BIRCH RUN, MI — A Birch Run attorney who specializes in family law has thrown her hat in the ring to run for an upcoming judge seat in Saginaw County Circuit Court.
Debra S. Kauten, 57, is running for the seat that is to be vacated at year’s end by retiring Judge James T. Borchard, whose court currently handles child custody, divorce, and family law-related files.
Kauten was born in Roseville and grew up in Macomb County. She attended Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University, becoming the first person in her family to graduated from college. Kauten then earned her law degree from Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, graduating from there in 2006 and becoming a licensed attorney in 2009.
Her path to becoming a lawyer nearly took her into the medical field.
“Oddly enough, I actually did pre-med when I was at SVSU,” she said. “It seemed like every time I was at the hospital, I kept saying, ‘That’d be a good lawsuit.’ For some reason, my mind just kept shifting to the area of the law and then right when it was about time to start applying for med school or law school, I was expecting my last daughter, who’s now 20.”
Cooley Law School was accommodating for older students with children, families, and other responsibilities, so Kauten went that route.
“I just absolutely fell in love with the law after the first semester,” she said.
Prior to that, Kauten worked for an airline in Logan, Utah, where she was also in the U.S. Air Force ROTC program. She also worked in the accounting department for an advertising firm in California. In January 1994, she lost everything in the Northridge earthquake that struck Simi Valley. As a result, she and her family returned to Michigan.
“When I lost everything in the earthquake, I thought, ‘Yep, should have finished college,’” she said with a chuckle.
Kauten opened her private practice, located at 11831 Maple Road in Birch Run, in 2009. Since then, Kauten has worked primarily in family law, including handling appeals with the Michigan Court of Appeals. Her experience includes child abuse and neglect cases, criminal law, property and civil litigation, probate law, business lawsuits, corporation and contract disputes, and pro bono work with the military. Regarding the last item, Kauten assisted Cooley Law School with its Service to Soldiers Program, drafting wills and powers-of-attorney for deploying military unites.
She also currently serves as an attorney for the Michigan Assigned Counsel in Saginaw County.
The decision to run for judge was a hard one, Kauten said.
“I have a thriving practice here, but when Jim Borchard’s seat opened up, that seat is primarily family law,” she said. “That’s been about 80% of my practice. I’ve won family law appeals even in Judge Borchard’s courtroom.”
As such, Kauten believes her depth of experience in the legal realm would make her a great fit for the Saginaw County Circuit Court bench.
“As a judge, family law is something that is very, very specific,” she said. “It’s very emotional. It’s very personal and private. I think the Saginaw County residents deserve to have someone with that family law experience.”
Kauten has also practiced in courthouses throughout the state. Having done so, she’s noticed a trend of lacking punctuality or promptness in proceedings, something she would remedy in her courtroom.
“That is my goal as a judge: to remember what it was like to be on the other side of the bench,” she said. “If people can be there on time, I should be on the bench on time. If people take the time to file a bunch of paperwork, I should read it before I go out there.”
If elected, Kauten said she’d be firm but respectful to those appearing before her.
Kauten is a mother to two adult daughters, both of whom are currently pregnant, and is grandmother to one 4-year-old girl.
“I intend to serve the people of the County of Saginaw by being timely, well-versed in the law, and respectful of those appearing before me as a Circuit Court judge,” she said. “I’m looking forward to assisting the people in the community resolve their issues in a timely manner. I think as an attorney, my biggest pet peeve — no matter where I practice — is I think things could go much smoother, and I think they can go quicker than they do in a lot of courtrooms.”
If more than two candidates file for the judgeship, their names will appear on the Aug. 2 general election ballot, with the two who garner the most votes advancing to the Nov. 8 general election. If two or fewer candidates run, their names will only appear on the latter ballot.
Saginaw County to keep judgeship thanks to bipartisan collaboration among officials
Attorney Jessie Scott Wood announces candidacy for Bay County judgeship as Harry Gill readies for retirement