Linn Circuit Judge candidates answer additional questions
The Linn Circuit Judge Position 3 candidates – Jennifer Hisey, Rachel Kittson-McQatish, Teri Plagmann and Rebecca Winters – spoke and answered questions during the Linn County Dems on May 3. Because of time constraints not all of the questions from the audience were asked that evening. Here are those additional questions and the candidates answers to them:• Do you approve of plea bargaining?
Jennifer Hisey: I believe that our current system is structured in such a way that plea bargains are necessary. The Court does not have sufficient resources to have every criminal case to go through trial. The vast majority of criminal cases settle prior to trial. If plea bargains were discontinued, then the number of judges would have to increase significantly.
Rachel Kittson-MaQatish: Absolutely. As a prosecutor, I come prepared to the defendant’s arraignment with an offer in hand. Plea bargains help with the efficiency of the process and can often be more tailored to the best interest of the community, the protection of the victim, and targeted to prompt change in the defendant’s behavior.
My offers often consider issues like drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues, limitation of resources, protecting the victims, and can address weaknesses in a case. The defense attorney may have very good knowledge about the needs of the defendant. If the defendant needs drug treatment and is willing to participate, this can reduce criminal behavior. Often when prosecuting cases of theft and the defendant has children with them while committing the crime, I will make parenting classes part of my offer. Our office will even provide contact information to the court to refer the defendant for completion of the classes. The judge has so many cases to go through, and the demand on the entire system is high. It is not practical for a judge and a court to maintain very many outside-of-the box options in sentencing. I appreciate that this can be accomplished through plea bargains. A prosecutor and defendant may come up with a plea offer that on first look doesn’t sit right with the judge. Additionally, the public might cry out that the sentence doesn’t fit the crime. What the public and the judge does not know is that there may be weakness in the prosecutor’s case, that warrant a lesser plea offer. Or, maybe the victim could not hold up on the stand. The prosecutor, if going to trial, risks losing the entire case. The defendant, if going to trial, risks getting a much harsher sentence. Most judges in these situations realize that both the prosecution and the defense have a lot more information about the case then the judge and the judge has to trust that each have done their diligence in representation and justice is served by the bargain.
Teri Plagmann: Yes, a significant amount of criminal cases are settled by plea bargaining prior to trial. However, plea bargaining does have it's advantages and disadvantages. It helps clear up the court docket, gives the defendant assurance when being faced with an uncertain future, and can allow the imposition of programs, such as our drug court. However, it does take away a person's right to a jury trial and there may be times a defendant feels pressured to make an agreement. Therefore, both the prosecution and the defense counsel need to ensure that defendant understands and has considered all options before the person makes a decision that can affect them for life.
Rebecca Winters: Yes I approve of plea bargaining. As long as the law regarding plea bargaining is followed, it can be a benefit to the state and to the defendant.
• Who is your bluest donor (not yourself)?
Jennifer Hisey: My only other donor, besides myself, is my Aunt Jan. She does not live locally and she donated to me because I am family, not due to any political agenda.
Rachel Kittson-MaQatish: I don’t really know. I know people, not party. The people who support me do not support me because of party, they support me because they trust me to do the job. If I had to guess, I would say Frank Moore is a Democrat. I could be wrong. Frank is an amazing guy. He was my boss that oversaw my Linn County contract representing the State in Civil Commitments (Mental Health Law) before he retired. Frank was a tireless servant of Linn County, responsible for improving our communities physical and mental health, improving the lives for our veterans, our children, and the most vulnerable in our community. Frank contacted me wanting to lend support and I directed him to Friends of Rachel Treasurer. People like Frank, which I am sure include each party, have contacted my campaign and provided contributions of $50, $100 or $200. I am honored by the support of these donors.
Teri Plagmann: At this point, I have really tried to get through the primary without seeking outside donations. At the time of the forum, I stated that I was the only donor to my campaign. I do now have a donation from my father, but have not sought or accepted any others at this point and do not intend to unless I move forward after the primary. I have supported myself in this campaign financially because I cannot expect anyone else to be invested in elected me unless I am clearly invested in myself. I am hopeful that my actions are a strong indication of my belief that judges should be non-biased and that people can appear in my courtroom with the knowledge that I will not give preference to anyone. I will likely have to accept outside donations if this election ends up with a run off in November, simply so that I can continue to make a strong presence.
Rebecca Winters: I am financing my own campaign. (Here's hoping people don't vote upon the number of signs put up.)
• Do you have any endorsements from a political party?
Jennifer Hisey: No.
Rachel Kittson-MaQatish: No. Prior to this question, I had not sought endorsements from any political party. While I do have endorsements from people involved in party politics, their endorsements are because of my community service and my legal work and speak to their belief in my ability and my character, not my political beliefs.
Teri Plagmann: No
Rebecca Winters: I have no endorsements from a political party.
• Would the paramilitarization of the police force help or hinder justice?
Jennifer Hisey: I would need further clarification as to what the questioner means by “paramilitarization.” I do not think that the tools and equipment used by the police have a significant impact on justice. However, if the questioner is talking about the roll back of civil rights and rights protected by the constitution thereby allowing the police to behave like an occupying military force, then such action would clearly hinder justice.
