SOUTH BEND — Garnering 46 percent of the votes, Andre Gammage won the five-way race Tuesday for the Democratic nomination for St. Joseph probate judge.
Gammage will face Republican nominee Jim Fox in the general election in November.
Gammage said after his victory that he will continue to emphasize the same issues for the general election. “We want to be innovative and proactive in terms of our approach to the court. We want to go outside the four walls of the court to try to help head off some of the problems in the community,” he said.
Gammage received 5,937 votes, according to unofficial results. He beat four other candidates: Catherine Andres, with 3,214 votes (25 percent); Mark Kopinski, 2,024 votes (16 percent); Stephen Drendall, 965 votes (7 percent); and Ken Sheetz, 895 votes (6 percent).
Gammage has operated a private practice in South Bend since 1994, practicing both criminal and family law. He also is an administrative law judge for the South Bend Department of Code Enforcement, and worked as a deputy prosecutor for about four years earlier in his career.
Fox was unopposed in the GOP primary. He is a deputy prosecutor in Elkhart County and a former police officer, paramedic and firefighter.
The winner of the general election will succeed Judge Peter Nemeth, who is retiring at the end of this year after 19 years on the bench.
Crucial time for kids in St. Joseph County
“Certainly the biggest area of concern right now is what's going on with the state takeover of the Department of Child Services,” Nemeth said. “I think it's a disaster, it doesn't work.”
DCS has cut millions from the treatment programs and facilities Nemeth uses for children who end up at the county’s Juvenile Justice Center.
“One of the things we'll do is, number one, we'll look at those cuts and try to negotiate whatever we can to be able to get additional funds to provide the appropriate services,” Gammage said Tuesday night after his win. “Number two, we'll look for outside funding to be able to fund programs. If you can intervene early on, you won't have the problem with adults. I think everybody knows we've got the problem with violence, and it's just an opportunity to make a difference.”
St. Joseph County is the only county in the state with a probate court that handles paternity cases, guardianship, adoptions, juvenile delinquencies, child welfare, and wills and estates.
“It’s not easy to take children away from parents, it's not easy to send a child to boys school or girls school,” Nemeth said recently. “You have to be able to exert leadership obviously, you have to be an administrator, you have to have a good temperament and you need to be a pretty good lawyer as well.”