BY LINDA SUTTER
The two candidates faced off once again. Chris Doehle (pronounced Day Lee or Daily) who is currently appointed, who lacks trial experience, knowledge, and whose only merit is as family law facilitator, but was given the position of Judge based upon her political party. Then there is McElfresh, an experienced trial lawyer with over 100 trials under his belt and 8000 hearings, ranging from criminal, to civil. The position of a Judge should be earned not dangerously given based upon gender and political preference.
The opening statements from Thursday night debates:
Chris Doehle: “Thank you for attending tonight you should all be commended for taking an interest. I am Chris Doehle and I am the one of the Judges since 2012. As a Judge we hear everything from criminal to civil and everything that comes in. I also sit on the appeal panel for criminal and civil cases. I also sit on the panel or Humboldt County and I decide writ cases. To become a Judge I went through an appointment process and the appointment process that was merit based and of a non-bipartisan party and the process took over a year. I was selected to be a Judge and have been acting as a Judge since then. Prior to being a Judge I was an attorney in Del Norte County for 21 years in private practice. I believe I am the right person to do the job because I have been doing the job and I am the only person qualified to do the job as a quality a judge needs to possess in order to decide matters. I also work in collaboration with other courts and have been endorsed by other judges as well as the local tribes.”
Darren McElfresh: “I am running for Judge as well. I have a lovely family, been here since 1994. I have been practicing law since 1997 and have been in the courts literally every day with all cases, all types of cases. From murder cases to civil cases. In this rural community the cases that we deal with most is crime. Criminal cases and that is what effects most people. When you open up the Triplicate what do you see on the front page? Crime. Robbery, Burglary, it effects everybody that is why a qualified Judge in this community needs to be well versed in criminal law. They need to have defended a criminal, prosecuted a criminal, and everything in between that. That way you become much more qualified because you understand the process. It is a big, big decision you have to make because you are dealing with dangerous people. If you make a mistake, if you release prematurely or make an error in judgment, which is easy to do if you have not done it before, it can cost big. Over the past 17 years I have worked over 100 trials and attended 8000 hearings. One thing you will not hear from the opposition is the fact prior to her taking the bench I am not aware of her ever handling a jury trial or ever handling a criminal case and that is a problem here. As an elected official I am going to stop the revolving door of criminals.”
When you look at the opening statements, Ms. Doehle does the best she can with what she has. Ms. Doehle speaks about the process of getting an appointment which is how she became a judge. However, Ms. Doehle speaks nothing about her experience as an attorney other than that she was one for 21 years in a private practice. She states that she is qualified to be a judge because she was appointed as one. Clearly her experience is defined by who she knows and not by what she knows. In contrast McElfresh gives a wealth of information based upon his experience which speaks volumes.
Question number one of this forum was not properly recorded, so we will start with question number two.
Do you believe there is such a thing as victimless crime, if so how do you place this category?
McElfresh response: “First we will define what we think victimless crime is. The thing that comes to most people’s mind is well it’s a crime that doesn’t harm somebody like drug abuse. Well that is not accurate. It harms society. If you have children and you’re married it devastates your family. It can cause a situation that your children are taken away by the state if you are such a bad abuser. When that happens these people get appointed lawyers; the mother, father , the children. Even the county intervenes, always at the expense of the tax payers and everybody sitting here is a victim to that. Not only that, we have to apply rehabilitation service, which is actually important if you want to break that kind of cycle. Again that is where experience in these kind of cases come in. Having dealt with thousands of cases such as these I know what works, I have been dealing with this for years and I know what works and what is successful. If elected I am going to break the cycles with our youth because I am thinking about the future five years from now ten years from now. I want a better community for my children to grow in. So, we are going to intervene and get those youth programs involved in our court which we are not doing now. It has to start immediately.”
Doehle response: I think the first thing you need to look at is how you define victim. In the traditional sense and the large sense what it means to be a victim of a crime. There are clear cases where victims are involved and everyone can think of those. But even in cases where you wouldn’t have a specific victim there are impacts and all of us are affected by that. First of all we use law enforcement resources. When we have victimless crimes like the traditional trespassing or property crimes that involve law enforcement resources. We have very minimal resources in this community and when people are on duty and they are out dealing with those sorts of crimes they are not available for more serious types of crimes. We have available in court when charging multiple crimes and multiple cases like public intoxication which has an impact on the legal system and the resources used there. And we also have an impact on services. We live in a rural community, it’s a poor community and we lack vital services like mental health treatment, substance abuse, and domestic violence treatment. When you have those types of crimes using those resources then obviously that impacts the ability to provide services for more serious. So there is an impact on victimless crimes not only on taxpayers, but on insurance rates, on cost to our local businesses. There are no crimes I can think of that are victimless.”
Question 3. Youth violence is perceived to be at a crisis level by leading national experts today what can the court do to address this crisis?
Chris Doehle: “I need to put my glasses on for this answer so I can get it right. I think it is important when you are looking at this crisis to fight the crime is how you define violent crime. There are different ways to define violent crime through the FBI, CII, crime definition, and bureau of justice statistics. When you look at the statistics over the years, the percentage of violent crimes are dropping. There has been a very recent drop in those. When you look at our local numbers it doesn’t matter nationally if they drop, when there is an increase, we are staying the same. When you look locally we have a crisis particularly with youthful offenders. In this county we have one officer for youthful offenders, kids who are minors are charged with and convicted of crimes. So there is only one place that takes up to two females, so when you look at how you house youthful offenders you may have to send them out of county or you have a situation where we recently experienced in the court where a minor was sent to juvenile hall and was supposed to be released from juvenile hall and there is literally no place to send them and they end up staying in juvenile hall. We have at this point no services provided for alcohol and drug abuse for our youth. There is virtually no mental health treatment and so even though nationally the percentage of violent crimes are dropping if you look at the types of crimes that are committed which are typically against other youths, that is increasing within our population. So we need to look at ways to prevent violent crimes through dispute resolution.”
Darren McElfresh: “First of all I would like to say minimal resources is not an excuse. We must do something. Furthermore, violent offenders don’t go to foster care they go to the center of juvenile justice also known as the California youth authority, that aside for the past 17 years I have dealt with thousands of juveniles. I have personally interviewed them, violent offenders who have raped, child molestation and all sorts of crimes, so I have special insight to what they are thinking. It Is paramount that we break these cycles. If we don’t do it now, find the resources and utilize them, by using the probation department who has nearly a million dollar budget to implement programs to help break that cycle that are tailored for children. That is not being utilized and is not getting done. I plan to implement these programs if I am elected. Priority number one of the court is to rehabilitate the child, their safety and the public safety. In the past year in a half no one has taken the initiative I take all three of these functions very seriously and have been doing this for 17 years. We also have violent offenders when they get involved in a crime, we have special enhancements they can be charged with and so we can garner further jurisdiction, we are under a legislative mandate to do that.”
There we have it. Two candidates with entirely different experiences. One is appointed, Judge Doehle, who was given the questions in advance and still lacked substance in her answers. The other, Darren McElfresh, completely involved in trials and hearings on an everyday basis covering murder to civil to juvenile cases. This county needs the best and deserves the best.
This county needs Darren McElfresh as Judge.