|Diane D’Agostini has been a judge on the 48th District Court bench since she was elected in 2000. Before being elected to the bench, she was an assistant Oakland County prosecutor from 1991 to 2000, prosecuting criminal cases in the Warrants Division, District Court Division, and Circuit Court Division. A graduate of the Detroit College of Law and Wayne State University, she was awarded the Domestic Violence Prevention Award by the Oakland County Coordinating Council Against Domestic Violence in 2011.|
Four candidates — Josh Arnkoff, Judge Diane D’Agostini, Gary R. Sanfield and Steven Schwartz — are competing for a spot on the 48th District Court bench. The top two vote-getters will move on to the Nov. 6 general election. District Court judges serve six-year terms and are paid $138,272 per year.
JAIL OVERCROWDING: The Oakland County Jail recently had a formal jail overcrowding emergency, its first in five years, prompting the early release of hundreds of non-violent inmates earlier this year. What more can or should be done to stave off future jail overcrowding emergencies? Do you believe Oakland County needs a larger or new jail? Why or why not?
D’AGOSTINI: The Oakland County Board of Commissioners makes decisions about jail expansion. However, other measures could be used that do not involve expansion. The work release program, which was eliminated a couple years ago, could be reinstated so that defendants could be housed separately and released for work purposes only. Additionally, the successful Boot Camp program, which was instrumental in disciplining and giving new direction to offenders aged 17-25, could be reinstated to ease the levels at the main jail. These two programs, if reinstated, could ease the pressures of overcrowding since most judges in Oakland County utilized both of them frequently.
ALTERNATIVE SENTENCING: When is it appropriate for you, as a judge, to use alternative sentences rather than impose a traditional jail term? What sentencing alternative proposals, if any, would you suggest upon being seated as a judge?
D’AGOSTINI: As a judge, I use several tools available for sentencing which involve probation, alcohol and drug treatment, counseling and education, the Weekend and Weekday Alternative for Misdemeanants (WWAM) program, community service at shelters, food banks, parks, soup kitchens, libraries, etc. To date, I have sentenced offenders to complete over 101,200 hours of community service, which translates to over $800,000 of labor being put back into the community.
JUDICIAL DISCRETION: As a judge, how faithful do you feel the bench should be in accepting a prosecutor’s recommendation for sentencing? At what point would you stray from the recommended sentence, either in favor of or against a defendant? Please provide examples.
D’AGOSTINI: I rely on the factors imposed by law: The disciplining of the wrongdoer; the protection of society; the potential for reformation of the offender and the deterring of others from committing like offenses, People v. Broden, 428 Mich 343 (1987).
While the law and the Crime Victims’ Rights Act allow for statements to be made by both the prosecutor, victim, defendant and defendants lawyer, I look at all positions when making a sentencing decision. Many times, I am deeply moved by the remorse displayed by a defendant or the pain expressed by a crime victim and it is reflected in my sentencing, as the law allows. This past week, I listened to the words of a defendant who was a veteran and was charged with drunk driving at the age of 64. I felt a proper sentence of probation, treatment and community service would be appropriate with someone of his background and experience. I also sentenced a man who defrauded a senior citizen out of her savings by taking her money and not doing the kitchen work she hired him to do. I sentenced him to jail and probation and have ordered him to pay her back, amongst other conditions, as our senior citizens must be protected.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the district court at this time, and how do you propose to address them?
D’AGOSTINI: Top three issues: Electing someone who has a proven record of making decisions that keep the community safe. A proven record involves possessing the experience, wisdom, temperament and work ethic required to make important decisions for the community.
No. 1, public safety. A judge has the unique ability to make decisions that protect the community and help individuals. Accountability in criminal cases is emphasized, whether it is incarceration to keep the community safe, imposing community service to better the individual and community and/or ordering treatment for addiction issues. I have ordered and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution from criminal defendants to make crime victims whole. For individuals with drug and alcohol addictions, I have ordered treatment for countless individuals who have written many letters expressing gratitude for my sentence. We must continue the court’s effective drug/sobriety treatment programs which have been utilized without requesting federal or state funding, saving further taxpayer dollars.
No. 2, protecting our kids. Our local schools are reliant on my drug prevention programs and we have worked together to protect our kids. I have developed four programs to educate our children and teens about the dangers of substance abuse and underage drinking. I host fourth-grade classes for my “Order in the Court” program, educate our teens and middle school children at court field trips and school, and hold actual court sessions at local schools to educate. I am actively involved in the community with children, teens, parents, community groups and coalitions in speaking about drug prevention.
No. 3, protecting tax dollars. The Michigan Supreme Court has appointed me to serve as chief judge of the court for three terms. My management began before the economic downturn when I implemented cost saving measures by restructuring positions, imposing cuts and consolidating efforts, saving over $1 million in taxpayer dollars. For example, when my secretary retired several years ago, I eliminated the position as I wanted to lead the staff by example, as they had made tremendous sacrifice. In addition to a dedicated court staff, part-time employees, volunteers, students and interns have been utilized to assist when permissible to save tax dollars.
WHY YOU? Why, specifically, should voters choose you over your opponent(s)?
D’AGOSTINI: Twelve years ago, I came to (voters) seeking (their) trust and confidence in electing me as (their) local district (court) judge. I told (them) that criminals would be held accountable, that crimes against our seniors and homes would be addressed with swift justice, and that I would build partnerships with our schools to educate our kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol abuse. I have been tireless in my mission to keep kids away from the grips of drug addiction. Additionally, my work as chief judge has saved taxpayers in excess of $1 million. I now report back having accomplished all that (they) elected me to do, plus much more. I hope to maintain (their) trust as I seek reelection.