Goebel reflects on 40 years as judge

ESCANABA — Delta County Probate Judge Robert Goebel will be retiring at the end of 2018.

Noon, Jan. 1 of 2019,” is when Goebel said he officially retires as probate judge. He said he is looking forward to enjoying retirement with his wife Regine Goebel.

By the time he retires, Goebel will have been the probate judge in Delta County for 40 years. He is the 10th probate court judge to serve Delta County.

Goebel was born and raised in Oakland County, Mich. He spent his undergraduate years at Michigan State University before going off to law school at the University of Detroit. After one semester, Goebel was drafted into the Army. He served from January 1969 to August 1970, stationed in Korea. When he returned to the States, he completed law school at the University of Detroit and became an assistant prosecutor for Delta County in April 1974. Goebel was appointed prosecutor by Judge Clare Hoehn in August 1976 and elected prosecuting attorney in November of the same year. He served as the prosecuting attorney until becoming probate judge in February 1979.

“I wanted to work in a smaller county as a prosecuting attorney to gain trial experience,” Goebel said about his career in Delta County. “I had an interest in the criminal law because my dad was a detective with the Pontiac Police Department and then he became an FBI agent. So I sort of grew up amongst law enforcement people.”

He had three adjectives to describe his career in Delta County as the probate judge — rewarding, busy and fulfilling.

As prosecuting attorney, Goebel said his most notable and fulfilling experience was helping Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Leon Wildey obtain a confession and conviction of a serial killer for killings that occurred in Delta County in the late 1970s.

He explained how a Rapid River man — Michael Davis — abducted young women that were hitchhiking then raped and strangled them to death. Goebel said there were two women from Delta County that were murdered by Davis, who is still in prison for these crimes.

Davis was a suspect in the cases, however, there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. Davis was able to move away to Minnesota. Goebel said Detective Wildey had followed Davis to Minnesota and gave descriptions of the cases and what they thought Davis was doing to the police departments there so if a young woman went missing Davis would be a suspect.

Goebel said a young woman in Minnesota was attacked, but survived. She was able to identify Davis as her attacker. Goebel and Wildey went to Minnesota and were able to get a confession from Davis for what he had done in Delta County.

“I’m convinced we saved the lives of many young women that would have never known they were still alive because of that,” he said. “That was a very fulfilling case, on my part, as a prosecutor.”

As the probate judge, Goebel said there were two things he is most proud of in his career.

He explained one of the notable parts of his probate judgeship is the diversion program. The program is an alternative to going to court for juveniles arrested for less serious crimes. Goebel explained the diversion program has the youths pay restitution and complete community service hours so they won’t have a record.

Creating a successful intensive probation program for juvenile delinquency that has saved millions of dollars for the county is the other part in his career Goebel said he is proud of.

“We have a daytime and nighttime probation officer to supervise the delinquent kids,” he said. “As opposed to sending them off to institutions, we work with the family and the delinquent youth to try to address and solve the problems in the community. We found if we sent them away — we spent a lot of money on expensive placements — and they come back they still have the same parents, the same peer groups. Nothing really changed and they’d re-offend again. This program has worked out extremely successful — very low recidivism rate and reduced the cost of placing these kids out of home.”

The efforts of the probation department and court staff working as a team to accomplish programs like these has made Goebel proud, he said.

Goebel does have some concerns as he leaves his position in 2018 — mainly about the Michigan Supreme Court.

“The last several years the Michigan Supreme Court has been trying to eliminate and take judgeships out of the Upper Peninsula,” he said. “I would caution the people to be on guard against the Supreme Court’s continued efforts to remove judges from the Upper Peninsula — because it is critical we have the judges to serve the people. They are constantly trying to reduce the number of judges in Delta County from three to two and that would be totally inadequate.”

Another concern Goebel has is the security in the courthouse and how the Michigan Supreme Court has not been supportive about counties getting adequate security for the employees and public in the courthouse.

Although Goebel is leaving with some concerns, one of those concerns is not his successor. Perry R. Lund was elected to be the new probate judge in the November elections.

“I’m very pleased — I think he is going to prove to be a very good judge,” Goebel said. “He has worked for me for approximately 16 years, first as a probation officer then as an attorney referee. We’ve worked together hand in hand — he’s been a tremendous help to me. I’ve relied on him greatly. He will pick right up and hopefully continue the good things we’ve been doing — probably improve on some things.”