Friday, October 31, 2014

Jones best bet for 4th Judicial District judge

8/22/2014

What qualities matter most when selecting a district judge? That is the question eight people — four attorneys and four members of the public — from four counties in the 4th Judicial District undertook Friday as they sought to find the ideal candidate to nominate to the governor to succeed former District Judge Thomas H. Sachse. Sachse of Ottawa, spent 23 years as district judge so his retirement four months ago left a significant vacancy, which is being filled by a rotating array of visiting judges to handle the felony criminal, probate and domestic cases he typically handled.

None of those visiting judges live in Ottawa leaving a heavy load for the acting judge when it came to evening and weekend demands for everything from subpoenas, search warrant requests and more. During his tenure on the bench, Sachse primarily was assigned to the Franklin County portion of the 4th Judicial District.

What qualities matter most when selecting a district judge? That is the question eight people — four attorneys and four members of the public — from four counties in the 4th Judicial District undertook Friday as they sought to find the ideal candidate to nominate to the governor to succeed former District Judge Thomas H. Sachse. Sachse of Ottawa, spent 23 years as district judge so his retirement four months ago left a significant vacancy, which is being filled by a rotating array of visiting judges to handle the felony criminal, probate and domestic cases he typically handled.

None of those visiting judges live in Ottawa leaving a heavy load for the acting judge when it came to evening and weekend demands for everything from subpoenas, search warrant requests and more. During his tenure on the bench, Sachse primarily was assigned to the Franklin County portion of the 4th Judicial District.

A judge must be a resident of the district, be at least 30, have actively practiced law for at least five years, and be admitted to practice law in Kansas. All four nominees met the criteria.

A balance of qualities, with an emphasis on courtroom demeanor, rose to the top of the list of attributes interviewers on the 4th Judicial District Nominating Commission asked of the four potential judicial candidates. The interviews were open to the public though, like most personnel discussions, the decision making process occurred in executive session. Interviewers, led by Supreme Court Justice Eric S. Rosen, were expected to make a selection and/or selections Friday afternoon to forward to the governor on Monday.

Though our endorsement won’t swing the vote one way or the other we believe it is important to weigh in on the process undertaken to select a judge. Each of the interviewers, which included Sara Caylor and Forrest Lowry from Franklin County; Timothy Sipe and James Campbell from Coffey County; Eugene Highberger and Craig Cole from Anderson County; and Janet Walsh and Thomas DeBaun from Osage County, touched on questions related to legal experience, personal characteristics and beliefs, organizational and administrative skills as they relate to running an efficient court docket, balance of fiscal responsibility versus inmate accountability, courtroom management and even residency.

Two of the four candidates, Brandon Jones and Frederick L. Meier II live in Ottawa. The other two, Sheila Schultz of Paola and Douglas Witteman of Coffey County, live within the four-county 4th Judicial District.

With the bulk of the caseload occurring in Franklin County it makes good sense to have the judge live here too for faster and better accessibility of the after-hours access demanded of judges. Each of the candidates said they would be willing to move to Franklin County so residency here may be assured. What isn’t assured is finding the right candidate with the legal mind, ability to be fair and ensure everyone is heard, patience and even-tempered demeanor, strong work ethic to put in the necessary time to get the job done well, organizational skills to accomplish the demanding timetable put on the court system, ability to see past people at their worst in the courtroom to see clear to make the best decision despite the potential blowback as well as the ability to leave politics and playing favorites out of the process with an emphasis on fairness.

Brandon Jones clearly was the best prepared for the interview with the right amount of humility and respect for the panel of interviewers. His broad work experience in the many aspects of law at small, medium and large courtrooms spanning civil to criminal to probate cases demonstrated he knows the law and has a high sense of justice. Far too often the public is unaware of the identities of judges on a ballot for retention. Jones wouldn’t face that problem. He has high visibility from serving on the Ottawa school board, as a recreation league coach and in leadership roles in many other aspects of the Ottawa community. If he is selected as judge, he would clearly need to pull back from some of those activities to avoid any appearance of favoritism and he said he is prepared to do so. Jones’ familiarity with community norms as well as his life experience here would prove useful to making insightful legal decisions. He is dedicated to making his community better through continued public service as a judge in what he termed his “dream job.” We believe he possesses the right mix of qualities to be the best candidate to do so.

Jones’ name should be forwarded to the governor for approval to serve as District Judge for the 4th Judicial District.

-Jeanny Sharp,

Editor and Publisher

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