Jackson County assistant prosecutor happy in role

 By Tom Gantert

Legal News
For years, Steven Idema didn’t mind the one-way 90-minute commute from his home in Lansing to his job in Kalamazoo where he was an assistant prosecutor for Kalamazoo County.
But things changed once he had a daughter, Madeline, who is now 2 1/2 years old.

 “It wasn’t until she came along that the drive really started to bother me,” said Idema, who took a job as assistant prosecutor in Jackson County in August so he could be closer with his family. “It was, ‘Oh, man. I just really want to get home and spend time with her.’ ”

Idema worked seven years with the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office before leaving in August.

“It was purely a decision that I needed to get closer to home,” Idema said.

Idema, 40, has spent his professional career as an attorney. He says he knew he wanted a career in the legal profession even as a child growing up in the Cascade/Ada area.  His father, a Marine, instilled in him the desire to serve his community in some manner.

When he was 6, Idema was fishing with his grandfather who asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“A judge,” Idema told his grandfather, Roman Panczyk, who replied: “If you go to law school, I promise I’ll stay alive long enough to see you graduate.”

Panczyk died just three months before Idema–a Michigan State University alum–graduated from Cooley Law School in December of 2003. 

Idema started out with a private Lansing law firm and did collections law work for three months. Then he went to work for Robert Vincent Green, a defense attorney in Lansing from 2004 to 2006. He sat in the second chair for a murder trial.

While in college, Idema had been a clerk for Kalamazoo District Court Judge Vince Westra. His old contacts called and offered him a position with the prosecutor’s office, which he accepted.

“My passion has always been criminal law,” Idema said. “Whether it was prosecution or defense, it didn’t matter to me.”

In the last five years, Idema handled the felony cases while working in the Circuit Court.

One of Idema’s more memorable cases involved a U.S. Postal Service employee who was receiving workers’ compensation benefits while also working another job, failing to notify the government.

“It was a ‘paper case,’ ” Idema said. “Nothing sexy about it. But it was a case I spent so much time and energy on. There were a couple sleepless nights awaiting trial.”

The man was found guilty.

Idema  replaced assistant prosecutor Jared Hopkins, who left the Jackson County office in June. Jackson County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Mark Blumer also retired June 6.

Idema will be assigned to the misdemeanor docket with 12th District Court Judge Michael Klaeren and will also work the county’s mental health court.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jerry Jarzynka said he instantly liked what he saw in Idema.

“When we first met Steve, we immediately noticed his professionalism and ability to interact well with people,” Jarzynka said. “We were not only looking for a person who was very skilled and competent, but one who could work well with victims and fit in well with our staff. We are very excited to have Steve join our team.  He is a true professional who brings a lot of experience, knowledge and skills to the position of assistant prosecutor.”

Idema said he thinks he has found his calling.

“I would classify myself as a career prosecutor,” he said. “Now that I have worked both sides, I think ‘prosecutor’ is in my blood.”