Boncher and O'Hara vie for vacant 63rd District Court judicial seat


 By Cynthia Price

Legal News
After the August primary, two candidates emerged to fight for the right to fill the opening on the 63rd District Court left by the retirement of long-serving Judge Steven Servaas  — except that both say this battle will be waged in as civilized a manner possible.

Neither Brent Boncher nor Jeffrey O’Hara is willing to sling any mud, both because they agree it is not fitting for someone trying to demonstrate a judicial temperament, and because they feel an obligation to the 63rd District community to keep the race positive.

As Boncher puts it, “Off and on I’ve been approached to run a more negative campaign, and I’ve consciously resisted doing that. For me it’s important because I’ve got to sleep at night. And I hope to do positive things for this community whether I’m elected or not, and I want positive relationships coming out of the campaign.”

This means that both spend most of their time discussing their own qualifications, without mentioning the opposition. And that can prove daunting too.

“When I talk with people during this campaign,” O’Hara says, hesitating a bit, “well, it’s a little unusual to just start talking about yourself. For most of my career, people come to me and they know of the work I’ve done, they’ve sought me out, so it’s a little bit difficult for me to be talking about myself a lot. I’m just a regular guy — who would honored to serve.”

Both Boncher and O’Hara seem to be regular guys who at the same time have excelled in very challenging legal careers.

(Please note: information about Boncher precedes that of O’Hara because Boncher comes first alphabetically.)
Brent Boncher is a litigator who concentrates in the areas of contract, construction, real estate, and general business law, as well as personal injury and civil rights.

“Complex cases are normal fare for me, but I represent both plaintiffs and defendants, and small business owners both rich and poor. And I’m fortunate to be at a firm that trusts me to handle most of the appeals cases,” Boncher says.

That firm is Schenk, Boncher and Rypma; after getting a business-related degree from the University of Michigan and his J.D. from Wayne State University Law School, Boncher joined his father’s firm on Three Mile Road.

Boncher says he has been grateful for the mentorship of his father and the other “excellent attorneys” at the firm. He feels very strongly about family and believes the community he would work with if elected shares that value. And strongly connected with that is his love of education, which he asserts is a valuable asset in a judge.
“My mother was an English teacher and my father was president of the school board,” Boncher says. “And my wife is a chemistry professor. I taught English in Japan myself. So I have a strong undercurrent of education, and I think as a judge there are opportunities to provide positive education, to be of benefit to those who come before you.

“From a professional background, as an attorney one of the things I enjoy most is the end of the case when there’s closure for people.?I think being a fair and impartial judge can provide that for people. In summation, I enjoy being a part of problem solving,” he continues. “So I think the position plays to my passions and my strengths.”

Community service has also been a passion for Boncher, and he has expressed that through a variety of positions at Courtland Township. He is a trustee, represents the township on the Grand Valley Metro Council, was formerly chair of the zoning Board of Appeals, and is now chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee. He has also been president of the Myers Lake Association and, because he also holds a residential real estate license, is a member of the Property Managers Association of West Michigan.

Because he has daughters aged seven and nine, Boncher has coached soccer and developed an Odyssey of the Mind team at their school.

Endorsements for Boncher run the gamut from attorneys and judges to Right to Life of Michigan to local government officials to small business owners. “Meaningful endorsements should reflect a broad cross section of the people in the area,” Boncher comments.

He says, “District Court is where the rubber meets the road, where people’s everyday issues are resolved. We need a judge who’s going to be patient and work with people who may not be well-versed in the law, someone who’s got their interest in mind and cares about them. I think I’m the best choice.”

Jeff O’Hara is also a trial lawyer, but one whose practice has narrowed over the years to criminal defense. His solo practice covers everything from drug crimes to murder.

In particular, he has developed expertise in death penalty cases. “I’ve been invited to the Department of Justice in Washington on three separate occasions regarding death penalty cases, to give in put to the Attorney General on whether the U.S. government should seek the death penalty in those cases.”

He graduated from Michigan State University before receiving his law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 1986. O’Hara was chosen as a Super Lawyer in 2010-2011.

He speaks frequently at various colleges and universities, including Cooley, and is a member of the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, including serving on the board. He is also a long-time participant in the Hillman Advocacy program. “I’ve been on the steering committee and on the faculty of Hillman,” he says. “In addition to teaching trial skills, there’s a real emphasis on handling yourself civilly in court and conducting yourself with proper decorum. Throughout my career, I’ve never had a cross word with the court, and I think that’s one of the strong aspects that qualifies me to be a judge — having the proper temperament.”

His three children now grown and his wife established in her career as a schoolteacher, O’Hara explains, “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished as a lawyer, and of the family I’ve raised. So now I think that I’d like to devote my time to serving my community.”

During the primary, the Judicial Review Committee of the Grand Rapids Bar rated O’Hara as Exceptionally Well Qualified. And among his many endorsements is one from the retiring Judge Servaas himself.

“I’m very honored by that endorsement – Judge Servaas is revered in the district and respected by everyone,” O’Hara says. “I think it’s almost impossible to fill his shoes. All I will try to do is be the best judge I possibly can.”