Pestka Steps To Circuit Bench

May 2, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — As the son of Polish immigrants, soon-to-be Kent County Circuit Court Judge Steven M. Pestka feels his family has more or less achieved the proverbial American dream. 

“The proudest moments of my life have been mom and dad alive to see me sworn in as a member of the Michigan Legislature, and, now, a circuit court judge,” Pestka said.

“It’s a real testament to what a great country we have that for somebody that comes from the kind of background that I do, their parents can work their way up and be in a position to see this for their son. It’s kind of symbolic of what the American dream is all about.”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced Pestka’s appointment as a Kent County 17th Circuit Court judge April 18.

Pestka, who is assigned to the court’s family division, filled a vacancy on the bench created by the Feb. 1 retirement of Judge David Soet.

“Steve will make an excellent judge — fair, hard-working, intelligent, balanced and full of integrity,” Granholm said in a prepared statement. 

The circuit court is the trial court with the broadest powers in Michigan. It has original jurisdiction in all civil cases involving more than $25,000, all felony and certain misdemeanor cases, as well as all domestic relations, child neglect and delinquency cases.

The 17th Circuit encompasses all of Kent County, and is one of the busiest courts in the state. Year-end 2002 case filings numbered 19,308 according to the court.

The family court division of the circuit court was created under Public Act 388, signed into law in September 1996. A family division was established in every circuit court in the state by January 1998.

As a circuit judge in the family division, Pestka will hear cases dealing with family law, including adoptions, child abuse and neglect, child support, custody, paternity, delinquency, divorce and domestic violence.

Pestka will be sworn in Thursday and his investiture is scheduled for May 15. In the interim between his appointment and now, he has been sitting in every day with other judges on their cases, getting a hang for what it feels like to be behind the bench.

He brings 20 years of legal experience in the area of family law to his new role.

Pestka, who is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Detroit College of Law, started his law career as an assistant Kent County prosecuting attorney in the civil division of the prosecutor’s office in March 1978.

After two years as an assistant prosecutor, he established a single practice as a divorce attorney in which he spent 18 years.

Pestka, a Democrat, won election to the Kent County Commission in 1992 and served three terms, through the end of 1998.

He went on to serve as state representative for District 76 for two terms, from January 1999 through December 2002. He lost a hotly contested senatorial race last fall to former Kentwood Mayor Bill Hardiman, the Republican elected to serve the 29th District. 

Pestka believes his experience as both a county commissioner and a legislator will be an added plus on the bench.

“When I was on the county board there were certain relationships in the judiciary that I think I worked to help facilitate. Serving the legislature gave me a very interesting perspective on some of the laws that were enacted and their impact on the courts in our state.”

  Pestka said as a member of the legislature he pushed hard for creation of the two additional 17th Circuit Court judgeships to serve the Family Court Division.

“Although we do have a high caseload I think we also have a reputation for efficiency that bodes well for the county and that certainly is in the interest of the people of our county,” he said of the court.

Pestka said he has always aspired to public service, which is why he has been a prosecutor, a commissioner, a representative and now a judge. He said he believes in giving back to the community.

Pestka has served on the Kent County Community Mental Health and the Grand Rapids Real Estate boards. He’s a member of the Grand Rapids Bar Association and the Polish Heritage Society, and supports a variety of charities as well.

He said those volunteer positions and association memberships also lend some perspective to his role as a judge.

“I think they do, particularly if you’re dealing with people that are in need.

“I can see where an understanding of the kinds of problems and challenges people have in their lives is something that I take with me to the bench,” he said.

“I think it’s really important to be sensitive to the needs of the public. That’s my hope, and I think I’ve maintained it so far in my life.” 

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