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The Grand Rapids Press
Posted February 15, 2008 12:49 PM
For 35 years, Rockford District Judge Steven Servaas has been among the more colorful judges in West Michigan.
Servaas became the youngest elected judge in Michigan in 1973 after defeating a sitting judge, a rarity in judicial elections.
He became judge after serving a short time as a prosecutor, his first job out of law school. He currently is looking at running for a seventh term, which would extend his streak as the state’s longest-serving district judge.
Although Servaas has been honored by the state Court Administrator’s Office as having one of the best run courts in the state, he has also run into trouble with his overseers due to a maverick, libertarian streak.
He made headlines during the 1980s for refusing to impose fines for Michigan’s mandatory seatbelt and motorcycle helmet laws.
In the 1980s, he also asked the Kent County Commission for a place to hide a gun that he could access. The judge kept a .45 caliber pistol in a reinforced compartment.
He once chased down a criminal who bolted from his Rockford courtroom.
More recently, he has publicly sparred with county officials and fellow 63rd District Court Judge Sara Smolenski over plans to consolidate court operations to a new site in Grand Rapids Township. Smolenski overseas the court’s southern division. Servaas says the site is too far for northern Kent County residents.
Outwardly gregarious, Servaas also has received accolades for coming forward publicly about his private battles with depression.
In 2004, he tried to kill himself after a bout of depression magnified, he said, by a drug reaction between pain medication and the anti-depressant he had taken for 20 years — both under a doctor’s prescription.
Servaas graduated from Union High School in Grand Rapids and was a sports standout which continued when he attended college in Texas. He graduated with a law degree from University of Michigan in 1969.