Cooper lives in Beverly Hills and obtained her undergraduate and law degrees from Wayne State University. She was 46th District Court Judge from 1979-1986; Oakland County Circuit Court Judge from 1987-2000; Michigan Court of Appeals Judge from 2001-2007; and has been Oakland County Prosecutor since 2009. Cooper has been involved with a number of professional and community non-profit groups.
REFORM OF BAIL SYSTEM
Across the country we are seeing calls for reform of the current bail system. Is the bail system in need of reform? If so, what would you suggest? If not, why?
Yes. Judges and /or magistrates set bond for an individual charged with a crime. In Oakland County we have 31 different district court judges. Many times the “fines” and “costs” and a portion of the cash bonds are used as a funding source for local district courts. We have been talking to legislators about the interim bond act since I was elected. A few years ago my office took part in a work committee of attorneys, judges, legislators, and pretrial services to discuss bail reform and set the groundwork for the expansiveness of the project. Those early discussions were eventually subsumed by the current Michigan Joint Force of Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which generated its report on January 10, 2020 with pending recommendations to our legislature. I am in full agreement with the report’s recommendations.
SENTENCING DIVERSION PROGRAMS
Rather than jail time on some more minor offenses, we are witnessing the use of diversion programs. What diversion programs are currently being used by the Oakland County Prosecutor's office? Do you agree with the movement in the last three-four years of increasing use of these programs? For what types of crime would you support diversion programs rather than jail sentences? What limitations (types of crimes) would you not support for diversion programs rather than jail time? Rather than jail time on some more minor offenses, we are witnessing the use of diversion programs. What diversion programs are currently being used by the Oakland County Prosecutor's office? Do you agree with the movement in the last three-four years of increasing use of these programs? For what types of crime would you support diversion programs rather than jail sentences? What limitations (types of crimes) would you not support for diversion programs rather than jail time?
The courts impose incarceration when the crime endangers the safety of the public, such as an assaultive crime or when there are repeated offenses or a violation of the court’s conditions of probation. My office has always had a first offender diversionary program, a Teen Court Program, referrals to Youth Assistance, and requests to the court for delayed sentences (economic crimes giving the offender the opportunity to make financial restitution to the victim). The courts also have the option of YTA, Extended YTA, 769.4a (for Domestic Violence), and 7411 (minor drug offenses). All of these programs are used to try and keep individuals out of our jails and prisons. And for many, if they successfully complete the program or conditions of probation, they will not have a criminal record.
This primary on the Democrat ticket is taking on the appearance of contests nation-wide where progressive policies are challenging those who have held this position for years. Is that a fair description of what Democrat primary voters are facing in August? How much of he policies being suggested by the progressive movement are actually data-based, research-based?
Local “progressive” groups use national numbers and do not address the specifics or accomplishments within a particular county. As the county prosecutor we have seen a steady decline in criminal case filings in circuit court (41 percent reduction) and juvenile filings (63 reduction). While my opponent spouts progressive rhetoric, her actions and history are quite opposite. As a family court judge, she sent an individual to jail for civil contempt for failing to vaccinate her child. There were less draconian ways to get the child vaccinated. She sent another 19 individuals to jail for civil contempt of court, again without the right to a jury trial or a standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Karen has received substantial funding from my Republican predecessor, David Gorcyca, who co-sponsored three of her fundraisers. Not sure if she is a Democrat, let alone a progressive.
CHANGING ENFORCEMENT CULTURE
Because some of the suggested changes to the prosecution system could be viewed as actually pushing change in the culture of law enforcement which may be more accustomed to a heavier-handed prosecution of crimes, does the county prosecutor need to meet with law enforcement leaders to explain a change in prosecutor philosophy to avoid blow back to policy changes? Likewise, should there be a meeting of minds with judges of the district and circuit court system?
You don’t have to be an ideologue to work against the dire problems and disparities that exist in the criminal justice system. In fact, it requires an open and agile mind and knowledge of the law to effectuate change. What seems to be lost in the rhetoric is that victims of crime suffer from the same over whelming ethnic and cultural disparities. My attorneys are taught that ethics and fairness and excellence are the mantra of the office. We teach law at the police academy. You bring about change by earning respect for your knowledge, your hard work and your intellectual honesty. People only listen if they trust you. The courtroom is the one place where it is critical that the public have confidence in the fact that they will get a fair hearing. There is no justice system if we have judges or police officers or prosecutors with agendas.
Is there a system of metrics or performance standards that county citizens can use to gauge the performance of an elected county prosecutor?
