Pair of newcomers vie for PI County probate judge
ROGERS CITY — There will be a new probate judge in Presque Isle County after the November election.
Erik Stone and Katy Conklin are vying to replace incumbent Judge Donald McLennan, who is retiring at the end of the year from probate court, which oversees family matters, including estate issues, juvenile criminal cases, and cases stemming from Children’s Protective Services cases.
Stone is a longtime resident in Presque Isle County who has handled hundreds of cases in the courtroom, including ones where he was appointed by McLennan.
Conklin is a Rogers City native who returned to her hometown several years ago after helping others in the Lansing area. She said she has for years been a strong advocate for women’s, children’s, and family rights and was the supervising attorney of the Domestic Violence Unit of Legal Services of South Central Michigan, where she and her staff represented survivors of sexual and domestic violence in district, probate, circuit and family court. Conklin said her work with victims, other attorneys and judges has prepared her to be a judge.
“I had a couple people in the community ask me to run, and I just felt it was my duty to do so,” Conklin said. “I care about this community so much and it is a way that I can give back.”
Stone said he is the best candidate because of his experience in the courtroom and he can apply what he was learned over the years to the bench. He said that, when working with children who have issues, it is important to understand that the way a judge handles one case may not be the way another should be.
“There is no one fix that is 100 percent effective for every child, and there is no cookbook or recipe that works for all,” Stone said. “I have the hands-on experience on how a courtroom is run and functions. I know how to run a case and make sure the parties each have their day in court, to have their voice heard and be treated fairly.”
Each candidate has some concern abut the other and how equipped they are to reside over the court.
Stone said Conklin has never been the lead attorney in Presque Isle County Probate Court. Because of that, he said she lacks the experience to sit on the bench.
“How can you run for judge of a county where you have never had a case?” he said. “I checked with the county clerk and she has had zero cases here. I’m the only candidate to have cases here.”
Conklin, however, points to a criminal conviction on Stone’s record.
In the late 1990s, Stone pleaded no contest in federal court to a misdemeanor charge of failing to report a felony. At the time, Stone was a Detroit attorney hired as outside counsel for Kmart in several real estate transactions. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Stone had knowledge of another attorney receiving about $500,000 in unauthorized legal payments but failed to notify authorities. He also initially lied to investigators about his knowledge.
According to the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board, Stone’s law license was suspended for 180 days. He has not been disciplined since and the State Bar of Michigan lists him as a member in good standing.
“That occurred because I failed to report misconduct by an employee of a client and it was years ago,” Stone said. “I got my license fully restored, with full privileges, and have practiced law the last 20 years and I have worked hard to earn and have the trust of the community I serve.”
Conklin said the crime should should make Stone ineligible to serve as judge.
“I have never been sanctioned by the state bar, never had my law license suspended, and never committed a crime,” Conklin said. “In order to be a judge, you need to live a lifetime of professional integrity. You can be an attorney all you want, but you cannot be a judge. Voters have a right to choose, but it is buyer beware, because you could be stuck with someone who has questionable moral and ethical integrity.”
Stone said the people in Presque Isle County have known about the legal issues for years and said he has worked hard to prove to residents he is trustworthy, honest and has integrity. He said being probate judge would be the highlight of his career.
“Being elected to serve in the place I grew up would be the greatest honor I could receive,” Stone said. “Being able to give back to the community who helped raise me is very special.”
Conklin, who is currently the executive director of Alpena’s Hope Shores Alliance, which provides services to victims of domestic and sexual violence throughout Northeast Michigan, said being probate judge is an opportunity to apply what she has learned during her career to help people in Presque Isle County.
“It is a chance for me to use my legal expertise, my management skills and my concern for the community to serve them,” she said. “I would be fair, honest, impartial and follow the letter of the law. I believe in the rule of law and I care deeply about families, babies, children, adults and seniors, and I want to be able to help them.”
Steve Schulwitz can be reached at email@example.com or 989-358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.
The Stone file
∫ NAME: Erik Stone
∫ AGE: 65
∫ LIVES IN: Millersburg
∫ ELECTED EXPERIENCE: None
∫ OCCUPATION: Attorney
∫ EDUCATION: Michigan State University grad, 1975, Wayne State University Law School, 1978
∫ FAMILY: Married, two grown children
The Conklin file
∫ NAME: Katy
∫ AGE: 60
∫ LIVES IN: Rogers City
∫ OCCUPATION: Executive director, Hope Shores Alliance
∫ EDUCATION: Bachelor of social work, Michigan State University, jurisdoctorate, Thomas M. Cooley Law School
∫ FAMILY: Single, no children