What is the most significant challenge facing the court for which you are running, and how can that challenge be addressed?
Conklin: In rural communities, unique barriers exist that present court challenges, which also profoundly impact the community. There is a lack of adequate resources that address many underlying problems confronting our courts, like mental health issues, drug addiction and substance use, neglect or exploitation of seniors, vulnerable adults and children. I would engage in collaborative efforts with other disciplines and funding sources to bring teams together that assist the court in making communities safer and stronger.
Radzibon: Currently, the probate judge handles not only the traditional probate cases, but also all of the family court work, and all of the civil court cases for both district and circuit courts. Additionally, the judge also tries an occasional criminal case for both courts. As caseloads increase, thought should be given to greater use of alternative dispute resolution. Additionally, emphasis should be made to keep children in the community in their homes whenever possible, as public safety concerns allow.
Stone: Unfortunately, there are increasingly more parents, who lack the ability or desire to adequately provide or care for, or discipline, their children. Child abuse and delinquency is much too common. The cases of child abuse or neglect require immediate, firm intervention by the court to protect the children, reunify the family or provide a better home for the child. Delinquency can be addressed by requiring the child benefit from school, work or community service.
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Polls will be open Aug. 7 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.