Washtenaw County prosecutor race: Newcomer Justin Altman takes on incumbent Brian Mackie
Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie will seek his sixth term in office as he’s challenged by Justin Altman, a newcomer who wants to bring “a sense of justice” to the office.
Sixty-four-year-old Mackie, who has been serving as Washtenaw County’s prosecutor since 1993, will be challenged in the election by 31-year-old Altman, of Superior Township.
Mackie is running on a platform of crime prevention, getting legislation to allow Child Protective Services to investigate frequently truant students and working to make the prosecutor’s office more efficient in order to set it up for long-term success.
Altman says he'll bring more justice to Washtenaw County by using more discretion in prosecuting cases, particularly drug possession cases, and demanding greater accountability from public officials who are accused of crimes.
Mackie said he believes he’s done a “pretty good job” during his time in office. He said would like another term in order to continue his work converting his office’s files to a paperless system, increasing crime prevention and his new pet project —getting legislation to allow Child Protective Services to investigate the families of students who are regularly truant from school.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
He said he’s picked this issue because truancy can often be a mask for abuse in the home. He pointed toward a story of a girl who was being kept out of school because there was sexual abuse going on at home. Mackie said the girl’s parents didn’t want her telling anyone at school and, despite the fact she was missing for months, no one investigated her case.
“If there’s a school counselor who is really concerned about an 8-year-old who doesn’t come to school — she’s been here three times and we haven’t seen her for four months and she’s not going to another school — and they call Child Protective Services, they will say it’s not our job,” he said. “That’s a pennywise and pound foolish thing. There’s always something going on.”
Mackie attended Eastern Michigan University as an undergrad and Wayne State University for law school. He's married with two children, Jane and Sam.
Mackie first took office in 1993 and says he’s noticed a definite change in attitudes toward crime since his election. He said one of the things he’s most proud of is the public’s changing thought about domestic violence.
He said in the mid-1990s police officers often didn’t want to deal with domestic violence cases — they were often the most difficult cases to investigate. Mackie said men often told him he was “abusing” them by prosecuting domestic violence cases.
“I don’t get that anymore. People have understood this is how it’s going to be and we’re going to take violence seriously,” he said. “They’ve moved on to other things.”
If re-elected, Mackie promised to work to raise more attention to the needs of law enforcement around Washtenaw County. He said his office is a bare-bones operation, with 26 assistant prosecutors on staff and about 10 clerical staff members, that is smaller than many prosecutor’s offices in similarly sized counties.
“Law enforcement is not one of the key priorities of Washtenaw County and it hasn’t been and it needs to be,” he said.
Altman, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan, graduated from Michigan State University Law School in 2011. He’s spent time working for the Washtenaw County Public Defender’s Office as an intern when he was in law school and said that experience gave him a new look on justice.
Kyle Feldscher | AnnArbor.com
He’s trying to bring that new position to the prosecutor’s office, he said. If elected, Altman said he would use more discretion in applying the law, particularly in drug possession cases, and would increase accountability for public officials. He told AnnArbor.com in an interview he would not prosecute drug possession cases, especially marijuana.
“Any marijuana offense doesn’t involve a victim,” he said. “It could be a professional, everyday person who goes home and that’s their choice instead of alcohol. I don’t want everybody to do drugs, but making it illegal makes the consequences way worse than the drug itself.”
Altman, who is married to his wife Justine and became a father for the first time this month with the birth of his daughter Tessa, said he does not use illegal drugs but believes people should be free to make their own choices if they are not harming anyone. He said he believes Mackie’s office currently prosecutes too many drug cases, which leads to a backup of court cases that clogs the system.
“The basic rules are don’t hurt people and you’ll be OK and I don’t think our current prosecutor understands that,” he said. “He looks at the law and says, ‘Can we get people?’”
He said he’d also work to raise awareness of how the public can hold government officials, including police officers, accountable. Altman said he would encourage the recording of interactions between public officials and private citizens in order to keep a record of public officials’ actions.
By focusing less on drug crimes, the prosecutor’s office would be able to prosecute violent crimes more effectively and be able to spend more time and money on those cases, which he sees as more important.
“By focusing on prosecuting violent crimes, we send a message of, ‘Look, you can do what you want with your life, leave other people alone to do what they want with theirs,’” he said. “Everyone can get along, even if we think they’re making bad choices."