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Two wide-open seats makes for heated judicial race

Judicial candidates vying for two seats on the Jackson County Circuit Court say overwhelming caseloads and antiquated data systems are slowing down justice.

They suggest implementing new specialty courts, utilizing mediation and updating technology systems.

The three candidates for Position 6, Rebecca Orf's seat, are Joe Charter, a Jackson County justice of the peace; defense attorney Lisa Greif; and Medford attorneys Tom Dzieman and Paul Henderson.

Candidates vying for Position 8, Bill Purdy's seat, are Jackson County District Attorneys Tim Barnack and John Norton and former County Counsel Doug McGeary.

Barnack and Greif said they would like to see specialty courts created to cover domestic violence cases.

"It concerns me we are not being tough enough on domestic violence," Barnack said.

Greif said there is a tremendous number of domestic violence cases, and those involving parental offenders often create multiple juvenile cases, she said.

"It makes it difficult to have other cases heard in a timely manner," Greif said.

Norton said domestic violence sentences need to be upheld, and offenders who have pleaded down to misdemeanor charges need to be monitored to ensure they are fulfilling their probation requirements — something that is not happening now, Norton said.

Specialty court can speed up the legal process, Norton said. But he expressed concerns about reanimating perceptions that domestic violence is somehow less serious than other violent crimes.

"We've battled this perception for 30 years. It's a crime to hit a stranger. It's a crime to hit family members. There's a part of me that's worried we're going backwards on that message," Norton said.

Greif would like to see another specialty court for the mentally ill. Providing wrap-around services at the time the case is heard helps keep people from ending up in the justice system repeatedly, she said.

"The data shows these courts reduce offending," said Greif.

Henderson would like the courts to provide a more streamlined process for grandparents or extended family members to acquire temporary custody of children who would otherwise end up in an overburdened foster care system. A thorough but timely inspection of the competency of family members who are willing to take their grandchildren, nieces or nephews seems a good alternative "so these kids aren't having to stay with strangers," said Henderson.

"We have grandparents who are desperate to get these children. And the process doesn't seen very responsive," he said.

From traffic tickets to divorce filings to murder convictions, courts are falling behind in finding ways to efficiently centralize information, candidates agreed. Charter, Dzieman and McGeary recommend a streamlining of court technology systems.

Dzieman would like to see the circuit court follow the lead of federal courts and implement more electronic filing. Paper files are cumbersome, he said, adding that the paper shuffle from attorneys to court clerks to judges and back again can add a week to simple court proceedings.

"With electronic filing, it can be done in hours," said Dzieman.

Calling the current computerized criminal justice database (OJIN) a cumbersome "DOS-based system from the '80s," Charter said "court documents need to be readily accessible online 24/7."

When McGeary was Jackson County's counsel, he took code enforcement violations out of the circuit court, he said.

"We need to use efficiencies, methods and practices that work in other courts," said McGeary.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Age: 43Residence: MedfordEmployment: Jackson County District Attorney's OfficeEducation: Doctor of Jurisprudence, Lewis and Clark Northwestern School of LawExperience: Law practice for five years, representing clients in the areas of criminal law, family law and civil rights law. Joined the Jackson County District Attorney's Office in 1996. Currently senior deputy district attorney, prosecuting murders, manslaughters, robberies, major sex offenses, kidnapping, arson, domestic violence, elder abuse, burglaries, major assault and other major cases. Member of the Serious Traffic Accident and Reconstruction team and responsible for supervising general misdemeanor deputies. Top three priorities if elected:

Volunteer for Head Start (board member), Goose Hollow Homeless Shelter, Southern Oregon Special Olympics, Muscular Dystrophy Association, veterans' Stand Down, Phoenix/Talent Little League (coach), Start Making a Reader Today, Kids Unlimited Rotary Youth Basketball Program (coach). Past adjunct professor for Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University.

1. Hold drug dealers accountable by sentencing them to serve significant time in the Oregon State penitentiary as opposed to releasing them back into our community.

2. Advocate for victims of crimes by giving them the opportunity to be heard prior to sentencing the criminal offender. I am a firm believer that victims of crimes come first.