Rachel Kittson-MaQatish: That is an interesting question. There is a balance. With terrorism, mass shootings, and intensified adversity between active groups the need for our officers to respond and protect in gear and equipment that keep our officers safe is important. I have a friend that is a state police officer and she is on the team that responds to riots in what you might call military style gear. I want her to be safe in performing her duties and keeping order. The appearance of officers in military style gear may help some feel safe, while others feel threatened. Improving the relationships of officers in the community with citizens should increase the safety individuals feel from the presence of officers regardless of what they are wearing. What I see from our Linn County Sheriff’s Office, our municipal police officers and our Oregon State Police Officers serving Linn County I do not see paramilitarization. Many of these officers are involved in our local communities. They coach, they volunteer, they are actively involved in solving community issues and individual concerns even when they are off duty. The majority are invested in the community. Having a community presence is key to having an effective police force that encourages justice. I have worked directly with local police in community events such as the Hero Half Marathon Memorial Day Celebration, Holidays in the Park, the Optimist Club, Child Abuse Awareness, Walk a Mile for a Child, and National Night Out just to name a few. I am proud of the commitment our officers have to our community and I appreciate the opportunities I have had to serve along side them.
Teri Plagmann: It does both. There have been concerns raised about the militarization of our police and some claim that it helps increase the police officer's safety, as well as that of the public. There are times that it is helpful for our police officers to have access to equipment and training for situations when it is needed. However, there are studies that show that the police use of military equipment actually incites and increases incidents of violence. It also gives people the fear that our police officers are an occupying force and are not in the role of an officer who is serving to protect. In 2015, Obama put into place restrictions on the type of surplus military equipment that would be transferred to police forces because of these same concerns, but then expanded it to be on a case by case basis for the very reason that there may be situations it is needed. I support that policy. I understand that ban was recently lifted completely, but I do not have enough information as to how this has been carried out.
Rebecca Winters: Hinder.
• Question directed to Jennifer Hisey: How would you balance efficiency/experience of moving cases along with taking the time to discover the truth of each defendant’s case?
Jennifer Hisey: I interpret the phrasing of this question as only concerning criminal cases because “defendants” is a term that is generally only included in criminal cases. Defendants are entitled to representation in criminal cases so anyone who wants an attorney should have one. The attorneys representing defendants in criminal cases have the obligation to provide the relevant information about the defendant and the case. The greater challenge would be dealing with civil cases where attorneys are not involved. I have significant experience dealing with the general public and explaining the system, the laws and the potential outcomes to people. I am good at asking questions and getting answers that reveal the relevant information about particular situations and I would continue that behavior if I was a judge.
• Question directed to Rachel Kittson-MaQatish: Is there a way that a circuit judge can help with the meth/opioid problems in Linn County? How? Rachel Kittson-MaQatish: There have been recent changes in the law that will affect how we can handle these problems. Recently a bill was passed that reduced certain felony drug charges to misdemeanors. The message sent by reducing usable quantities of meth/opioids from a felony to misdemeanor is likely the wrong message to send to our youth. However, as a municipal prosecutor, I have often been frustrated when I see such little time in jail for a felony pcs charge and I believe these lower amounts are required by sentencing guidelines (meaning the judge can’t sentence to more time). By reducing the possession of usable quantities of substances to a misdemeanor, the guidelines don’t apply, and the bench could sentence a defendant to more time, then what is allowed for a felony. But is that fair?
I believe that in the life of the defendant there are pivotal points where change is possible. When a person begins to use, maybe the consequence should be higher. If the opportunity to deter is greatest upon the first conviction, then it is on the sixth, when the user has already destroyed much of his or her life, would it be fairer to impose a greater penalty upon the first conviction? When I see a defendant with a criminal history pages long, the question becomes: Is there anything that I can do, short of locking up a person and removing them from society to prevent this person from using drugs and participating in the criminal behavior that goes along with it? And there is a point of diminishing returns, how effective is 180 days in jail as compared to 90 days? Of course, programs like drug court, and opportunities for treatment are imperative.
One of the biggest meth/opioid problems we face is the damage that it does to families and the harm and neglect that occur to children. Our judges must follow the law and at times, especially in juvenile dependency cases, it is tough to see the devastation drugs reap on children in our community. There is not one government entity alone that can effect change. Our courts work with other government agencies to address these problems. Increased communication, effectively understanding the problem, working together, removing barriers and setting measurable targets between the different agencies, including our citizens, our victims and our defendants is key to addressing such deeply rooted problems.
• Directed to Teri Plagmann: Please list several of the family values that you mentioned in the Voters’ Pamphlet statement.
Teri Plagmann: Honesty, loyalty, integrity, community involvement. My great great grandfather purchased the original 50 acres of our family's grass seed farm over 100 years ago and my family has been a presence in this community ever since that time. I come from a family of hard working individuals with depth of character, compassion and strength. I am very proud of my family roots in this area and intend to honor their legacy on the bench.