State - AG hopeful Leyton brings experience as prosecutor

By David Runk

Associated Press Writer

NEW HAVEN, Mich. (AP) -- David Leyton says putting criminals behind bars in high-crime Flint gives him unmatchable credentials to be Michigan's next attorney general.

As Genesee County prosecutor, he's says he's the only candidate in the race with such important experience. He made that point clear recently at Haven Ridge Park over pumpkin pie and cider in the village of New Haven, when he introduced himself as the prosecutor from Flint to a group of Macomb County voters.

"It's a community that has its challenges and I have been tested, with 20,000 criminal cases over the last five and a half years, and a 95 percent conviction rate," Leyton says. "We have done extremely well under very difficult circumstances."

Flint, more so than much of the state, has suffered in the latest recession, and Leyton has learned to do more with less. That, he says, has prepared him to be attorney general in tight budget times.

Leyton sees himself as a reformer keeping the needs of working people first. He wants to use the attorney general's office to reform Michigan government by cracking down on corruption, as well as supporting policies that would cut politicians' pay and eliminate free lifetime health benefits for lawmakers.

"We need somebody who is independent, to come in and make changes," Leyton says. "If somebody is going to fleece the taxpayers on my watch, I will find those people. I will try those people. I will convict those people."

As the Nov. 2 election approaches, he has worked to balance the demands of the job, campaign and family.

"I was in the courthouse early today, so I could do what needed, before I moved on down here," Leyton says in an interview at another campaign stop in Chesterfield Township's Kolping Park. "It's been tough, but I am very resilient."

A journalist in the 1970s and early '80s, Leyton, 57, earned a law degree in 1982 and built a private law practice representing victims of negligence and injustice in civil court. He was elected in 1992 to the Flint Township Board of Trustees, where he served -- later as clerk -- until his 2004 election as prosecutor.

Flint lawyer Henry Hanflik, a longtime friend, says Leyton is known for being a firm, detail-oriented prosecutor who acts with honesty and integrity. He says that while others might be overwhelmed overseeing a staff of dozens in a county with such a busy criminal caseload, Leyton remains cool under pressure.

"He's focused, he's rational, he's thoughtful in his approach to things," Hanflik says. "These are admirable qualities that he possesses. He never deviates from that."

When Flint police announced in August they believed a serial killer was on the loose, Leyton became the face of a high-profile investigation that quickly grew to cover a series of stabbings in three states. Leyton also earned some publicity prosecuting Richard A. Short, a convicted embezzler out on parole who won a state business tax credit before being caught. The judge agreed with Leyton's suggestion to set bail at more than $9 million, the amount of the tax credit.

"You have to be driven, and I'm driven to try to do what I can to better my community and better my state," Leyton says. "I could have stayed in private practice. I chose to go into the prosecutor's office because I love public service."

Leyton and his wife, Therese, have been married for 29 years and have four children. When not at work or on the campaign trial, Leyton is a high school football referee for the Michigan High School Athletic Association -- something that puts him on the field making calls most Fridays in football season.

Republicans and former state Court of Appeals Judge Bill Schuette, Leyton's GOP opponent, have focused their attacks on Flint's crime level and Leyton's handling of cases. They've accused Leyton of using plea deals to let off criminals too easily, and failing to bring charges in certain murder cases.

"Flint is hardly the model of public safety for the state of Michigan," Schuette says. "If you can't keep the peace ... in your own hometown you don't deserve a promotion to manage the public safety across the state."

Leyton brushes off the criticism as coming from an opponent with "zero experience, zero cases" handled as a prosecutor.

He had raised nearly $403,000 by mid-September, and had spent more than $143,000. Others in the race include Libertarian candidate Daniel Grow and Gerald Van Sickle of the U.S. Taxpayers Party.

Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell says Leyton brings balance to the job and doesn't rush to judgment, citing Leyton's handling of the April beating death of 4-year-old Dominick Calhoun.

The boyfriend of Dominick's mother was first accused of the crime, and Leyton didn't bow to public calls to immediately charge the mother. Instead, he waited a week until he had enough evidence.

"It would have been easy to go along with the crowd and he didn't," Pickell says. "He took a little bit of criticism for it when he was holding off. I think that showed the kind of person that he is."

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Online:

Leyton campaign: http://www.davidleyton.com

Published: Wed, Oct 20, 2010

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