3. Develop a domestic violence court consisting of community leaders, Dunn House representatives, probation officers, Community Works representatives, and all those involved in assisting domestic violence victims.

Age: 51Residence: MedfordEmployment: Douglas M. McGeary, attorney at law, MedfordExperience: Served in the Jackson County District Attorney's Office as deputy and senior deputy district attorney for 10 years, prosecuting adult crimes of all types. Served for nine years as civil attorney for Jackson County and eventually became county counsel, working with complex civil matters, ensuring the county's conformance with the law and minimizing its liability. Lifelong Rogue Valley resident.Top three priorities if elected:

Education: Doctor of Jurisprudence, Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College, Portland

1. Ultimately, the role of the judge is to apply the law fairly and impartially according to the applicable facts of any legal matter. My priority is assuring my interpretation and analysis avoid bias or prejudice and are not unduly swayed by popular attitudes or any personal preference I might hold.

2. Local and statewide court programs aimed at ending the cycle of criminal behavior within the family are vital to our community's health and safety. Jackson County courts have developed innovative reform programs addressing domestic violence and substance abuse. My priority is ensuring such programs continue to develop and improve.

3. Mediation and other dispute resolution methods assist Jackson County Courts to handle large numbers of cases efficiently. I will work to continue improving practices and methods that provide competent, speedy and final resolution of matters in our legal system.

Age: 39Residence: MedfordEmployment: Jackson County District Attorney's OfficeExperience: Jackson County's senior domestic violence and elder abuse prosecutor. Cases include major felonies, such as homicides and Measure 11 assaults. Worked caseloads in driving under the influence of intoxicants and traffic felonies, and have drafted and enforced civil child support orders. Worked directly with victims and offenders for many years.Top three priorities if elected:

Education: Doctor of Jurisprudence, University of Oregon School of Law

1. Faithfully and impartially apply the law as it is written.

2. Protect victims, especially children.

3. Hold offenders accountable.

Age: 50Residence: AshlandEducation: Doctor of Jurisprudence, University of California at BerkeleyEmployment: Jackson County justice of the peaceExperience: Justice of the peace since 2004; Jackson County judge pro tempore for five years; Jackson County Bar Association president for a year; member of Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee, Jackson County courts, since 1997; member of Jackson and Josephine county arbitrator's panels; member of American Judge's Association; mediator since 1996; divorce mediation training coach, Southern Oregon University; member of Oregon State Bar House of Delegates and Civil Rights Section Executive and Continuing Legal Education committees.Top three priorities if elected to office:

1. Restoring public trust in the independence and integrity of the courts. Most Americans believe that campaign contributions influence judges' decisions. In 2006, more than $120,000 was spent by local judge candidates. Contributions usually come from lawyers who later appear before the same judges.

2. Reducing the destructive impact of divorce by encouraging mediation and settlements. I have been a mediator for 12 years. Mediated disputes empower parties to restructure their financial and family relations without the trauma and expense of protracted litigation. Judges can actively facilitate conciliation instead of "mutually assured destruction" in court.

3. Increasing the accessibility and efficiency of the courts. Courts should move to electronic filing and make court documents available online 24/7, making records more accessible to the public and other agencies. Database tools should allow judges to make better sentencing decisions and reduce recidivism.

Age: 58Residence: MedfordEmployment: Tom Dzieman Attorney P.C., MedfordExperience: Attorney in Jackson County for more than 31 years. Worked four years in the Jackson County District Attorney's Office, assisting the county counsel in civil proceedings and representing the county in tax court. In private practice, have done criminal defense work and was on the court-appointed attorney list. On the civil side, handled juvenile matters, mental commitments, real estate matters, domestic relation, drafting wills and trusts. Special assistant attorney general with the Department of Justice for eight years, assigned to represent SAIF Corporation. Have represented injured workers for the past 12 years and handled Workers' Compensation for 20 years. Municipal judge for Shady Cove and municipal judge pro tem for Phoenix. Arbiter for the Jackson County Circuit Court since 1996. Have argued cases before the Oregon Court of Appeals. For the last nine years, have been doing bankruptcy work in federal court.Top three priorities if elected:

Education: University of Oregon School of Law Doctor of Jurisprudence with specialty in ocean law

1. Insure all parties coming before the court know they have the opportunity to be heard and present their evidence. As a nation of laws, all persons are equal before the law. Judges are to apply the law, not make law. This is essential for public confidence in the judicial system.

