|Josh Arnkoff is an Oakland County assistant prosecuting attorney with assignments in the District Court Division, Juvenille Division, Child Sexual Assault Unit, Circuit Court Division and Warrants Division. He was in private practice as a criminal defense attorney while also practicing family law and estate planning. He is a graduate of the Wayne State University School of Law.|
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?
ARNKOFF: More needs to be done to prevent jail overcrowding. Common sense says that the limited jail beds need to be reserved for persons who are a danger to the community, not for persons who commit non-dangerous, non-violent offenses. Keeping non-violent offenders out of jail helps keep the community safe, thereby preventing the release of dangerous/violent offenders due to overcrowding. The Oakland County Sheriff’s Department has an effective tether program requiring greater utilization by the court, thereby saving taxpayers’ dollars. Other jail alternatives include the establishment of a sobriety/drug court, emphasizing treatment over jail, and the use of interlock devices. A new jail would only be necessary if overcrowding persists, but this can be resolved by making sure the punishment fits the crime.
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?
ARNKOFF: Jail alternatives should always be used for first-time, non-dangerous/non-violent offenders. Alternatives should also be considered when mental health issues are present because jail does not help but rather aggravates mental illness. A true drug/sobriety court would be the most beneficial jail alternative; regrettably, it does not exist in 48th District Court. As a judge, I would establish a true sobriety/drug court for my courtroom and become more involved in the treatment of persons with addictions. I would also utilize the Sheriff’s Department tether program more frequently, as well as the use of vehicle interlock devices. Further, I would attempt to create a Minor-in-Possession Program which would cause less destruction to the future of our local youths.
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.
ARNKOFF: As prosecutors, we have to pick our battles. When prosecutors constantly ask judges for jail sentences on every offense, this hurts their credibility. However, when prosecutors exercise discretion and do not always ask for specific sentences, this goes a long way with a judge. As a judge, I would be more inclined to listen to prosecutors’ recommendations when they exercised their discretion and did not always push for their recommendations to be followed. Therefore, when prosecutors finally request particular sentences to be imposed, I would know that there was a sound and just rationale for their recommendations. I also would ensure that I have good relationships with my probation officers, so that I can trust their recommendations each time.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the district court at this time, and how do you propose to address them?
ARNKOFF: Issue No. 1 is regaining honor and respect for the 48th District Court. The court has received negative publicity due to two recent lawsuits against the court, one of which resulted in a $3.5 million jury verdict. These lawsuits had the involvement of the incumbent judge I am challenging. The court was once considered a great place to practice law, but not any longer. I plan to demonstrate greater civility in our local community court and will ensure that everyone — prosecutors, attorneys, police officers, defendants, witnesses, and court observers — is treated with respect, dignity and fairness. I want the court to once again be a great place to practice law, and I plan to make the court more accessible to the public.
Issue No. 2 is jail overcrowding in the Oakland County Jail. The 48th District Court needs to be more proactive and reactive in alleviating the overcrowding. I plan to keep the jail beds reserved for violent and/or dangerous offenders; create new programs to keep the jail from being overcrowded; and assist the Circuit Court and the Sheriff’s Department when overcrowding becomes an issue by not denying the early release of non-violent, non-dangerous offenders who they have selected. If appropriate, those offenders considered non-dangerous/non-violent can be placed on tethers at their own expense — not the taxpayers’.
Issue No. 3 is the need for a true drug/sobriety court. The district court currently does not have a true sobriety court, and the programs presently offered pale in comparison. The programs touted by 48th District Court do not seem to differ from any other standard probation program. Sobriety courts are studied extensively in order to make sure they are working properly and so that adjustments can be made, if necessary. The success of sobriety courts is not measured by letters from defendants, as showcased by the incumbent judge who I am challenging. Sobriety courts reduce crime, save money, and ensure compliance. Sobriety/drug courts have demonstrated success in helping treat addictions and in reducing the repeat offender rates. If elected, I will be instituting a sobriety/drug court.
WHY YOU? Why, specifically, should voters choose you over your opponent(s)?
ARNKOFF: My experiences and my temperament make me well-suited for this position. What really sets me apart is having worked on both sides in the court system. I worked in private practice as a defense attorney, protecting the rights of accused and helping them get treatment. Now as an Oakland County assistant prosecutor, I advocate for victims and the community. Having practiced both as a defense attorney and as a prosecutor gives me the ability to have compassion and understanding, yet I can ensure that justice is served on behalf of a victim. I have practiced on both sides and I am endorsed by both sides. This experience provides me a greater understanding of when judicial restraint in sentencing should be exercised. I promise to return fairness, respect, and common sense.