Lisa Babcock wants voters to know just how far back her Lansing connection goes. She graduated from Eastern High School in 1984, worked at the Burger King in the Frandor shopping center in 1986 when it was the chain’s fourth busiest location in the world and studied law at Michigan State University.
Since then, she’s kept busy. Babcock has been a journalist, political staffer, lawyer and most recently an East Lansing City Councilor. Now, she’s taking on a new endeavor -- running for judge of District Court 54b in East Lansing.
Babcock’s career is a homecoming story. After a childhood spent attempting to break out of her hometown and some time reporting on politics in Northern Michigan, she’s become a staunch advocate for transparency and fairness in city government, just a zip code away from where she grew up.
“I really wanted City Hall to be a place where people felt they were treated fairly, who felt like they were being heard,” Babcock said. “East Lansing is a really great community and people volunteer in this community. They're committed to this community. And really, our city runs pretty well, if I may say so. But I wanted to make sure that continued.”
A sense of loyalty to her community is what drove her to run for judge. Babcock said that she’s tried to build her legal career around making people feel respected and equal in the courtroom. She believes she could continue that work as a judge.
“I had just never really imagined being a judge,” Babcock said. “And I began to think about it, and so many of my cases I worked so very hard to get them into treatment courts, sobriety court, domestic violence court. And District Court is the place for second chances. And I thought, well, actually, this suits my personal philosophy, my legal philosophy, that you give people a second chance.”
East Lansing’s District Court, like its fellows around the state, handles mostly small-claims cases like landlord-tenant disputes, misdemeanor criminal offenses, civil lawsuits and municipal infractions. Babcock says that these are often issues that affect ordinary people who may not have any prior experience with the legal system or the courtroom.
The attitude of a judge, she said, can help recognize the dignity of all parties involved in a case.
Babcock said, when an running for judge, she can't announce how she will rule on any given issue, because there are different factors that make up each individual case.
“But the common thread should always be, ‘Am I running this court in the interest of justice? And am I treating people with the respect that they deserve?’" Babcock said. "Everyone is entitled to respect.”
Respect, she said, is a guiding principle in her views on criminal justice. Babcock has spent her career litigating to keep people with minor offenses from spending life in jail. However, she said she recognizes the delicate balance between this and glossing over the ramifications of crime.
“Crimes have victims,” Babcock said. “And people who have been affected deserve to be heard by the court. They deserve to be treated with respect.”
Even with years of experience in criminal court, Babcock was hesitant about the idea of running for judge at first.
“About a year ago, I was approached by people about running for judge,” Babcock said. “And I tell you, it was the biggest fit of imposter syndrome you have ever seen.”
She said that the feelings of anxiety about her qualifications were eventually overcome when she took stock of all of the people encouraging her to run.
"As with so many women," Babcock said. "That imposter syndrome was misplaced."
Coming to terms with her qualifications -- which include prosecuting cases in law school, defending criminal cases, representing tenants and holding multiple positions in District Court -- Babcock said, "My credentials are solid."
Babcock turned her focus to her race. She’s currently running unopposed, but she still finds it important to get out and talk to voters.
“I'm still going out asking people for their votes,” she said. “I believe it's important to ask someone for their vote, because a vote is an important thing to give someone.”
Babcock said that it's important to know all you can about judges, because they tend to move up through the system and, at every level, they make decisions about your life.
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Ultimately, Babcock hopes she can have a positive impact on East Lansing as a judge, and that her work continues to be centered around the people in her community.
“I have been in courts where the judges get overworked and often start to treat cases as procedural -- they're just simply files to get through,” Babcock said. “But the important thing to remember is every one of those files includes at least two people. And they should not be handled as a process. They have a dispute that's important to them. They want to resolve it. And it deserves an actual hearing from the bench.”
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