Former prosecutor begins new role on bench

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 By Paul Janczewski

Legal News
 
While attending law school, Byron Konschuh envisioned a career combining his law degree with his future MBA, perhaps sitting behind a desk writing briefs, or doing research, or some sort of behind-the-scenes work in business.
 
“I wasn’t outspoken, and I didn’t feel comfortable speaking in front of people,” he said.
 
What a difference a career makes. That shy, soft-spoken young lawyer later joined the Lapeer County Prosecutor’s Office, working his way up to Lapeer County prosecutor, and now has become a Lapeer County Circuit Court judge. In each of those positions, Konschuh, 52, had to overcome his apprehension of public speaking to tackle jobs that required being in the limelight.
 
“So it’s ironic that I am where I am now,” Konschuh said with a laugh. “For those shy people out there, it does give you an opportunity to think about it.” 
 
Konschuh was born in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, but moved to the United States at an early age when his father took a job as a professor at the University of Kansas. Moves to Benton Harbor and Ann Arbor soon followed, as his father became an administrator and eventually vice president of Washtenaw Community College.
 
Konschuh went to high school in Ann Arbor, holding dual citizenships in Canada and the United States, but when he turned 18, he elected to become an American citizen. As the son of an educator, Konschuh said it was an “awesome” learning experience. After graduating from high school in 1978, he entered Albion College in a pre-med program.
 
“But I found out that chemistry labs were four hours on a Friday afternoon, and that was not my cup of tea,” he said. “I could do it, but I was not that interested in it.”
 
Konschuh shifted to studies in economics and political science, and graduated with a degree in those fields in 1982. The economy was in a recession, and he knew finding a job with a liberal arts degree would be difficult, so Konschuh looked at law school as an option.
 
“I thought it would be cool, and I looked at a law degree as having some flexibility,” he said. 
 
Wanting to cover all his bases, Konschuh took tests to enter both law school and an MBA at graduate school, and passed both. He entered Wayne State University to pursue both. 
 
“I wanted to set myself apart from other applicants, so I pursued both interests,” he said. 
 
He convinced the dean of the school to allow him to take cross credits in both fields, and graduated with his law degree in 1985. During law school, Konschuh found the mental exercises of learning about law interesting, and developed a passion for the work. But after graduating, he landed a job in private practice with a small firm, handling mainly divorce work. 
 
“It was no fun,” Konschuh said.
 
He did that until 1988, working days as an attorney and earning credits at nights for his MBA in finance. 
 
“I had a career going, and I didn’t really know if I needed the MBA, but I’d gotten so close and I wanted to finish it up,” he said. 
 
Fate was about to take a turn for the shy, soft-spoken young attorney. While at law school, he had interned at the City of Detroit Law Department, and met another intern who was now in the Lapeer Prosecutor’s Office. When that friend got another job, he told Konschuh of an opening there. 
 
“I wasn’t getting that much experience in private practice, so I thought I’d give the prosecution job a shot,” he said.
 
Konschuh was hired in 1988, worked his way up the ranks, became chief assistant prosecutor in 1992, and was named the Lapeer County prosecutor in 2000. And with every step up the ladder, Konschuh found himself increasingly more comfortable in public speaking, and developed an intense passion for the law and his job.
 
“Oh, definitely, I’ve found a career I love. I stumbled into it luckily. I’m made for this, and this career is made for me. I find it to be a perfect fit,” Konschuh said. “As a prosecutor, you really do get to exercise the discretion that allows you to feel like you are wearing the white hat,” Konschuh said. 
 
Every day, he tried to improve his community by assisting victims of crime while attempting to teach lessons to those who break the law. 
 
Konschuh has been involved in many community activities, organizations, and programs. He has been instrumental in the Families Against Narcotics program. 
 
“Defendants have to be punished for what they did, but also, instead of making a career criminal out of them, this program is being developed to allow them to plead to a four-year felony, and if they stay out of trouble, pass drug screens and work with Families Against Narcotics by sharing their story with high school kids, at the end of a year their conviction drops to a one-year misdemeanor,” Konschuh said.
 
This program is meant to address the drug problem, specifically heroin addiction, that is on the rise in Lapeer County. He said success with the program means people who have rehabilitated will be able to get jobs and become productive members of the community.
 
Konschuh said the program is modeled after a similar one in Macomb County. He would like to see it expanded statewide, or even nationally. 
 
“Towards the end of my prosecuting attorney career, I wanted to at least try to make a difference in my community,” he said.
 
As he learns the skills and gets his feet wet as a judge, Konschuh said he wants to pursue grants that will allow Lapeer County to get its own drug court. When asked to name the changes he’s seen in the Lapeer community as prosecutor over the years, Konschuh said “substance abuse, substance abuse, substance abuse.”
 
While alcohol abuse used to be the primary crime in this small community, which averages only one or two homicides each year, Konschuh said the increased use of drugs, both prescription and designer drugs, and the increased use of social media, such as Facebook, for sexting and posting other forms of illegal videos, have blossomed. 
 
“Those are the two biggest changes I’ve seen as prosecutor, substance abuse combined with technology which leads people to do stupid things,” Konschuh said.
 
As prosecutor, Konschuh was named Prosecutor of the Year in 2003 by the Michigan Arson Prevention Council and the International Association of Arson Investigators, Crime Fighter of the Year in 2006 by the Fight Crime Invest in Kids of Michigan, in addition to other state and local honors.
 
“As a public servant, as prosecutor, I’ve always felt that my job was to seek justice and do the right thing, not obtain convictions and collect statistics,” he said. “So I’m still servicing the community, trying to find justice. And I’ve received a lot of support from the community.” 
 
Konschuh was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to the 40th Circuit Court in March, filling the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Michael Higgins. He must seek election in November 2014 to serve a full term. 
 
Konschuh and his wife, Lorraine, an IT systems technologist, live in Lapeer Township. They have two children, Colin and Ethan. For fun, Konschuh enjoys hunting trips up north and walleye fishing outings in Canada.
 
And as a new member of the bench, he believes he’s reached his nirvana. 
 
“I think I’ve achieved where I’m going to be for the rest of my life—on the bench,” Konschuh said. “I’ll just do the best job I can, and improve my community the best way I can, and I think I can continue that effort as a judge. This is an awesome responsibility, and I hope I can live up to it.”

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