17th Circuit Court judicial race offers difficult choices


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Candidates for the 17th Circuit Court judicial position who appear on the Aug. 2 ballot are all thoughtful and experienced, so voting for just one will be difficult.

Although the primary voting will result in two candidates who will move forward in the voting, the ballot allows voters to choose just one.

Note: the following information is presented in alphabetical order.

Curt Benson is an attorney at Witte Law PLLC and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Western Michigan University-Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where he was a professor for 14 years.

Prior to that he worked at several firms, including as a solo practitioner, as a litigator in both criminal and civil areas. After graduating from Western Michigan University and receiving his J.D. from Thomas M. Cooley Law School (as it was known at the time), Benson clerked at Cholette, Perkins and Buchanan from 1982 to 1986. Following that, he was an associate at Denenberg, Tuffley and Jamison, and a partner in Benson and Tacket, P.C. prior to taking full-time employment with WMU-Cooley.

He has argued cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit, Probate and District Courts, the Federal District and Bankruptcy Courts, Workers’ Compensation Bureau, American Arbitration Association and Drivers License Appeal Division.

His work earned him an AV rating in Martindale – Hubbell, and he is a Fellow of The Michigan Bar Foundation, which recognizes professional excellence and service to the community.

In addition, Benson is well known as half of the team on The Lawyers Show on the radio, which hosts guest attorneys and offers often-humorous updates on legal issues.

“I think I have a unique combination of very long-standing practical experience and a lot of scholarship — a good combination for this race,” Benson says. “Also during my years as a tenured professor at Cooley, I taught evidence and civil procedure among my classes, and those are two of the most important things for a judge to master.

“I’ve read Judge Hillman had in his courtroom a plaque remining himself that “, that this is not your courtroom, it belongs to the litigants and the taxpayer.’ I think a judge needs to keep thar in mind. Each person who comes before you is entitled to your full attention, courtesy, respect, and to a good sound judgment,” he says.

Benson’s father was the long-serving Judge Robert Benson, and he adds, “I have wanted to be a judge for a good long time, and I’m sure that’s partly due to my father. His influence in me is very, very, very profound, not only careerwise, but I get my value system from my dad. From my mother too, but my dad’s just been a huge influence on my life.”

Thomas Murray emphasizes his varied experience as well. “I have practiced law for 25 years. I was an assistant prosecutor and have done criminal defense work, and most recently I have worked on both sides of civil cases. I have extensive jury trial experience in both criminal and civil and?I tell people, I’ve done everything an attorney can do in a court except be the judge,” Murray says.

He attended Illinois Benedictine College and received his law degree from Wayne State University. He was an associate at Kemp, Klein, Umphrey and Endelman in Troy both before and after his stint as an Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor from 1991 to 1994. He worked at Sullivan, Ward, Bone, Tyler and Asher in Grand Rapids after positions with law firms in Southfield and Troy.

Murray has been with Hanover Law, with offices at 28th St. and East Paris, since 2000. Initially serving as managing attorney, he became senior trial attorney in 2009.

Murray served for eight years on the State Bar’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, has been involved in Inns of Court both in Kent and Oakland Counties, and is very active in  coaching hockey and as a boy scout leader, not surprisingly as the father of five boys. “We have two Eagle Scouts and one on the cusp of becoming,” he says proudly.

As far as judicial temperament, Murray comments, “The good judges I’ve seen throughout this state are the ones who are prepared to make decisions. I think the judges in our county are excellent for the most part. They’re on time, they’re prepared, they follow the law, they’re respectful to both sides and they let you present your case. I understand a judge has to move cases along but I think it’s important that judges allow attorneys the time to establish their cases,” he comments.
“That’s the kind of judge I’ll be.”

Joseph Rossi, who could not be reached for comment, is an attorney at Drew Cooper and Anding. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School. He was also in the United States Marine Corps, serving as an infantry officer, including time with Operation Desert Storm.

Following Law School, Joe practiced with a large firm in Grand Rapids, and was the  Civil Health Care Fraud Coordinator and Affirmative Civil Enforcement Coordinator in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan. There he handled cases involving medical billing and pharmaceutical fraud, as well as fraud by a variety of Federal contractors.
Since 2010, when he joined Drew Cooper and Anding, he has established West Michigan’s first Qui Tam Whistleblower’s practice to represent  citizens who sue to recover taxpayer money taken by fraud.

He gives his time at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans as a bedside volunteer in the “No Member Dies Alone” program, among other volunteer commitments.

On his campaign website, Rossi says, “Service as a Marine Corps Officer and as a Judge both require level headed decision-making under pressure. Having developed these skills while serving our country, I would be proud to serve the people of Kent County in this important position.”

The 15-member Judicial Candidate Review Committee of the Grand Rapids Bar Association evaluated all three candidates under the chairmanship of James S. Brady. The ranked Curt Benson and Joseph Rossi as Qualified and Thomas Murray as Well Qualified.

The announcement included the following: The Judicial Review Process does not constitute an endorsement of any candidate by the Grand Rapids Bar Association or its Judicial Qualification Committee. Nor is the evaluation a reflection of the abilities of any candidate as an attorney. Rather, it is an overall evaluation of each candidate's qualifications for the judicial office he or she seeks.

Joe began his legal career in 1995 at the statewide firm of Smith Haughey where he was promoted to shareholder in 2001.
Joe’s practice there included representation of County Road Commissions, hospitals and other local government agencies, as well as large corporate and individual clients. He tried cases in multiple courtrooms throughout Michigan.

In 2002, Joe was hired by the U. S. Department of Justice to serve as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Grand Rapids. Joe’s responsibilities included representation of the United States in Federal and State Courts, as well as coordinating the office’s civil healthcare fraud efforts.

In 2010, Joe returned to the private practice at his current firm, Drew, Cooper and Anding, where he started West Michigan’s first Whistleblowers’ practice dedicated to the recovery of government money taken by fraud.

He was the founder and chair of area’s first practice focused on recovery of taxpayers’ money, mostly Medicare and Medicaid, lost to fraud.
Received the peer rating AV–Preeminent by Martindale Hubbell Co., the highest possible rating given for legal ability and ethical standards.
Over his 20+ year legal career, Joe has been responsible for many multi-million dollar cases, representing individuals, businesses and the United States.

U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran, hostage rescue team leader.

Marine Corps Reserve, recalled to active duty twice to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

Commanded USMC Reserve Center in Grand Rapids where he was responsible for preparing over 400 Marines for active duty service in East Africa and Iraq. Joe was also responsible for family support and casualty notification, the most difficult assignment of his 22 years in military service.

Served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon in the Counter terrorism and special operations section where he held the highest security clearance in our nation.

Is a bedside volunteer for the organization, “No Member Dies Alone,” at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

Member of the Department of Defense Committee for Employer Support of Guard and Reserve.

Member of the Marine Corps Coordinating Council.

Member of the Parish Finance Council at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Grand Rapids since 1995.

Vice President and Board member of the East Grand Rapids Wrestling Club.

Board member, Degagé Ministries, Heartside Neighborhood, Grand Rapids.

Joe has been married to his wife Marie for 28 years and is the proud father of 9 children, ages 24-4, and the happy owner of one dog.

Joe's wife Marie is a licensed counselor in Michigan with degrees from St. Mary’s and Pepperdine who volunteers with refugee re-settlement efforts in Grand Rapids.

Both Joe and Marie support their children’s many activities including: academics, band, choir, dance, football, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, theatre, sailing, and skiing.