2. The jury system is a cornerstone of our government. Courts need to insure juries are available to those entitled to one. Jury service is a duty. It doesn't need to be a burden. The notification process can be modernized. Orientation could be done online.

3. The court needs to move to electronic filing. It can take a full week to file a document, have it reach a judge and make it back to the parties. The computer system now tracks paper files. Days can be reduced to hours with an online system.

Age: 35Residence: Medford Employment: Southern Oregon Public Defender Inc., MedfordEducation: Doctor of Jurisprudence, University of Oregon School of LawExperience: Represented thousands of indigent clients in criminal and juvenile cases since 1998, conducting numerous judge and jury trials where the charges ranged from driving while under the influence of intoxicants to murder. Have been misdemeanor attorney supervisor and trainer. Currently the senior attorney in charge of juvenile division and represent parents and children in juvenile dependency and termination of parental rights cases.Top three priorities if elected:

Volunteer at the High School Regional Mock Trial Competition, Big Brother/Big Sister Program, Southern Oregon Stand Down, Phoenix/Talent Little League Baseball, Kids Unlimited Rotary Youth Basketball Program, legal system trainer for Court Appointed Special Advocates. Past president of Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, immediate past president of the Jackson County Bar Association, past member of the Oregon Women Lawyers board, former member of the State Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, Rogue Women Lawyers treasurer, member of Center for Non Profit Legal Service board, Medford Rogue Rotary Club member.

1. I would continue to partner with agencies in our community to develop policies and programs to strengthen families and keep children safe, healthy and out of the juvenile dependency and delinquency systems.

2. We are seeing the long-term benefits of Adult Drug Court and Community Family Court. I would support the creation of other specialty courts, such as those dealing with mental illness and domestic violence issues, because they reduce the rates of addiction, recidivism and re-entry into the child welfare system.

3. I support arbitration and mediation and am excited that in January of this year, Jackson County initiated a formal settlement conference program in civil cases. I would be happy to serve as a mediator; these settlement conferences allow the parties to resolve cases prior to the commencement of trial.

Age: 59Residence: MedfordEmployment: Sole practitioner, Paul L. Henderson P.C., Medford, family lawEducation: Southwestern University School of Law, Los Angeles, CaliforniaExperience: Oregon State Bar (1989); U.S. District Court, District of Oregon; U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit (inactive); California State Bar (1976-1990); Alaska Bar Association (1977-1990); U.S. District Court, District of Alaska (inactive); Classroom Law Project/ OSB High School Mock Trial Competition; board, Rogue Valley Fellowship; board, Grace Christian School Foundation; Chamber of Medford/ Jackson County; Kiwanis.Top three priorities if elected:

Nearly 20 years in private practice in Medford and Anchorage, practicing in real estate transactions, construction law litigation, criminal defense, personal injury and family law. Was associate attorney at Martial E. Henault, P.C. in Medford for three years and partner in Henderson & Nogg, P.C. in Anchorage, for four years, and served as law clerk for firms in Anchorage and Los Angeles for five years.

1. I am concerned about the future of juvenile justice in our trial courts. Where the very existence of families and children's safety are on the line, we must spare no effort to arrive at timely and just decisions.

2. The issue facing our criminal justice system is the lack of open jail beds. It is impossible to effectively enforce the law when criminals know they will be matrixed out of jail. We have a system where the benefits of breaking the law outweigh the risks of adverse consequence.

3. The lack of adequate funding undermines the hard work that judges do to craft sentences that protect the public, and are appropriate given the unique facts and circumstances of each case. Public confidence in the justice system erodes when jail sentences are cut short and probation violations are not pursued.

Tim Barnack