District Attorney Race
Sessler highlights communication skills, diverse courtroom roles
Having each conducted spirited and intensive campaigns, Eric Schiener and Steve Sessler, Livingston County’s two Republican candidates district attorney, will face off in the Sept. 13 primary election. Polls will be open between noon and 9 p.m. Both candidates spoke with The County News, describing their outreach and ballot strategies, and sharing thoughts about the responsibilities of the office they seek. This is the first of two stories.
Steve Sessler has made a thorough and well organized presentation of himself on Facebook and Twitter, but he emphasizes, “[The web campaign] is a component of the entire picture. You also need to do advertising in the media in its traditional role. The new stuff is an add-on component above and beyond what we also think we need to be doing.”
Sessler noted that his web and Facebook presence are brand new to him. When he ran for justice in Livonia, campaigning needed to be much less ostentatious, in line with the nature of the office.
But running for district attorney, Sessler has discovered that traditional forms of campaigning can be mixed and matched with Facebook and Twitter in an effective way.
“We can take pictures of people wearing our campaign t-shirts and put them on the website,” he pointed out, promising, “We’ll be coming out with a couple more interesting and fun things in a week or so.”
Although primaries for Livingston County government offices have been ultra-rare in the historical sense, Sessler has discovered that voters are understanding the Sept. 13 primary in terms of the recent presidential and congressional primary elections.
While the campaign has been underway, he has continued practicing law, but on a much reduced scale. Sessler estimates that 75-to-80 percent of the time formerly devoted to his practice is now devoted to the campaign.
The campaigning Sessler says he enjoys most is “getting out, walking around, shaking hands with people and looking them in the eye.”
Sessler has been surprised at a common response suggesting that voters are not acclimated to seeing a candidate in person. While gathering his petition signatures for his primary ballot appearance, Sessler was able the answer the frequent comment, ‘I don’t even know this guy’ with the reply, ‘Well, you’re looking at him!’
Sessler and eight helpers gathered his Republican primary ballot signatures. He advises that Schiener’s petitions suggest he didn’t gather any signatures himself.
“I didn’t see his signature on any sheets I looked at for the Republican or the Conservative petitions — or his newest [Law & Justice] party,” Sessler said. “We went through each of those sheets, so we know who went out and knocked on doors and who witnessed the signatures.”
The examination of Schiener’s Law & Justice petition sheets has resulted in the 16-page objection statement Sessler has filed with the Board of Elections, claiming defects in the signers’ eligibility to participate in the petitioning. Specifically, Sessler is claiming that up to 186 signatures for Schiener are by people who are not registered to vote; that 71 signers had already signed other petitions for a district attorney candidate; that 5 signers signed the Law & Justice petition twice, and that 4 signers were witnesses to their own signatures.
If all or most the challenged signatures are stricken from Schiener’s petition, he will no longer have the necessary percentage of voters specified in state election law — and the Law & Justice line with Schiener’s name will not be on the primary ballot.
Sessler remains confident that, as a candidate, he carries appeal on par with or superior to his opponents.
He has 23 years practicing law and a proven ability “ to get up and be able to communicate with just about anybody.”
“You don’t convince juries in courts by anything other than the way you communicate with them,” Sessler said. “If you can explain something to somebody in 25 words, that’s what you do — and that’s the way I am.”
As a seasoned veteran of the courtroom, Sessler has witnessed proceedings from a variety of viewpoints: judge, prosecutor, defense, and even as a witness. “[Broad perspective] gives you the ability over time to development judgment, which is what you need to make decisions,” he believes.
The County News asked Sessler if he believes he has a realistic shot at a primary victory without the endorsement of the county committee.
“It’s true I don’t have the committee endorsement, but that’s okay,” he responded.
“Election law says we Republicans are going to choose our candidate at a primary election,” he emphasized.
Sessler questions the arbitrary practice of the Republican committee to give its support to only one candidate per office. As an alternative he suggests, “How about if you’ve got a couple of candidates, you say, ‘Here’s $500 for you and $500 for you. We’ll see you on Sept. 14.”
“Why is there an endorsed [Republican] candidate before the primary?” Sessler asks.
“It’s about participation,” he concludes. “Participation is hugely important. It’s what this country is suppose to be about. Without it, after awhile, you get what you get by default. Victory goes to those who just do a little bit more. When we choose not to participate in government, we go to default mode.”
“I am choosing to participate and I’m hoping other people are going to exercise their franchise and vote, and make an intelligent and informed decision. People died for that,” Sessler said.
We asked Sessler to comment on Eric Schiener’s experience at the Livingston County District Attorney’s Office working with former DA Tom Moran, now a Supreme Court Judge with the Seventh Judicial District.
“I have been in court with Tom Moran and I have been in court with Eric Schiener, and I can tell you, Eric Schiener is no Tom Moran,” he said. “Tom Moran could stand up in court and communicate well. There is a distinction between the two. To say someone has worked for someone is perfectly fine and accurate, but it doesn’t mean you are that person.”
“When push comes to shove, that’s what this is about: You have to be good enough in the court room to get the conviction. You have to use the evidence to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the person over there is guilty.”
Addressing the issue of politics and the office of the district attorney, Sessler stated, “Winning the office of the district attorney is without a doubt a political affair — but the execution of that office should be apolitical.”
“But let’s not fool oursleves,” Sessler continued. “To get the job is a political function.”
“Still, in my opinion, the job’s execution should have nothing to do with politics. When I’m district attorney it won’t. You can be a Democrat, Republican, Conservative or Communist, but when you come before me, that will not be a consideration.”