MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The defense attorney for a Muskegon County judge candidate says video does not show Jason Kolkema beating his girlfriend with a belt but rather Kolkema hitting some furniture next to her.

Terry Nolan, Kolkema’s attorney, told Target 8 that the two were arguing and that Kolkema used his belt to strike the chair next to where the woman was sitting. He said Kolkema and the girlfriend say no contact was made.

Kolkema, an attorney himself, is scheduled to be arraigned on a domestic violence charge on Sept. 19. The charge was issued last month after witnesses said they had seen the alleged assault taking place through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Kolkema’s Muskegon apartment. At least two people recorded video of it.

A still image from bystander cellphone video shows Muskegon County judge candidate Jason Kolkema swinging his belt near his girlfriend in August 2022.
A still image from bystander cellphone video shows Jason Kolkema swinging his belt.

Nolan said the video is “not what it appears to be.” The girlfriend can be seen reacting after the belt strikes, but Nolan argued that is an involuntary flinch away in surprise when she heard the belt hit the chair. He said she did not suffer any injuries.

In the probable cause affidavit that supported Kolkema’s arrest on a domestic violence charge, it was noted that “officers were not able to see any injuries on (Kolkema’s girlfriend) since she was wearing a long dress.” 

According to the affidavit, Muskegon police were dispatched on Aug. 18 to an address near The Leonard, the apartment building on West Western Avenue where Kolkema resides.

“Once on scene, officers came in contact with a witness who informed them that she witnessed a woman being struck multiple times with a belt inside the Leonard Apartments,” wrote an officer in the affidavit. “Officers were able to make contact with (3) other witnesses … who informed them that they also witnessed the incident. Witnesses were able to identify the subject striking the woman as Jason David Kolkema.” 

The affidavit went on to describe officers’ interaction with Kolkema’s girlfriend.

“Officers noted in their report that (she) was visibly upset and had a blank stare when they were talking with her. When (she) was asked who she had an altercation with, she stated ‘Jason Kolkema’ but refused to comment on the altercation or what occurred between them,” the affidavit says.

But Nolan, Kolkema’s attorney, said witnesses had no way of knowing what was actually occurring between the couple. 

“You have to know what’s going on in the apartment and you don’t,” he said. “What it appears from a 100 feet across the street, two floors down, is not what’s going on in the apartment.”

He said after the movement of the belt, both Kolkema and his girlfriend can be seen in the video waving and giving a thumbs up to indicate everything is OK.

Nolan said Kolkema’s girlfriend has reached out to him and said Kolkema wasn’t beating her, isn’t an abuser and that she has never been afraid of him.

“I don’t even think she took this that seriously,” Nolan said. “She thinks he’s a good man, thinks he’d be a great circuit court judge.”

Kolkema is running to be a judge in Muskegon County’s 14th Circuit Court. He was the top vote-getter in the August primary and will face one opponent in the Nov. 8 election.

“He can’t come off the ballot,” said Lori Rassmussen, who used to run the Every Woman’s Place domestic abuse shelter Muskegon and now administers the Muskegon Against Domestic Violence Facebook page. “He’s not going to come off the ballot. So an uninformed voter could get there and still vote for him just by name recognition alone. That’s my concern.”

Nolan said his client, who is in his 50s, has never been arrested before nor charged with a crime. He said the video shows his client simply expressing human feelings.

“This experience is probably going to help him in terms of being a judge, not hurt him,” Nolan said. “I think it helps him, going through the system and seeing what that’s like.”

“He’s just an everyday guy and these things happen to everyday people,” Nolan said.

Pressed on whether he was suggesting that “everyday guys” abuse their loved ones, Nolan said, “No, I’m saying everyday guys are subject to being charged with domestic violence. I believe that to be true. I think this could happen to almost anybody.”

“Do I think it makes him look bad? Yeah,” he added. “I think it makes him look bad. Do I think it disqualifies him? No, I don’t think it should disqualify him.”

“The average person doesn’t get arrested for domestic violence,” Rassmussen retorted.

Rassmussen said as a prospective judge, Kolkema should be held to a high standard.

“We’re going to expect that you’re not involved in violent altercations and abusing your partner,” she said.

She also argued it doesn’t matter whether Kolkema actually struck his partner.

“Any time you’re using a weapon in the direction of somebody, you’re using it for the sake of intimidation and power and control,” she said. “It’s all domestic violence whether it struck her actually or was next to her on the couch.”

A court record from a child custody case involving Kolkema’s girlfriend detailed an additional alleged argument between the couple. 

According to the family court document filed Sept. 6th, Kolkema and his girlfriend argued in front of the girlfriend’s child in mid-August.

“The argument that started in the evening resumed the next morning when Jason Kolkema is alleged to have been spitting toothpaste on (his girlfriend and her child) … Kolkema, while angry with (his girlfriend) is alleged to have been throwing water on both of them,” wrote an attorney for the father of Kolkema’s girlfriend’s child.

“Jason Kolkema became upset with (his girlfriend) and threw a Gatorade bottle in the direction of (his girlfriend and her child), however, the bottle missed them and hit a glass,” continued the attorney. 

The state of Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission is the entity that investigates and disciplines attorneys who violate the rules of professional conduct. 

Michael Goetz, the grievance administrator, told News 8 the commission cannot confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation.

The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, which oversees the conduct of judges, is also precluded from disclosing information on any inquiries. 

Lynn Helland of the JTC told News 8 the commission can investigate a judge’s conduct prior to his or her election to the bench, but only if the issue has not been addressed by the grievance commission.

Helland said if the commission determines a judge has violated rules of conduct, disciplinary action can range from a private, cautionary admonition to public censure, suspension or removal from the bench. 

The Michigan Supreme Court would rule on the censure, suspension or removal at the request of the Judicial Tenure Commission.