The Voice Of God
“You know, there’s no more respect in this world today, there’s no more,” Kelly Ann Ramsey pauses a moment, “deference to the police, or to the elderly, or to teachers.”
Accountability is a hot-button issue for Ramsey, something she communicates with the litigants in her courtroom.
“In addition to understanding having no mom, I also understand the addict, and I understand the incorrigible child,” she says. “I also understand making a decision that changes your life — being pregnant at 17. So don’t tell me ‘I can’t do it’.”
“Don’t tell me ‘I can’t do it’” is about owning your decisions, and deciding with intention to achieve what you are destined to accomplish. Success is the result of better decision-making over time.
“You cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result,” Ramsey asserts. “Bad behavior is always wrong.”
Ramsey is her own best coach: she talks to herself out loud in the mirror from time to time, has a song she sings to herself to calm herself down, and will admonish herself with a “What a nutball,” when she screws up, which she says isn’t often. She is known to say, “Success is a pattern of behavior, and so is failure.”
Rather than expecting self-discipline from only the children, Ramsey also holds parents accountable for being present and involved in their child’s life, and even gave assignments to the parents whose children were removed from their care and custody, too.
“You can’t keep your thirteen-year old home from school to babysit your five-, three-, and one-year olds because you’re too stoned or drunk to get up in the morning, or because you simply had too many children than your life strategy could reasonably allow,” Ramsey states. “I’m sorry, but the truth is no one is entitled to have children they can’t afford.”
And Ramsey says the children parents are able to afford need to be disciplined according to their behavior.
“We are justifying ‘Oh, it’s no big deal’. There’s way too much of that going on. It’s just wrong.”
In calling for parents to hold their sons and daughters accountable, Ramsey has the community in mind.
“When we say ‘I don’t wanna be a snitch, I’m not gonna tell anybody that, you know, we know who’s breaking and entering in the neighborhood’, our failure to hold that person accountable means that everybody in the neighborhood becomes violated,” she says.
“Our children must be held accountable for their actions at the earliest stage possible.”
Ramsey then opens up about an influential time in her life, when she was disciplined by her parents.
“I was kicked out of religion class more than once,” she admits. “Some things in class just didn’t make sense to me, and I raised questions and spoke my mind about it. I can recall my mother and my father driving me to school, begging me the entire one-mile drive to keep my mouth shut in religion class. ‘Do not say a thing in religion class. Just do it.’”
For Ramsey, religion is a legitimate path to enlightenment, not a sword to be used to keep people in line.
“My mother was a devout Catholic, born and raised, and my father was spiritual, following indigenous Indian spirituality practices and rituals,” Ramsey informs. “The months when we were away on wild, northern Canadian lakes, it always bothered me that there wasn’t a church, but I often went to the Indian church.
“Still, one of the fondest memories I have of my father was being in a canoe, at dawn, going out fishing. Steam rising off the water, magnificent scenery. It was so quiet. We were alone, and my father said to me, over and over, ‘Shhhhh…you can hear God talking to you here.’”
A Measured Patience
Does Kelly Ann Ramsey believe in God?
“I believe. I would like to say that I’m spiritual. I was born and raised Catholic.” She goes on, “I believe that there’s a higher being and I think we’re gonna answer to that being.”
What works for Ramsey, she explains, can be summed up by the button she slides across the table at Las Palapas which reads “All Children Are Our Children”.
“I think that God…if this button is the center of the universe…says ‘We all have to get to here.’” Ramsey taps on the button with her finger. “And if I choose to follow Catholicism to get to here, maybe you wish to follow the Quran to get to here, or somebody wants to be Episcopalian, or Baptist, or follow Indigenous American and Canadian Indian spirituality…we all have to get to here.”
Ramsey leans forward, taps on the button a few more times, and then sits back in the booth.
“However you want to get there is okay by me,” she says. “I don’t think that God is going to say ‘There’s only one path to being a good person.’”
So how does Ramsey practice her religion?
“From my perspective, I look for and attend Mass mobs. I love to go to Baptist churches, I love to get my Baptist on. I loved listening to some of the Baptist preachers, I loved some of that. I love going to high Catholic masses where they use the incense. And I love doing a Native Indian sweat lodge.
“I have a meditation room in my house. It is filled with things, powerful things, in my opinion, which are very meaningful to me, that I’ve collected for years, from around the world. I do my best to visit it daily.
“So, I think we’re all trying to get to here,” Ramsey finishes as she taps the button one more time.
What does Ramsey think will happen when she meets God?
“I think God only has one question for us,” she states. “‘Did you use the gifts I gave you to the best of your abilities, and for what purpose?’”
Ramsey has many supporters among the religious communities of Wayne County.
“I speak at churches all the time,” Ramsey smiles, “and many pastors have looked at me and said, ‘You should be up here.’”
The church appreciates Ramsey’s focus on the future.
“We have to look at the bigger picture of making the conscious decision to not hold a family accountable for their actions. It would mean we are enablers,” Ramsey believes, “of generational neglect, generational criminality, generational drug use, generational incest. If we don’t break that cycle of abuse, we are going to pay for it later, whether in the prison system, the quality of our educational system, hospital visits, health care, mental health care. Not to mention, the costs of ensuring the safety of the community, the police department, et cetera. So until we honestly address the needs of our community’s most vulnerable, we’re just delaying the cost and spreading it out.
