Berrien County prosecutor retires after 32 years
BERRIEN COUNTY — Before January arrives, Berrien County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sepic will close the door to his office for the last time after serving 32 years in the position.
Steve Pierangeli will take over Sepic’s position after Sepic did not seek reelection, and Pierangeli ran unopposed.
“About a year or so ago, I had to decide if I was going to run again,” Sepic said.
Sepic felt healthy and spry as he turned 70 this year. However, he just felt it was time to let someone else rise to the role.
“The people coming up behind me are just quality folks, good prosecutors,” Sepic said. “It’s probably just time to get out of their way and let them have the opportunity to succeed and change some of the things that need changing. It was just a good time. The sun and the moon and the stars all lined up.”
Pierangeli has been working as Berrien County’s chief assistant prosecutor, and was lined up to take over Sepic’s role.
Sepic said much has changed as he looked back on 32 years with Berrien County. Sepic moved to the area in 1988 when then-Prosecuting Attorney Paul Maloney hired him.
Originally from the metro Detroit area, Sepic said he kept moving west across the state with each new opportunity.
In 1979, after graduating from law school, Sepic opened up a law practice in Eaton Rapids. After that, he worked or the Calhoun County Prosecutors Office in 1985. It was that first experience in where he realized he enjoyed prosecution.
“I didn’t have a particular passion for prosecution when I first got into it,” Sepic said. “It was a job at that point.”
Getting into the courtroom itself was what changed things for Sepic.
“In a very honest sense, I realized that I was helping people,” Sepic said. “Victims who had been through whatever tragedy they had been through from a minor neighbor dispute or theft all the way up to horrendous things like homicide and criminal sexual conduct. Every interface that the public has with the criminal justice system is some sort of major disruption in their lives.”
Sepic said he realized his role in the system and found a passion for the position.
“We are the vehicle for attempting to give some sense of justice to their situation,” Sepic said. “I really found that was something I could believe in and try to work at and do for our general public.”
In a year of online, video court dates, Sepic remembered that when he began in the county, no one had computers on their desks.
“We had access to the county mainframe in one, two or three ‘dumb terminals,’” Sepic said.
The terminals served as a database center where case files were stored. Reading the information stored was the only function Sepic remembers being able to use them for.
“Things progressed through the 90s and from there we got computers, and became more sophisticated with their use. We got more in the way of electronic evidence in cases, and all of the electronic frontier opened up.”
Sepic said the amount of video evidence has changed how cases are prosecuted, as well.
“There is an extraordinary amount of video with squad cars, body cameras and cellphone videos these days,” Sepic said.
He has seen trust in witness and police officer’s reports decline when there is not video footage to accompany it.
“It has changed the dynamic of how you argue to a jury that your case is the truth in the matter,” Sepic said.
As he leaves the courtroom behind, at least for a little while, Sepic said he looks forward to spending time with his family.
“I have not looked for or agreed to anything in the way of work,” Sepic said. “I’m going to take it easy for a few months. I am going to try to see more long-distance family and spend time with my grandkids. Maybe once spring comes, and COVID-19 goes, maybe something will land in my lap.”