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Muskegon Co. judge candidate pleads not guilty in domestic case, prosecutors allege abusive history

Jason Kolkema has continued to campaign since his August arrest. He will remain on the ballot in November.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Muskegon-Area Attorney and Circuit Court Judge Candidate Jason Kolkema said only a few words during one of his first appearances in court Monday morning.

It followed his arrest in mid-August after witnesses reported watching Kolkema beat his girlfriend behind closed doors.

“Do you wish to enter a plea of not guilty or guilty to this charge?” The judge asked.

Kolkema entered a ‘not guilty’ plea during his remote arraignment Monday.

The domestic violence charge against the candidate stemmed from witness reports of an interaction between Kolkema and a woman.

Witnesses, several of whom recorded the interaction, described Kolkema beating his girlfriend with a belt through the floor to ceiling windows of the apartment he rented at the Leonard on Western Avenue in mid-August.  

In a video shared with 13 ON YOUR SIDE, the woman appeared to recoil as the belt made contact.  

It’s what witnesses allegedly could not see that prompted Kolkema’s attorney to suggest that the candidate had in fact hit a chair out of frustration and not the victim.  

Based upon a probable cause affidavit from prior to his arrest, investigators said they couldn’t know whether the victim had suffered injuries because of the long dress she wore when they entered the apartment.

Police later described the victim as visibly upset with ‘a blank stare.’

“Some additional information that has come to light that we do feel the court needs to hear in order to set both an appropriate type of bond, and additional bond conditions if necessary,” the prosecution interjected.

The additional information referenced stemmed from custody arrangements with several of the victim’s minor children, agreements preventing Kolkema from having contact during her parenting time.

They alleged Kolkema had violated the orders on several occasions.

The prosecution went on into detail what appeared to be several allegations of child abuse tied to a previous case.  

“Mr. Kolkema had become enraged during an argument he was throwing water on the minor child and actually threw a bottle at the child and the same victim as this matter,” they said.

Court documents obtained by 13 ON YOUR SIDE detailed another alleged incident involving one of the victim’s children and a door knob.

No charges in that case were ever filed.

“My client was not under any order to not have contact with the victim. I'm unaware of the other issues she brought up,” Nolan responded. “My client has no record. My client has never been brought before a tribunal.”

"I hope it's not turning political," Nolan said. "You know, first of all bond is to ensure his appearance. And I think Jason is going to appear for every court matter. He's running for circuit court judge here. And so I do fear some political ramifications."

"This is most certainly not political," prosecutors countered. "This is exactly the position that I'm in day to day is dealing with domestic violence cases. And when I become aware of new information that I think that the judge should hear. We're treating this no differently than any other case."

As the candidate prepared to face trial, Kolkema’s campaign for circuit court judge continued this week.

“We need to make sure that he doesn't get there,” Lori Rasumussen related.

Rasmussen, who led a demonstration in front of the 60th District Court Building Monday said the proceedings underscored the stand she had taken against domestic violence.

The Muskegon-area attorney secured more votes than the three other candidates vying for the same position in the August primary and will remain on the ballot in November.

"With name recognition, when you get to the ballot box and you don't know what's going on, it's very possible that you just choose a name that you know,” Rasmussen shared her concerns.

“We need to make a statement that we cannot tolerate this,” Ann VanderMolen added. “And unfortunately, this was just such a public event.”

If convicted, Kolkema stands to face 93 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

His next court appearance—a pre-trial conference—will be scheduled by the 60th District Court.

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