Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Choice Easy Between Candidates for Fayette Common Pleas Judge

We find it interesting during the Fayette Civic Forum debate between two candidates for Fayette County Common Please Court Judge a notable defining issue was presented to voters who take time to sift through the stark and different information each presented to the audience.

From a Herald-Standard report Judicial candidates' debate spirited by Jennifer Harr

Candidates for Fayette County Common Pleas Court Judge (crossfiled)

Ernest P. DeHaas III

Nancy D. Vernon

DeHaas said that civil cases - which include not only lawsuits, but also custody cases, divorces and any other non-criminal matter that would come before the court - make up the bulk of the court's docket.

However, Vernon said she believes criminal cases did. She said she got that assessment from the county's current judges.

Which candidate is actually "correct" yes correct in different statements concerning the kind of cases that make up the often overwhelming docket in Fayette County court?

Shouldn't the candidate who got the information "correct" be the candidate who can bring more than experience to the bench?

Something more like 'trustworthiness?'

While DeHaas cited his background with civil cases, Vernon cited her background with prosecuting criminal cases.

The exchange between the two candidates on that matter alone could enable voters to determine which is the spinner and which is the truth-teller?

Shouldn't the candidate who did her or his homework and provided an accurate portrayal of the kinds of cases that make up the Fayette County docket be the candidate who voters will trust to well do his or her homework on the law?

So which is the correct info?

More Fayette County Common Pleas Court cases are non-criminal?

More Fayette County Common Pleas Court cases are criminal?

Should it turn out it's 50-50 voters will have a much more difficult choice. If not, the choice should be pretty clear.

Net the Truth Online

The following article is posted as published in the Herald-Standard for discussion purposes and in full so as not to leave out anything that might help make an informed decision.

Net the Truth Online

Judicial candidates' debate spirited
By Jennifer Harr, Herald-Standard
Updated 05/06/2009 12:57:59 AM EDT

When voters go to the polls on May 19, they will have two longtime Fayette County attorneys to choose between for their next common pleas court judge.

And while Ernest P. DeHaas III and Nancy D. Vernon agreed on some issues, they entered into a spirited debate about their respective qualifications and other issues during a debate hosted Monday by the Fayette Civic Forum at the State Theatre Center for Arts in Uniontown. The forum was one of four held at the theater Monday night.

While Vernon, 53, cited her 10-year tenure as the county's chief prosecutor as one of her qualifications to take a seat on the bench, DeHaas, 61, said voters should consider his broad experience in civil cases.

Both have cross-filed in the primary.

DeHaas said that civil cases - which include not only lawsuits, but also custody cases, divorces and any other non-criminal matter that would come before the court - make up the bulk of the court's docket. However, Vernon said she believes criminal cases did. She said she got that assessment from the county's current judges.

Moderator Gary Altman, a local attorney, asked both about their ideas for improving the civil and criminal court systems in the county.

Because civil court week is held four times a year and most cases are settled before they actually go to trial, Vernon suggested the judges could set specific times to hear civil trials.

DeHaas said that, with twice as many civil cases filed than criminal cases, increasing the number of days for arbitration might be beneficial.

Cases in which plaintiffs sue for $50,000 or less are automatically scheduled for arbitration.

"A full-time DA wouldn't realize that because they're just (handling) criminal cases," DeHaas said.

DeHaas suggested that Vernon's office does not efficiently schedule cases to get them into court during the county's monthly criminal court term.

Vernon bristled at the suggestion.

She said that she schedules 10 cases for each courtroom to be heard during the week, however, it is beyond her control when a defendant decides to enter a plea, or continue the trial.

Although he cited a wealth of courtroom experience, Vernon said that she never has seen DeHaas in a criminal trial, and questioned his ability to keep up with the fast-paced ways of criminal law.

Vernon cited her vast criminal trial experience, which includes trying 26 homicide cases as district attorney. Of these, 15 resulted in first-degree murder convictions and nine in third-degree murder convictions. In two of the first-degree cases, she obtained a death sentence from jurors.

Vernon said she has tried more homicides than any district attorney ever has in Fayette County, and conducted more trials in general.

"I have the experience necessary to take the bench," she said.

"Experience as a prosecutors would have some importance if we were running for district attorney, but we're running for judge," DeHaas said.

He noted that former county judge Fred C. Adams has indicated to him that while on the bench only about 15 percent of the workload a judge sees is criminal.

By those numbers, DeHaas said he is uniquely qualified for the post because he has a wealth of experience in civil cases.

"My experience far exceeds hers," he said.

The candidates also went back and forth at different times during the debate about advertisements DeHaas has run criticizing how Vernon has dealt with appeals.

Those ads include quotes from various appellate court rulings that have criticized Vernon for not filing briefs in some cases.

In advertisements that attack Vernon's record in filing briefs in appeals cases, she said DeHaas as "misstated (facts) and misled people."

Vernon said a conviction never has been reversed because she failed to file a brief, and noted that she is not required to file one.

DeHaas, however, said that he never has failed to file appeals briefs, and has received compliments from judges for the work he has done on cases over the years.

Both candidates vowed that politics would not enter into his or her courtroom if elected.

"We don't want a person who is going to make a decision based on politics on the bench," DeHaas said.

As district attorney, Vernon said she is accustomed to making decisions based on the law and not on any other considerations.

"I have never made a decision based on politics, and I would never jeopardize the integrity of my office to do that," she said.

DeHaas noted that it is not often that voters get to elect a new common pleas judge, and said they should vote to continue the excellence on the bench.

"We're electing a judge, we're not electing a district attorney," he said.

He said voters should focus on his broad legal experience, proven ability to handle cases, his impartiality, non-political background and good work ethic.

Those qualities, he said, have helped him earn the respect of county, state and appellate judges.

DeHaas vowed to work hard as a judge, and said he would make decisions based on the law and facts.

"I will keep politics out of my courtroom," he said.

Noting that she was the county's first female trial lawyer and first female district attorney, Vernon said she would be honored to serve as the county's first female judge.

She stressed her many years of legal experience, both criminal and civil, and said that she believes that public service is a calling.

While also promising to keep politics out of the courtroom, Vernon said that she had to run for district attorney because it is an elected post. During that time, she said that she believes she has earned the trust of the voters.

"You know me. You know what I stand for," she said. "I've been here for you, and now I'm asking you to be here for me," she said.

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