Big changes are already underway at the Mason County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office as Lauren Kreinbrink prepares to take over at the first of the year.
Kreinbrink ran unopposed for the position in the Nov. 3 general election, two months after winning in the Republican primary against Chad DeRuin. Since then, she has been working with outgoing Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola to go over cases she likely will be prosecuting.
“It’s been very exciting. Paul and I have had several discussions about cases that will likely be moved into the next year because of COVID,” she said Wednesday. “There will be many cases because, basically, at this point, all of our jury trials are on hold.”
Kreinbrink was hired less than two years ago as an assistant prosecuting attorney by Spaniola. Before that, she was an assistant prosecutor in Manistee County. Her election as Mason County Prosecutor opened a position within the office that needs to be filled. There are more changes coming to the office following the election, though.
“We’ve been discussing that, and I think the biggest… challenge for our office is going to be hiring two new people, since John Middlebrook was elected to the 79th District Court judge position, which is very exciting,” Kreinbrink said.
When Kreinbrink was hired, it was to replace current 79th District Court Attorney Magistrate Glenn Jackson III. Now, with both Middlebrook and Spaniola leaving, and Kreinbrink becoming the elected prosecutor, she’s searching for two assistants to fill the office.
The jobs were already posted, and the deadline for applicants is Friday. So far, Kreinbrink said there are five applicants and they’re from a wide range of areas and experiences.
“We have a really good mixture of people already working as assistant prosecuting attorneys who I think could hit the ground running, but we also have people who are fresh out of law school and are looking to get their feet wet in criminal law. That’s exciting to have that mixture,” she said.
Kreinbrink would like to have the new hires done by mid-December with perhaps a period for them to shadow others in late December before she takes her oath of office in January.
With the courts’ dockets slower because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kreinbrink has been able to work on making sure everything is in place when she takes over in January. However, for the sake of the victims in cases the office is prosecuting, she is concerned about the continued delays.
“I would say it’s bittersweet. It’s nice to have that ability to take a breath and have that little bit of a slower pace. But at the same time, it’s really hard to tell a victim that because of COVID restrictions, that their hearing has been adjourned or it’s going virtual,” she said. “They look forward, just as a defendant does, to have their day in court and their opportunity to address a judge. That has been the biggest challenge.
“We try to still maintain contact with our victims. (We) meet with them virtually. We’ve been doing a lot of Zoom meetings. That’s been the biggest challenge — to see these victims and see these cases pushed back.”
She said she can tell the victims feel disappointed and frustrated because of the delays.
Because Spaniola is moving toward retirement and Middlebrook is becoming a judge, Kreinbrink said there are limitations to what each can do in the next six weeks or so.
“It’s been challenging, especially John’s new role. His ability to take on new cases is more limited. And Paul’s ability to take on cases that are not likely to settle quickly is more limited. I’ve seen my case load go up quite a bit, but … I’m a team player,” Kreinbrink said. “I want to make sure that John is able to start transitioning to his new role, and he’s been supportive in whatever he can do. And Paul’s been supportive, too.
“Instead of seeing it as a challenge, I’m trying to see it as a way to build my office from the ground up. I think one of my coworkers put it (best); she has a phrase she used from the Marine Corps, it’s ‘Adapt and overcome.’”
Kreinbrink said she’s already opened up avenues of communication with local law enforcement agencies, and there are plans to be more transparent, including the use of social media. Her plans for coffee hours and other in-person interactions, however, are on hold until after the pandemic subsides.
Kreinbrink said she’s excited for Middlebrook, and happy for Spaniola. She’s also optimistic about the future the prosecutor’s office.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of positive changes for our office,” she said. “I’m hoping that our prosecution, our ability to prosecute and our strength in prosecuting cases here in Mason County, will be stronger than ever.”