Candidates court voters

Richard Kloote, who has been serving as an Ottawa County District Court judge since 1982, will be retiring at the end of the year. The upcoming vacancy spurred an election for his seat, and two candidates are vying for the position.
R.J. Wolcott
Jun 30, 2012

Kloote’s endorsement has gone to Holland resident Vern Helder, 51. Helder has been practicing law for a quarter-century. He has served as the attorney magistrate for the 58th District Court for the past nine years.

Helder was born and raised in West Michigan. He earned a bachelor's degree at Calvin College and a law degree at Detroit College of Law, now known as the Michigan State University College of Law.

After college, Helder worked as a research attorney for the Michigan Court of Appeals before being recruited by a private litigation firm in Grand Rapids. He worked for the Muller law firm for 19 years, which gave him experience in front of numerous judges in the West Michigan area.

After leaving Muller, Helder went to work for the 58th District Court, first part-time then as the full-time magistrate. Helder described the magistrate’s position as being akin to the duties Judge Kloote performs.

“I handle a variety of cases similar to what the judge does,” Helder said.

Helder handles small claims trials, civil infractions and misdemeanor pleas, and even fills in for judges when they are unable to preside. He said these experiences have given him a unique perspective as well as a strong background in law.

“I have over 25 years of experience both in front of the bench and more recently on the bench," Helder said. "I believe these credentials make me uniquely qualified to continue to serve Ottawa County as District Court judge.”

Helder and his wife, Kim, have two sons.

The other candidate running for the 58th District Court seat is Craig Bunce of Zeeland. He has been serving in the Ottawa County Prosecutor's Office for 18 years and has worked on a number of cases, including domestic abuse and drunk driving.

Bunce, 46, received his undergraduate’s degree from Western Michigan University before heading to Valparaiso School of Law in Indiana. He then began handling general civil practice procedures for the Cunningham Dalman law firm in Holland. During his three and a half years there, Bunce represented defendants in civil court, handled collections and tenant-landlord issues, and prosecuted ordinance violations for the city of Holland.

In January 1994, Bunce began work with the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office.

He said his knowledge of local cases sets him apart from his opponent. Bunce pointed out that even though crime has decreased overall in Ottawa County, there has been a 9 percent hike in domestic violence cases.

“I’ve handled hundreds of domestic violence cases and I’ve come to understand the cycle of violence involved in these cases,” he said.

Bunce has also worked with the sobriety court program that aims to prevent repeat drunk-driving offenses.

Bunce said his career has been based on service and that he feels the court has a responsibility to listen to people.

Bunce and his wife, Donna, have four children.

Chris Houghtaling, a local attorney and president of the Grand Haven school board, also filed as a candidate for the District Court seat. However, his petition to get his name on the ballot was denied because the number of signatures on it fell below the required minimum.

 

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