MOUNT GILEAD — The three candidates for Morrow County Municipal Court Judge kept the crowd of 72 fully engaged with their answers to questions at Thursday night’s levy and candidate forum.
When asked what qualifies them for the judge’s position, all three touted their extensive service in Morrow County’s courts.
Don Wick had one year more experience than Charles Howland with 34 years of court experience in Morrow and surrounding counties. He also served as acting judge for the Municipal Court for 30 years in Judge Lee McClelland’s absence. Howland’s 33 years of court experience includes 14 years as Morrow County Prosecutor.
Candidate Jenifer Murphy Burnaugh’s experience includes three years as acting Judge for the County Court in addition to representing clients in courts around the state and at the Ohio Supreme Court. She is also guardian ad litem and makes recommendations to the court for children’s best interests.
The second question on how the candidates planned to address the problem of the ratio of probation officers to offenders drew out the differences in the candidates.
Burnaugh said more efficiency is needed in Municipal Court. She suggested that it would be useful to talk to other counties and work with them on having offenders from outside Morrow County go to courts in their own county. This arises out of the many offenders who are ticketed on I-71 and state roads and come through this court system.
Wick agreed with Burnaugh on the point of working with other counties for cooperation with their offenders. However, he made a point of stressing that probationers need to be held accountable. He has seen offenders come back after 10 years and believes that more follow up on probation conditions is needed to avoid worse crimes down the road.
“These people are living among us in the communities,” Wick said. “We need to deal with peoples’ problems and the cause.” Wick said he believes the court should work to get people turned around as well as to punish offenders.
Both Wick and Burnaugh recommend that more probation officers are needed in order to follow up and deal with the terms of probation.
Howland said that no additional dollars should be spent on increasing staff or probation officers. He said he is committed to getting the work of the court done with no increase in funding. He believes it will be possible to save money for the court as he has done for the Prosecutor’s office.
Howland had the shortest answer on what plan the candidates had to address the remediation of offenders. He said it’s important to be strict. Howland suggested that the $500,000 in the court’s special project fund “should be used for rehabilitation of offenders who are motivated.”
Wick said it is “critical to address what brings people to court.” Whether it is mental illness, alcohol or drugs. This is also the case with veterans who might need rehabilitation or treatment.
Burnaugh noted that she is “looking for a balanced perspective.” The motivation of the offender needs to be assessed to follow through.
“I won’t tolerate excuses. I’ll look if they are motivated,” Burnaugh said.
Burnaugh said that she would speak with professionals from mental health and other agencies to know how funds could best be used for rehabilitation or drug courts. She would also look at security issues for the court.
Wick said he would research how the special fund could be used and if there are some restrictions on it. He would hope some money could be used for added staff for probation as well as for security issues.
On the role of the court in dealing with offenders suffering from mental illness, Howland said the initial evaluation of the offender is most vital. He noted that the correctional institutions have become the largest mental health facilities since most state mental hospitals were shut down in the early 1980s.
Burnaugh said that it’s important to hear law enforcement officers’ assessment as well as a mental health assessment. She said a favorite phrase is “your words have meaning and your actions have consequences.”
Wick concluded that courts don’t need cookie cutter sentences. They need to look at past records and find out if offenders have support, he said. What will work for each offender? Look to pattern a sentence that can change behavior.
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