Three vying for circuit court judge position

Lake County prosecutor, Mason County prosecutor, former Mason County prosecutor in the running

LAKE COUNTY — Although this year’s general election still is months away, three attorneys have announced their candidacy for 51st Circuit Court judge.

Lake County Prosecutor Craig Cooper, Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola and Ludington-based attorney Susan Sniegowsk have all announced their candidacy for the position. The position will be opening up because current 51st Circuit Court Judge Richard I. Cooper will be retiring.

The 51st Circuit Court is one of 57 in the state and comprises of Lake and Mason counties. Generally, the circuit court handles civil cases with claims of more than $25,000, felony criminal cases and family law cases. The court also hears cases appealed from other courts.

Circuit court judges are elected to six-year terms. An Aug. 5 primary election will narrow the field down to two candidates, while a Nov. 4 general election will decide who becomes judge.

In an attempt to educate voters about the candidates running for 51st Circuit Court judge, the Lake County Star has provided background information to introduce the candidates.

Craig R. Cooper

Cooper currently serves as the Lake County prosecuting attorney, and was previously the assistant prosecutor. Prior to that, he worked as a private attorney with the law firm of Gockerman, Wilson, Saylor & Hesslin, P.C., Western Land Services, Inc., and Plante & Moran, PLLC. His legal experience ranges from criminal, family, estate, civil and business law. He was admitted to the bar in 2009.

“I think I’ve really enjoyed being prosecutor here in Lake County,” Cooper said. “I really appreciate and understand Lake County and the residents, and I think I have done a good job being prosecutor. I think we have accomplished a lot.”

Cooper was born and raised in Ludington, where he graduated from Ludington High School. He attended the University of Michigan, where he obtained his Bachelor of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in business law and accounting.

Cooper obtained his Juris Doctor Degree from Michigan State University College of Law where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. While at MSU College of Law, he served on the Law Review as managing editor and worked for the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Tax Tribunal. He takes pride in the fact that he attended the same law school as his father and grandfather and has strong roots in the community. His grandfather, Dic Cooper, served as Lake County’s Prosecutor during the 1950s, and his father is current 51st Circuit Court Judge Richard I. Cooper.

Copper said he would consider it an “honor” to continue in his father’s footsteps if he is elected as judge.

Cooper is an Eagle Scout from Troop 1190 based out of the Community Church in Ludington, where he is also a church member. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the President Ford Field Service Council and is President of the Baldwin Rotary Club. He also is an avid outdoorsman, skier and enjoys playing the alto sax with the Scottville Clown Band.

If elected, Cooper said continue the 51st Circuit Court reputation of being firm and fair and would always keep Lake and Mason county residents’ best interests in mind.

“I have a true sincere appreciation for the residents of this circuit and I think I am always going to have the best interest of our residents in mind when I make my decisions,” Cooper said. “I don’t see a better candidate being able to do that then I can.”

Susan K. Sniegowski

Ludington attorney Susan K. Sniegowski has been practicing law in the circuit since 1999. She has experience as a trial lawyer and has practiced extensively in the circuit court. She currently represents individuals, families and businesses in private practice as well as representing the City of Ludington in misdemeanor criminal cases. She served as prosecuting attorney for Mason County for four years. She is a sole practitioner with an office in Ludington.

Sniegowski received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Michigan State University and Juris Doctor from the University of Denver. Sniegowski has been actively involved in the local community in volunteer positions. She currently serves as the chairperson of the Mason County Bar Association, volunteer attorney for the C.O.V.E. Legal Clinic, annual support committee for the hospital, Franklin Elementary PTC and is on the Board of Directors of West Shore Youth for Christ. She lives in Ludington with her husband, Tom, and their son.

Sniegowski could not be reached for further comment.

Paul Spaniola

Paul Spaniola, 55, is the Mason County Prosecuting Attorney. He took office as the elected prosecuting attorney on January 1, 2009. He joined the Mason County Prosecutor’s Office in 2001 as an assistant prosecuting attorney, after 17 years of private practice in Mason County and the surrounding counties.

“I am very excited about the prospect of running for circuit judge and serving in that role,” Spaniola said. “Judge Cooper has served the residents of our circuit with distinction since 1979 and I look forward to the next several months as I set forth my judicial philosophy of fairness and equal justice for all participants in the justice system, be they parties, victims, defendants or witnesses.”

Spaniola is a graduate of Central Michigan University and the University of Toledo College of Law. He was admitted to the bar in 1984. His private law practice included criminal defense, family law, real estate, general civil practice, probate and estate planning and personal injury. In addition to his duties as prosecuting attorney where he supervises a staff of five and carries a busy caseload, he chairs the Mason County Concealed Pistol License Board and the Mason County Child Death Review Team.

Since 2012 he has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM) where he sits on the Technical Services Committee, Training and Education Committee, and Outreach Committee. In 1988 and 1989 he was president of the Mason–Lake County Bar Association. He has also served as an adjunct professor at West Shore Community College Law Enforcement Program.

“I enjoy immensely serving as (Mason County’s) prosecuting attorney,” Spaniola said. “It is an extremely fulfilling job, protecting the rights of our crime victims, and ensuring that justice is done. Becoming the Circuit Judge would be an extension of this calling. All participants in the justice system deserve to be treated with fairness and respect. I have sought to do this as prosecuting attorney and will continue to do so should I be elected circuit judge.”

Service organizations that Spaniola has been involved with in his 30-year professional career include the Ludington Area Foundation, Area 24 Special Olympics, Ludington Recreation Soccer Board, and the Ludington Area Jaycees. He has been a registered referee with the United States Soccer Federation and the Michigan High School Athletic Association since 1997.

He resides in Ludington with his wife, Pat, who is a retired teacher from the Ludington Area Schools. They have two grown sons, Charlie and Jeff.