Local News

Story published: 11-13-2012 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Seven take part in judge interviews

By Karen Sells
Assistant Editor

Months of planning the application process for the third Sessions Court judgeship in Washington County reached a somewhat anti-climactic ending when only four questions were asked during the Nov. 8 interviews.

Attorneys applying for the position are Don Arnold, Ken Baldwin, Doug Carter, Steve Darden, Bill Donaldson, Michael Rasnake and Dan Smith.

Following 10-minute presentations by each of the candidates related to their qualifications, the floor was opened for questions from members of the Legal Services Oversight Committee. Candidates had the choice to respond or offer no answer.

Commission Chair Greg Matherly said a lot of issues regarding jail overcrowding and certification had been discussed in the last couple of months.

“What are your thoughts on alternative sentencing like ankle bracelets?” he asked the candidates.

Arnold, Donaldson, Baldwin, Carter, Rasnake and Darden agreed there are many options regarding alternative sentencing and they should be considered for non-violent offenders. Smith did not offer any comment.

The second question referred to the candidates’ commitment to running for elected office in August 2014 for an eight-year term following the initial appointment by the county commission.

Donaldson, Carter, Baldwin, Darden and Rasnake said their intention was to remain in the judge’s chair. “I think it would be a disservice to the county to walk away after a year and a half,” Carter said.

Candidates differed in their answers as to whether they would be willing to have their workload managed by a court clerk or a hired professional.

One of the main reasons for creating a third judgeship was in response to pleas of case overload from Judges Robert Lincoln and James Nidiffer who said the more than 20,000 cases they hear annually give them little time to spend with offenders and cause a backlog in the system.

A third judge would also permit the establishment of an environmental court to handle violations of county ordinances or resolutions relating to health, housing, fire, land subdivision, building or zoning.

Rasnake, Carter, Donaldson, Baldwin and Darden said they would be open to having their workload managed.

“I don’t think there is a need,” Arnold said. “As judge, I would have a say in the administration (of the court).”

Smith agreed. “The idea is that I am in control of the courtroom and responsible for moving the docket cheaply and in the most efficient manner. I won’t be bound,” he said.

Though almost all county commissioners were in attendance, only one question was offered when the floor was opened to the full board.

“How long would it take you (if appointed) to be 100 percent ready to go to work for the citizens of Washington County?” Commissioner Mitch Meredith asked.

Smith said the 180-day period designated by the commission as a time to wind down current projects may or may not work for him. “There’s no reason not to take a case at the end of December while I’m waiting to hear an answer,” he said.

Rasnake and Baldwin said they would be available immediately. Remaining candidates said they would accept the position and anticipate a short transition time as they closed any current cases.

The county commission’s appointment will take place during a called meeting on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, and will follow the same process for filling any public office.

A public notice that the position will be filled during the January meeting will be issued, and citizens will be allowed to suggest candidates during a public hearing. Commissioners will then make nominations, and only those candidates nominated will be considered.

Candidates will have the opportunity to address the full board, but no decision has been made a question-and-answer session. The final decision on whom to hire will be determined by a majority vote of commissioners.