by Kristin Steckbauer
Zachary Stempien is the current Branch County Chief-Assistant Prosecutor and soon one will be hearing his name more often since he is stepping up to the plate to run for the Branch County Prosecuting Attorney position on the August 4 ballot. Stempien has been working behind the scenes preparing for the election with more than a candidacy in mind; he is striving toward a future of positive change for Branch County. Why you ask? As a lifelong Branch County resident Stempien has a good beat on some of the area's pressing issues as he passionately advocates for the people in Branch County. Already he has an impressive resume along with goals and systems he has instituted to help move the county and its communities forward. Who is this Zachary Stempien you may ask? Stempien and his wife Nikki come from a long line of vested Branch County families that have been in the area for multiple generations. The Stempiens understand the value of a solid foundation in the home and community and have continued their family's traditions by planting deep roots in Branch County with their three-year-old son and ten-month-old daughter. Stempien takes pride in his family and even has weekly lunches with his grandparents. But to better know the candidate let’s take a deeper look into Stempien's education and career. After graduating from Coldwater High School, Stempien put himself through college and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Administration from Central Michigan University before moving on to the Western Michigan University's Thomas Cooley Law School where he graduated second in his class as a well decorated Magna Cum Laude inductee. While Stempien was impressing his law professors, he was also making his mark as an employee with both Judge Krause of the Lansing Court of Appeals and with Judge O'Grady of the Branch County Circuit Court. Upon graduation Stempien was recognized as an academic Book Award recipient by his law school; this is a prestigious award that only a handful of graduates have received for their top marks in law classes and in the school's almost 50 year history Stempien set a record with his unprecedented 22 Book Awards during his 28 classes. After graduation, with his hometown values and stellar education, Attorney Stempien returned to his family and went to work in Coldwater at the Haas Caywood Law Firm where he focused on criminal and family law along with civil litigations. Stempien was then hired into his current position as the Chief-Assistant Prosecutor of Branch County where he prosecutes felonies, misdemeanors, and civil infractions. From the get-go Stempien has come out of his corner ready to win and has successfully tried numerous Branch County jury cases. Stempien states, "During my time as Chief-Assistant Prosecutor, I have success- fully tried numerous cases to various Branch County juries. During my first nine months as Branch County's Chief-Assistant Prosecutor, I tried five cases to a Branch County jury, obtaining guilty verdicts on four of the cases, which was the most jury trials in Branch County since 2016. I also successfully litigated five cases in the Michigan Court of Appeals and one case in the Michigan Supreme Court. One of the cases I litigated was the case involving Jayme LaPointe, who was convicted of Criminal Sexual Conduct in the 1st degree and implicated in the plot to kidnap, rape, and kill a minor child. I successfully defended against an interlocutory appeal to suppress the evidence gathered in that case." Stempien goes into further details about his 14 months as Chief-Assistant Prosecutor, "During my time as Chief-Assistant, I have maintained tough prosecution. Some statistics to show such are that in 2019, my office reduced less than 20% of felony cases to a misdemeanor, the lowest total since at least 2008. Additionally, my office dismissed less than 15% of all felonies filed by my office, the second lowest total since 2008, with the lowest total being in 2016. These numbers can be found on the state court administrators webpage. For comparison, from 2009 through 2012, the average dismissal rate was around 25%, while the average reduction from a felony charge to misdemeanor charge was well o v e r 30%. For 2008-2019, the average dismissal rate was around 19%, while the rate of reduction from a felony charge to misdemeanor conviction was slightly above 30%. " In his position, Stempien does more than punish offenders, he has also developed initiatives to help them improve their quality of life. He focuses on creating individual opportunities of improvement to some first-time offenders in the Branch County legal system. This is where he has started collaborations with area organizations, such as The Pines, to hopefully improve the future for Branch County residents with the Sobriety Program. Stempien has been working on the Sobriety Program since the fall of 2019 and this past May it hit the ground running as a diversionary aide. For the program, the Prosecutors office reviews cases of first time non-violet drug offenders without a history of assault or sexual misconduct to see if they are eligible. If accepted, a certified licensed counselor works with the enrollee and creates a professional recommendation for the Treatment Team to implement during the one-year program. Throughout that year certain benchmarks such as: sobriety, compliance, employment and completion of the 200 hour program must take place, then, with successful completion the participant will not be charge with the crime that brought them in, but if the treatment is not successfully completed the participant then can be prosecuted for their initial crime. This is promising for afflicted Branch County male residents who, in the past, have had limited opportunities for rehabilitation. Now with more focus on better support groups and anger management training, there will be increase opportunities for education and this could potentially minimize the generational cycles of abuse and violence in their families. Stempien's campaign has been impacted by the COVID pandemic but he has still been hitting the campaign trail in non-traditional ways, such as interactive Zoom meetings. Before the August 4, 2020 Primary, keep an eye out for Stempien's ads in the paper and on social media. His campaign will also be on the radio and sending out post cards and emails. If you or your organization would like to schedule an event or to learn more, reach out to the Chief Assistant Prosecutor's responsive Facebook page, Zachary W. Stempien for Prosecutor 2020. To find out more about Zachary Stempien's desire "to do things differently while making a difference" go to his website, www.StempienForProsecutor2020.com where you can find out more about his campaign, prosecution record, the Sobriety Program, and his future plans for Branch County.