Montcalm County judge dies at age 73
STANTON — Judge Arney Mustonen was Judge Wapner before Wapner was judge.
So says Mustonen’s wife, Sylvia, comparing her husband to the judge and TV personality on “The People’s Court.”
Mustonen served two six-year terms as judge of 64B District Court in Montcalm County. He died Aug. 3 in Ohio at the age of 73.
According to Sylvia Mustonen, her husband was inspired to run for judge after being mentored and encouraged by Montcalm County District Court Judge Benjamin Franklin and Circuit Court Judge Leo Bebeau.
“The campaign was very much grass roots and that was Arney’s style,” Sylvia Mustonen said. “He was always in touch with regular, common people. He would listen. He was Judge Wapner before there was a Judge Wapner.”
Mustonen was elected judge on Nov. 7, 1978. He was 39 years old.
“It was very exhilarating for him to achieve that,” Sylvia Mustonen recalled. “He was the first person in his family to have an advanced degree.”
Before running for judge, Mustonen graduated from Redford Township High School in 1956. He served with the U.S. Army as a linguist, specializing in Russian, from 1959 to 1963. After his military service, he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1964 and his law degree in 1967 at Wayne State University. It was on campus where he met his future wife, who was studying journalism. They were married in 1967 and moved to Crystal in 1969.
“He was my best friend,” Sylvia Mustonen said. “He could always find a way to make me laugh. We always had something to talk about. He was not only a good talker, but he was also a good listener.”
Mustonen ran for a third term as judge on Nov. 7, 1990, but lost to challenger Joel Gehrke by 65 votes.
“The 64B District Court, the office to which I seek re-election, is the ‘People’s Court,’” Mustonen told The Daily News in an election questionnaire that year. “I will continue to be as fair as I hope I have been and I want to continue to listen to all the people, no matter what their background. I wish to keep our court in the forefront of technology. I want to continue expanding the work crew concept as an alternative to jail in cases where people have jobs and continue keeping drugs out of Montcalm County. I want to keep the level of personal security we feel as high as it has been. As the county grows, I want to keep up with the ever-increasing caseload. I want to continue working on the state level, representing a rural, small-town viewpoint in the judiciary.”
After his career as judge, Mustonen went on to continue practicing law in Greenville. He also worked as the attorney for Crystal and Sidney townships and the village of Sheridan and taught computer and corrections classes at Montcalm Community College.
Retired 8th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Charles Miel remembers Mustonen as a good personal friend who will be missed.
“Arney was a very intelligent person with much knowledge of many things on many subjects,” Miel said. “He was an excellent attorney who practiced in several areas of the law and his clients were always well represented. He also was an excellent district judge. He was well versed in Michigan laws and procedures and ran a very efficient court system. His courtroom demeanor was always proper and everyone received a fair hearing in all the proceedings before him.”
Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause began working in the prosecutor’s office in March 1989 when Mustonen was judge.
“As a new attorney starting my first job, Arney was the perfect judge to try cases in front of because he was so easy-going,” Krause recalled. “He knew the law and was a very good judge and he treated people fairly.”
Mustonen is survived by his wife; two daughters, Michelle and Angela; mother, Gertrude Piilo Mustonen; two grandchildren and many more relatives.
Mustonen’s family will host a memorial celebration of his life from 3 to 7 p.m. Sept. 8 at Candlestone Inn in Belding.