Jason Proefrock: Shocked and concerned

To the editor:

I am still in shock. Just before Thanksgiving, a Mecosta county man was passing out flyers on a public sidewalk outside the Mecosta County courthouse. The content of these flyers is irrelevant to the discussion, regardless of the courtroom arguments of prosecutor. These flyers upset the officials inside the courthouse so they arrested the man. He was charged with a misdemeanor and a felony, and was held with an outrageous $150,000 bail. 

The defendant had to come up with 10 percent of that $150,000 in order to be released from custody. The defendant may end up having 90 percent of that $15,000 returned to him, but he will still be out $1,500. That alone should cause you to shudder, but there’s more!

The defense in the case subpoenaed the district judge, a magistrate, the prosecutor, and the assistant prosecutor, presumably so they could explain what in the world they were thinking when they made the arrest. Unfortunately, the prosecution argued that they are above such petty tasks as explaining why they acted like tyrants. They refused to honor the subpoenas and filed a motion to quash them. Just before Christmas, the defense filed motions to dismiss all the charges. The public is still waiting for an answer from the circuit judge as to whether the charges will be dismissed or whether the district judge needs to answer for his momentary lapse in judgment.

I cannot tell you why this defendant’s plight gripped me like it did. Perhaps it is because I see it as an example of local cronyism and loyalty, not to a fair system, but to a fallible human that made a mistake.

What I can say for sure though is that this event has created a local fear culture. 

Members of law enforcement will not comment publicly because of the power a district judge has over their work lives. I am even hesitant to stop by the courthouse and ask about judicial recall procedures for fear of offending those in charge of signing arrest warrants. I feel betrayed by our local government.

Cronyism and collusion happen, but at least in my head, they should happen far away from my community. This defendant could be any one of us when we choose to speak up for what we believe is right.

It has been over two months now, and this poor guy’s case has not been dismissed. The case itself was reassigned from the district court judge to the circuit court judge down the hall. The new judge has heard arguments and has been sent motions and briefs from both sides. 

I have personally written emails to the district judge, the circuit judge, our state representatives to Lansing, asked others to do the same, and have heard nothing in reply. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a revered German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to act is to act.” In Mecosta County we are a long way from Nazi Germany, but the idea of local officials running unchecked is still terrifying.

Please, to those whose sphere of influence includes the officials mentioned above, ask them to decide this case soon, and to act like true upholders of our Bill of Rights. Errors in judgment in the heat of the moment happen, but ask those responsible to stop this ego trip, acknowledge their mistakes, and move on. I know I am not the most eloquent writer, but my intentions are pure. I am no attorney, but I did relay the facts to the best of my understanding. 

Jason Proefrock 

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