Former assistant prosecutor returns to Cass as new family court administrator

Published 11:22 pm Saturday, August 21, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS - "In this position there is hope. It's not all about trying to make it up to victims who have had awful things happen to them. While that is challenging and very rewarding, it always involves taking care of things after the bad stuff has happened," says Elizabeth A. Rapalee, Judge Susan L. Dobrich's new Cass County Circuit Court Family Division administrator and former chief assistant prosecutor.
Dobrich, who joined the bench in 1995, was Cass County's first female prosecutor in 1983, though she was practicing law with Mark Westrate in Dowagiac when U.S. Attorney Margaret Chiara hired Rapalee as an assistant prosecutor in 1989. Rapalee was with Legal Services in South Bend when Dobrich was elected.
While Rapalee might not have imagined returning to Cass County a year and a half ago when she left for St. Joseph County, Ind., Prosecutor Michael Dvorak's Special Victims Unit, (Circuit Court Reporter) "Vicki Knutson reminds me that at my going-away party I said, 'I'm going to be back because this was such a great party I'm going to have another going-away party.' I had one when I was law clerk for Judge (Michael) Dodge and I had one when I was (chief assistant prosecutor for Scott Teter)."
As Cass County Circuit Court Family Division administrator and attorney referee, "I consider myself a position like the Friend of the Court is to Judge Dodge. The Friend of the Court does hearings and takes some of the pressure off Judge Dodge. I help Judge Dobrich with her very extensive caseload," Rapalee said. "With Family Court responsibilities, she does all the domestic cases that involve children - custody and child support and all of those things that make a divorce case long and complicated."
Rapalee said while the two positions are decidedly different, there are similarities, too.
In South Bend, she focused on child molestation and adult rape cases, "which I was thrilled to do because those are very important," although it meant spending less time in court.
Not only were there 33 attorneys in the office, but the Special Victims Unit had detectives assigned exclusively to it.