Bitter divorce, addiction ends Kent Co. judicial candidacy

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A legal career that seemed destined for greatness and a family that seemed solid — both torn apart by drugs, divorce and mutual animosity.

Attorney Benjamin Symko has suspended his campaign for a newly created seat in the Kent County Circuit Court. The person who takes that job will oversee divorces as a family court judge.

Symko is in the midst of a bitter divorce that has involved police calls, personal protection orders and accusations of mental illness. The 38-year-old, who was previously named one of the 10 Outstanding Young Americans by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, is now being treated at a Betty Ford drug treatment facility.

He was a high school dropout. As a troubled youth, he was charged with stealing alcohol, among other things. Despite that, he managed to graduate from Cooley Law School and pursue a career as an attorney. He was named a rising star in Michigan among the so-called “Super Lawyers.” Symko traveled to Italy to work with a Catholic charity that treated addicts. He worked with orphans in South America and helped migrants in Michigan with their legal problems.

But he struggled with addiction.

His wife, Jessica Symko, stood by his side for 15 years as he fought to stay sober and they had two children, now 8 and 11. She is a realtor who was involved heavily in helping to get treatment for a sick infant denied surgery by insurance companies.

This summer, Ben Symko lapsed back into addiction. His attorney said it started with prescription pain medicine and ended with an overdose at his Ada home that nearly killed him.

His wife tried to have him committed — involuntarily, according to the husband. He spent a week at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services for treatment after a variety of drugs was found in his system, according to court records.

Jessica Symko said she felt her husband was a danger to himself and his children. He argues she has become unhinged, talking about demons and the end of the world. Their divorce file includes numerous police calls by the wife that resulted in no action by police. Every accusation on both sides seems to be followed by an equally believable explanation. Both have agreed to undergo a psychiatric exam.

Wednesday, Jessica Symko pleaded guilty to violating the restraining order taken out against her by her husband.

“Well, I went to the home and I knew I wasn’t supposed to,” she said in court, going on to explain that she went there with her husband’s permission to gather possessions.

She was sentenced to time served for the one day she spent in jail following her arrest.

“My family is going through a painful time right now, and I remain focused on our needs, particularly those of our children,” Ben Symko said in a statement released by his attorney.

Jessica Symko is not commenting on the situation at this time other than to say it has been devastating for her children.

Ben Symko’s name remains on the ballot because the time it could be taken off has passed.

The other candidate, family court referee Deborah McNabb, responded to 24 Hour News 8’s request for comment with this statement:

“My thoughts and prayers are with Ben, his wife and particularly their two young children, at this difficult time.  I respect Ben for choosing to devote his full attention to his family and on getting the help he needs right now.

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