Republican Mike Bishop is challenging incumbent Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, a Democrat, in the Tuesday, Nov. 6 general election. The county prosecutor serves a four-year term and is currently paid $156,129 annually.
The following are questions our staff posed to Bishop, and his responses to those questions. Cooper declined to participate in a candidate interview.
LEADERSHIP: Describe your management style and what kind of leader you would be for the office. What do you see as an appropriate role for assistant prosecutors in decision-making and setting office policies.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the prosecutor’s office, and how do you propose to address them?
WHY YOU? Why, specifically, should voters select you over your opponent?
LEADERSHIP: (I would be) very hands-on, but I also believe that a leader is responsible for surrounding themselves with qualified support. It’s the responsibility of good leadership to put those people around you and then you step back and let them do their job. The Prosecutor’s Office has a number of very qualified, very experienced attorneys and professionals who have really dedicated their lives to the job.
You hire people with the understanding that they are qualified and experienced, and with the expectation that they exercise good judgment. You have to make sure that you monitor their activity and make sure they make good decisions on a daily basis. But you also have to give them the trust and confidence that they deserve in their positions, and the latitude they need to ensure that justice is done. Oftentimes, I think the management style is too heavy-handed. You oftentimes don’t get the results you’re striving to achieve, which in the end, is supposed to be justice. Most of these assistant prosecutors are in the best position to weigh the facts and circumstances and be as subjective as they can on a case-by-case basis to make informed decisions on the way a prosecution should go.
TOP ISSUES: I think retaining quality professionals (is one). These individuals are dedicated. They are not there to retire and make a lot of money one day. They are there because they believe in the cause. They believe in the office and what it stands for, and that means you’ve got to restore a sense of morale to that office, which does not exist today for many reasons. You have to shore up that office and be sure they are willing to stay, that they have growth potential there, that it’s a family-friendly environment for individuals that don’t have a fear of being persecuted within the employment environment, which exists today.
Secondly, I think victims’ rights has got to be addressed. If I had a nickel for everybody who has come up to me and given me a story of what has happened to them and how it’s negatively impacted their life as a result of dealing with the Prosecutor’s Office and the current prosecutor, I would just retire right now. I wouldn’t need to work anymore.
You’ve got to develop a process where you work with the outside organizations like Care House, HAVEN, even the Grace Centers of Hope in Pontiac. These organizations exist to support the victims of crimes. Over the last three years, they have slowly kind of disconnected from the Prosecutor’s Office for any number of reasons, but mostly because the Prosecutor’s Office has pulled back. The Prosecutors Association of Michigan — a very important organization that deals with victims’ rights and advocates on behalf of prosecutors around the state — has also lost touch with Oakland County.
Oakland County and the Prosecutor’s Office should be a leader statewide to address these issues, and they have become so insular, so unwilling to deal with outside organizations like the Care Houses of the world, that I think they’ve lost focus on what their main purpose is, which is representing victims and ensuring justice.
No. 3 is reinstituting the connection with sobriety courts and some of these alternative sentencing organizations that have done so much for the county and have really made the county a leader in so many different ways, in terms of law enforcement. But with sobriety courts, you go to the 52nd district courts, you go the any number of the circuit court judges, who are using these deferral systems, and they identify people who would be eligible for these kinds of deferrals. They change their lives. I’ve gone to these (sobriety court) graduations and it’s amazing how effective they are. If the goal of law enforcement is not just punitive, but to ensure that the recidivism rate goes down, it seems to me that you can’t be so focused on your conviction rate that you lose sight of how often those convicted come back into the system.
We currently have a revolving door at the Oakland County Jail, and that’s true just about statewide and nationwide. We’ve got to find a better way to deal with crime. It has to be punitive, but you cannot forget the rehabilitative side: In the end, it will lower the recidivism rate, it will reduce the cost of law enforcement in the state, and in the end, it will make our streets and communities safer.
WHY YOU? I have a unique background. I started practicing criminal law. I’ve got a great, objective position from that side of the law, great experience representing indigent defendants and clients of my own. I also have experience having been a local prosecutor. I’ve tried cases for local units of government for drunk driving, domestic violence, assault and battery, a number of offenses like that. I know my opponent likes to downplay those offenses as though they are not important, but local units, I think they are important and there are a lot of people that don’t like drunk drivers on the road, that think that’s important to prosecute, as well. I’ve had a lot of great experience there in the law.
I also took some time out of my law practice to go to the Legislature and really see what that’s all about. As a legislator, I had a chance to do a lot of things connected to law enforcement, to support law enforcement. I was on the Judiciary Committee. I am the author of the Michigan Identity Theft Protection Act, which makes identity theft a felony in Michigan and, more importantly, provides victims of identity theft with a remedy on how to reverse the trauma of the crime, which is catastrophic on anybody who has ever had the experience of having their identity stolen.
I’m also the author of a piece of legislation that is a first-of-its-kind in the nation, the Child Protection Registry. It protects children and vulnerable people from being stalked on the Internet and preyed upon by those that spend a lot of time on the Internet to prey upon children. I’ve done that kind of thing, where I’ve had legislation drafted and been part of that process.
I’ve also, in my role as (state) Senate majority leader, had an opportunity to administrate and, at the same time, be responsible for hundreds of people, both on a policy basis and in the Communication Office. I had the entire Senate staff beneath me, all the members and their staff below me. I was responsible for balancing the Senate budget and responsible for a $47-billion state budget, which was difficult at times, but it gave me great insight into the process and how it works. It also gave me great insight on public dollars, and squeaking every bit of a penny out of a budget that we could find.
I think it’s just life experiences, job experiences, and management skills. When I came into the Senate majority leader’s (role), I absorbed the previous Senate majority’s staff. My attrition rate was extremely low, nonexistent, and it’s because I know how to run a team. I know how to lead a team, and I do the best I can to inspire the team to follow for a common cause. I really look forward to the opportunity to apply all those skills to the Prosecutor’s Office, because it’s very similar to what I’ve done in my life.
Mike Bishop is the former Republican state Senate majority leader, a position he held for four years. After leaving the state Legislature, he went into private practice as senior counsel with a law firm in Oakland County.