“You have to take all the time that is needed.”
In order to honor the power of this country’s judicial system and help shape the community, Ramsey operates with a measured patience.
The biggest complaint about Referee Ramsey on the bench is ‘she takes too long’. That complaint comes not from the respondents, but the attorneys and the staff.
“Certainly not all, but many of our attorneys are court-appointed, and are some of the poorest-paid attorneys in the nation. The reality is they may need to handle many cases a day in order to make a decent living, which impels them to buzz around in the hallway, flipping their cases among each other. ‘You do these three, and you do these,’ and so on,” Ramsey says.
“Too many are not prepared to defend their clients, and all they desire is expediency, rubber-stamp it. ‘Oh, is this what DHS wanted? Got it. Done. Anybody disagree? Next case….’” Ramsey shakes her head, “It’s just toooooo sad.
“If you want to make a difference in someone’s life, then you need to slow down the juvenile court system. You have to see and understand the whole picture, that is to say, the whole family, the whole person. Because if you don’t understand every issue, and turn over every stone,” she insists, “then you are going to be left with inadequate solutions and services, kicking the can down the road.
“All of us need to recognize the end goal, and work toward it.”
Affiliated With The Truth
Kelly Ann Ramsey’s focus on the future polarizes her from her colleagues and rivals. While many politicians and public officials are first concerned with the inherent costs — the bottom line — of running Wayne County, Ramsey instead looks ahead to the ultimate results of the decisions made, and how they will affect families for generations.
“[Many politicians and officials are] just trying to spread the costs out,” she asserts. “‘Well, you know, I reduced costs in this department’, or ‘I’m the new so-and-so’, or ‘I’m the new chief of this-and-that.’ They just spread it out. But it’s costing us. Because there’s generational abuse, neglect, delinquency, incest, drug addiction, violence, poverty…and we’re not solving the problem.
“Too often in the juvenile justice system, decisions are made based upon price, what it costs in dollars.” Ramsey sighs, “But we have to look at the bigger picture.”
There are approximately 14,000 foster children currently in Michigan, down from 20,000. According to Ramsey, that number is lower because, “We leave too many kids at risk. But you can’t look at that situation and say ‘I can’t do anything, the number’s too big.’ If you individually said, ‘What could I do for one child or one family each year?’, we could solve this problem.
“We continually redefine the harm to our children — for example, instead of calling it ‘rape’ when a child is sexually assaulted by a family member, we call it ‘incest’ — and we are not focused on the long-range impact. They become psychologically impaired for years, which impacts their productivity in society.
“When people ask my party affiliation,” Ramsey says, “I tell them ‘I’m affiliated with the truth.’”
The truth is what Ramsey is always seeking, both in and out of her courtroom.
The final item in Ramsey’s folder of assignments — the ninth item — is a fifteen-page booklet called How to Study, which guides one toward developing life-long habits of planned learning. On the front of the booklet, in her own handwriting, Ramsey writes “‘Being Smart’ is a job. You need to show up for this job. Referee Kelly Ann Ramsey.”
One of the ways Ramsey shows up for the job of being smart is in how she spends her hard-earned taxpayer income.
“I drive a car with 353,000 miles on it,” she volunteers. “I’ve made a decision about what’s important to me, and how I spend my money, and what I ride in isn’t on my list of important things. I use what works for me.
“The amount of money that some people make is simply wrong — CEOs, talk show hosts, entertainment and sports figures,” she pauses, “…that’s outrageous. It’s outrageous. It’s wrong. It is unfair that the so-called ‘average American’ can’t afford to take a family of four to the ball park. How much, you know, a reality TV star makes, a pop star makes…outrageous, out of control.”
Where does Ramsey think Wayne County should be spending its money?
“I believe that there is a famous quote: ‘You can judge a society by how it treats its children.’ Yikes,” she grimaces. “What does it say about us when we feed our children a steady diet of sex, drugs, money and violence? Ever wonder why bullying and school fights are out of control?
“We have to invest in our children,” Ramsey says, “and there is a great social responsibility to that. All children are our children.
Immediately important to Ramsey is her own race to become a judge in Wayne County’s Third Circuit Court. While Ramsey refused to comment on her opponents, she offered, “Judges should be elected or selected based on their merit and experience only. If elections were based on credentials, I’d win. Hell, I would have won in 2012,” when she lost to more “big” names. “What a coincidence, that two of the same names I’m running against in 2016 were the same names I lost to in 2012. What are the odds?” she asks.
Ramsey adds, “Dynasty politicians and judges, what a shame. Look how this practice is destroying a nation.”
The Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association’s Judicial Candidate Evaluation Committee (JCEC), comprised of 34 attorneys from the metro Detroit area, rated judicial candidates for the courts of Wayne County for the 2016 election cycle. The JCEC evaluates the fitness of each candidate for judicial office based upon the candidate’s legal ability, trial experience, integrity, honesty, judicial temperament, and reputation, without regard to party affiliation, race or creed.
The JCEC has four categories of ratings: Outstanding, Well-Qualified, Qualified, or Not Qualified, with some candidates receiving No Rating.
According to the JCEC, Robert Ficano is Not Qualified to be a Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge. Moreover, Melissa Anne Cox received a rating of Qualified, and Thomas J. Hathaway received No Rating.
The JCEC deemed Ramsey as being Well-Qualified.