Candidates for Ottawa County’s new Family Law judgeship make their case to voters

Candidates for Ottawa County’s new Family Law judgeship make their case to voters

WEST OLIVE — The two candidates running for an open judge seat in Ottawa County spoke in a public forum earlier this week to introduce themselves to the community.

Paul Kraus and Mercedes Watts are both vying for the nonpartisan Family Law judge seat that was just added to the Ottawa County 20th Circuit Court.

“This is a position that is going to handle some of our most vital cases for Ottawa County — child abuse, wards, custody, guardianship, adoptions,” Kraus said in his opening statement Monday, Sept. 19. “The kinds of cases that have a lasting impact on our communities for generations to come.”

The forum took place at the Fillmore Street Complex in West Olive. It was organized by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

Each candidate introduced themselves to the room of area judges, attorneys and citizens before taking turns answering prepared questions from a moderator. They spoke of their experiences, familiarity with community resources, and what barriers and challenges they witness in the family court system.

Community members, including local judges and attorneys, attend a candidates forum for the fifth judge seat in the Ottawa County Circuit Court on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.

Kraus, who’s worked in family law for 17 years, is currently the senior assistant prosecuting attorney for Ottawa County, in which he handles child abuse cases and manages the family division for the prosecutor’s office.

Watts is currently a public defender for Ottawa County. Previously, she had her own firm where she practiced family and landlord-tenant law.

“I know how much a community can help someone,” Watts said. “I’m equipped to be effective and fair from having lived through it myself. I grew up in poverty. My mother was in an abusive relationship with my father and my father was also an addict. So, having grown up with that and seeing how my mother struggled to get away, and then once she did, how our community took us in and how they helped lift us up.”