Judge will stay on case

By: 
Daniel Pepper, Staff Writer

An Allegan County judge ruled one of his colleagues doesn’t have to recuse herself from hearing a criminal case against a former Otsego school board member.

Judge Margaret Zuzich Bakker ruled July 11 that the law didn’t call for her to recuse herself from hearing aggravated stalking charges against Stephen E. Podewell and said she had no bias in favor of him or the victim in the case.

In a hearing Monday, July 31, Judge William A. Baillargeon agreed with Bakker’s ruling after Podewell appealed the case.

Baillargeon said the main contention from Podewell—that Bakker had made an incorrect ruling in a Personal Protection Order violation case involving him—didn’t mean Bakker should be re moved from the case.

“If indeed the decisions made are in error—and I have no knowledge of whether they are or aren’t—that’s a matter for an appeal,” Baillargeon said.

Podewell’s lawyer, Matt Antkoviak, said his client had considered filing a lawsuit against Bakker over her decisions in the PPO case and that could lead to a feeling she was biased against his client.

Podewell said the PPO case against him, which involved his former wife who is also the alleged victim in this case, should have been thrown out of court because there was no proof he was served with it. Bakker jailed him for a week for violating the PPO around the time the stalking charges were sought by Allegan County sheriff’s officers and authorized by Allegan County prosecutors.

According to court records, Podewell’s former wife sought the PPO in December 2016, alleging he had threatened her, her family, the judge in their divorce case and her lawyer.

Podewell claimed the allegations had been fabricated because he had sought sole custody of the couple’s four children. He also said his former wife fabricated evidence against him in the stalking case and accused her of a number of other bad acts toward him and toward their children.

He argued that the criminal charges against him were defaming his character.

Podewell asked Baillargeon to dismiss all the charges against him and let him go free. Baillargeon said he didn’t have the power to that.

Baillargeon said that in the law, judicial impartiality is a very high bar and a defendant has to show evidence the judge has been or is likely to be biased.

He said it was important to remember that Bakker wouldn’t be the finder of fact deciding whether Podewell was guilty, but a jury.

Contact Dan Pepper at dpepper@allegannews.com or at (269) 673-5534.

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