There are 701 times specific duties of county prosecutors are mentioned in the Michigan Constitution, statutes and court rules. My best metric is the trust the voters have placed in me by returning me to office time and again. That’s because I have been a fixture in the schools and in the senior centers and now on webinars. There is not a lot of fanfare; I’m not using my office as a bully pulpit. My attorneys are well trained and highly skilled. I think my continued endorsements by first responders are a metric. I think the lowered crime rates are a metric. I think my work during the pandemic is a metric. I think our 99 percent affirmance rate in the court of appeals is a metric. I think the happiness on the faces of the kids at Mandy’s Place every Christmas morning is a metric.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
What qualifies you for this position rather than your opponent?
Experience, thoroughness and authenticity is the glaring difference. Over my career, I have made a difference in a lot of lives, one case at a time. I haven’t cured the social ills of our lifetime, but I stood up and tried and continue to try. I run a fair, ethical and professional office. My opponent worked as a district court prosecutor for David Gorcyca 20 years ago. She was never promoted to circuit. She was a family court judge for only one term. She spent most of her career in civil law. She has never tried a murder or capital case, has no knowledge of complex forensic evidence and absolutely no administrative experience. With the rise of hate crimes as well as the pandemic and the economic crises, this is not the time for on the job training or to bring back the horrific headlines of the Gorcyca administration.
McDonald resides in Birmingham and obtained her undergraduate degree from Alma College and law degree from Wayne State University. She was an Oakland County Circuit Court Judge from 2012-2019. McDonald has held positions with a number of professional and community groups.
REFORM OF BAIL SYSTEM
Yes. Cash bail is a product of a racist, wealth-based criminal justice system. It inordinately affects women, poor people, and people of color who are less likely to be able to afford cash bail and risk losing their houses, jobs, and even families while awaiting trial. Meanwhile, wealthier people who commit the same crime are able to post cash bail and return to their jobs and families. If we ever hope to create a truly equal justice system, we need to end biased prosecutorial practices like cash bail.
SENTENCING DIVERSION PROGRAMS
Our current prosecutor refuses to participate in treatment courts or diversion programs, despite the availability of programs in Oakland County. As prosecutor, I will not only invest in veterans and treatment courts, but also establish new mental health courts to ensure that all Oakland County residents have access to treatment rather than funneling them into the criminal justice system. I will also establish first offender programs and diversionary programs for all nonviolent, low-level offenders so that they can receive the help and resources they need to avoid unnecessary incarceration and further run-ins with the justice system. By doing so, I will reduce crime, keep low-level offenders out of jail as much as possible, and provide defendants with the help they need to successfully reintegrate into society.
Yes, and these progressive challengers are receiving such widespread support for a reason. Criminal justice reform is not just an ideology—it is a necessity. We know from scientific research on bias and brain chemistry, as well as from in depth reports conducted by reputable groups such as the Michigan Task Force on Jails and Pretrial Incarceration, the ACLU, and Michigan Liberation that our current system is failing juveniles, poor people, and people of color. It is imperative that we not only conduct this important research, but act on it to help create an equal justice system for all people.
CHANGING LAW CULTURE
Yes. In order for our justice system to work effectively in this transition to progressive criminal justice reform, it is essential that the prosecutor work together with policy makers, law enforcement officers and judges. Although the prosecutor has the most power to enact immediate criminal justice reform in Oakland County, we cannot hope to create a truly fair system without the involvement of all criminal justice stakeholders. If elected, I will work tirelessly to meet and collaborate with other community leaders to make these changes a reality for Oakland County.
Although conviction rates and sentencing may provide some insight into prosecutorial performance, they cannot account for the complexities of sentencing on a case by case basis. Measuring performance in this way does not encourage just, fair sentencing that takes all facts into account, but instead puts pressure on offices to seek maximum sentences regardless of surrounding factors. Instead, we should rely on statistics that reflect crime rate and overall community safety, such as tracking recidivism rates and reducing prevalence of racial and social inequality. When using these metrics to evaluate performance, prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement officers are encouraged to fulfill their roles in a way that is best for the community as a whole, rather than for their respective careers or ratings.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
Over the past twenty years, I have served Oakland County as a circuit court judge (2012-2019), assistant prosecutor (1999-2004), and private practice attorney (2004-2013). I have seen firsthand that our broken criminal justice system is failing Oakland County residents—especially poor people and people of color. Our current prosecutor has had twelve years to implement criminal justice reform in Oakland County, but has failed to do so. I stepped down from the bench in 2019 because we need a prosecutor who will actively work to end mass incarceration and implement progressive criminal justice reform that will create a fair system for all people. With my background as a judge, assistant prosecutor, and attorney, I am uniquely qualified to lead the prosecutor’s office in this pursuit with experience and understanding in all areas of the court.