“Anyone who comes to me is an individual, and any individual can turn their life around,” Kloote said of his courtroom philosophy.
Kloote, 73, of Grand Haven Township is facing mandatory age retirement in December, ending a judicial career that began in 1982. But Kloote didn’t always follow the words of that sign in his courtroom.
“When I first got on the bench, I was getting sour on people who appeared before me,” he admitted.
His attitude changed after he read a book written by a New York gang leader who used the slogan, “God don’t make no junk” — meaning that all people are special.
Kloote has the reputation of being a tough-but-fair judge.
“It is important for people to know my position,” he said. ”The most important thing for me is being fair, firm and consistent.”
While most of the cases he tried through the years have involved drug or alcohol violations, the number of domestic violence cases has been on the rise, Kloote acknowledged. He said there is now more awareness of domestic violence and more cases are being reported.
Kloote even has had people who were drunk appear before him. He requires that offenders stand close enough to him so that he can smell alcohol if they have been drinking.
The judge recalled one woman who had a 0.35 blood-alcohol level when she appeared in his courtroom. The legal limit is .08.
Kloote is not afraid to hand out tough sentences to such violators. But he also is cognizant of the fact that jail time isn’t always the right answer for some people.
Kloote doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of a number of programs available to keep offenders out of jail. Jail Alternative Work Services is one such program in which offenders can avoid jail time by doing community service work.
“This has been a very successful program,” he said.
Kloote is also a strong advocate of Ottawa County’s Drug Court that is located in Holland.
Kloote is also a strong believer in the importance of parenting. He said many of the young people who appear before him are there because of lack of parenting.
Although appearing before Kloote can be a negative experience, he said he's had a number of offenders thank him for turning their lives around.
While Kloote has tried many cases during his 30 years on the bench, two cases stand out:
Keith Harbin, who was convicted of murdering Grand Haven public safety officer Scott Flahive; and a domestic violence case in which he ruled there was a lack of evidence for a trial.
Harbin’s trial took place in Circuit Court, but the case first went through District Court.
In the domestic violence case, Kloote said he received a lot of criticism for his decision. But the appeal courts upheld his controversial decision.
Kloote was elected as a 58th District Court judge in 1982. During his tenure as a judge, he was chief judge for 13 years and chief judge pro tem for 10 years.
Prior to being elected as judge, Kloote practiced family law in Grandville, working primarily in Kent and Ottawa counties' courts. He is also an active member of the Reformed Church in America — serving in various capacities at local, regional and state levels.
Kloote serves on the board of directors of Bethany Christian Services. As part of that role, he's traveled to South Korea three times — each time returning with orphaned children.
December will also mark another milestone for the longtime judge. He and his wife, Marcia, will be celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. Kloote’s first wife, Ivol, lost a battle with cancer in 1989.
Kloote and his wife have three children and five grandchildren.
Kloote was traveling through Kentucky when he noticed a stranded motorist on the expressway. That motorist was Marcia.
“I not only helped fix her car, I convinced her to move from Nashville to Michigan,” Kloote said.
While Kloote enjoyed his tenure as a judge, he is looking forward to retirement. He plans to sail, travel and do woodworking in his “mancave.”
“I plan on spending time with my blended family,” he said.