Cass Prosecutor Victor Fitz picks Ronning as chief assistant

Published 2:00 am Friday, January 9, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Victor A. Fitz's new right-hand man, Jason Ronning, has his in a cast thanks to a hockey injury.
Ronning, 26, of Grand Rapids, begins his duties here Monday, Jan. 12. After he and Tara, his wife of three years, were formally introduced by Fitz Thursday afternoon in the Circuit Courtroom, the couple planned to spend some time house hunting.
Ronning impressed Fitz during their adversarial encounter in that same chamber "as a man of integrity, a hard worker, a professional in his dealings with others and, importantly, an effective advocate in the courtroom" while defending Ahmed Williams-El.
Williams-El, 22, of Vandalia, killed Damon Burroughs, 37, of Union, by shooting him six times during a drug robbery on North Street south of Cassopolis on Oct. 25, 2002.
Circuit Judge Michael E. Dodge imposed the mandatory life in prison sentence Dec. 19, 2003. Williams-El was convicted in November of first-degree felony murder following a two-week jury trial.
Dodge appointed Fitz to succeed Scott Teter, who joined Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox's staff.
Fitz's first day as prosecutor was May 19, 2003.
One goal Fitz set for his office "was to insure that felons who commit crime in our county receive a strong message that they will be held accountable and justice will be done.
Fitz set another goal to establish a strong working relationship with law enforcement.
Through regular meetings and interaction, "that is occurring," he said.
Training sessions on search and seizure, warrant requests and new drunk driving laws "have proven beneficial to both prosecutors and police."
Ronning graduated from Michigan State University in 1999 with a criminal justice degree.
Ronning attended the University of Miami School of Law on a dean's scholarship, earning certification by the Florida Supreme Court in its litigation skills program.
In addition to several clerkships, including the 11th Circuit Court for Florida, Ronning has also served as a litigation attorney since August 2002 for the Kalamazoo law firm of Hettinger and Hettinger.
He is a regular visitor to courts throughout west Michigan, including numerous felony jury trials.
He has practiced in Kalamazoo, Calhoun, St. Joseph, Cass, Berrien, Barry, Kent, Wexford, Livingston, Allegan and Van Buren counties.
In addition to criminal work, he has also handled family law and civil litigation.
Fitz said he was close to hiring Ronning when he learned of his connection to Muskegon, where the prosecutor worked before coming to Cass County.
The Ronnings attended high school at Reeths-Puffer, where 6-foot-5 Jason started on the basketball team.
Tara's grandparents lived in LaGrange, Ind., for several years and she has two brothers who reside in Warsaw, Ind. She was born in New Salisbury in southern Indiana, near Louisville, Ky.