Chesterton Tribune



Republicans Spence-Smock, Fish, Jury vying for Superior Court 1 nomination

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In the primary election on Tuesday, June 2, Republicans Katrina Spence-Smock, Mike Fish, and Frank A. Jury will seek their party’s nomination to the bench of Porter Superior Court 1. The Chesterton Tribune invited all three to respond to candidate questionnaires.

The Tribune set word limits and reserved the right to edit for length.

(1) Age, place of residence, place of practice, law school.

Spence-Smock: 49; Valparaiso; Spence Law Office PC, concentrating in criminal and family Law; DePaul University.

Fish: 49; residence and practice in Valparaiso; Valparaiso University.

Jury: 45; residence and practice in Valparaiso; Valparaiso University.

(2) Why are you seeking election to the bench of Porter Superior Court 1? (75 words)

Spence-Smock: Superior Court 1 requires a Judicial Officer who has a wealth of experience. I have that as a Deputy Sheriff, Deputy Prosecutor, sole practitioner, volunteer work through the much heralded Veterans Treatment and Drug courts, service as Judge Pro Tem, experience as both a Guardian Ad Litem and Public Defender, and service to my community. I have always worked in the justice system and feel becoming a Judge is my next logical step.

Fish: I am called to serve and passionate about helping and protecting people. I strive to follow Judge Roger Bradford’s example of offering dignity, fairness and respect in Superior Court 1. I believe the court offers expedient dispute resolution for people in civil matters. When appropriate, in criminal sentencing, the court helps people return to a strong position as a citizen. I am well equipped to strongly sentence violent criminals in order to protect our community.

Jury: I’ve have practiced law routinely in six local counties, including Porter County. I believe I have practiced in front of and have observed the demeanor and behavior of nearly every local sitting judge or magistrate for the past 22 years. I believe in fairness, justice, and the even-tempered practice of law. Serving the public is a calling, and it would be an honor and privilege to represent Porter County as your next Superior Court Judge.

(3) Describe your qualifications for the bench (125 words).

Spence-Smock: I’ve practiced law for 22 years, for the last 10 in my own practice, prior to which I worked as a Deputy Prosecutor and as Supervisor of Domestic Violence cases. I have sat as Judge Pro Tem for Michael Drenth, Julia Jent, Jeff Thode, and Dave Chidester. While attending law school, I was a Deputy Sheriff in Cook County. After graduating I assisted the Sheriff in implementing such innovative programs as the Boot Camp and the Women’s Justice Division at the Cook County Jail. I work tirelessly as a volunteer for the acclaimed Veterans Treatment Court and was one of two attorneys assigned to a pilot program addressing the pretrial release of defendants. I volunteer with Portage YMCA, Portage Parks Foundation, and Alice’s House.

Fish: I bring a significantly broad legal experience to this race along with a rich life’s journey. In 21 years of practice based in Porter County, I focused upon family matters, bankruptcy, and general litigation. I served as Army prosecutor with JAG. In 19 years in Army JAG Corps and 31 years total service in the Indiana Army National Guard, I faced one combat tour to Afghanistan and recently deployed to the Middle East and Indo-Pacific. Significant participation as Temporary Judge in Porter County Courts with 65 appointments in Juvenile Court between Jan 2015-April 2019 (along with appointments in other courts).

Jury: At 23, I was the youngest graduate in my law school class at Valparaiso University. I’ve clerked for both the Porter County Prosecutor’s Office and Attorney’s Office. I’m a former Police Officer and Deputy Prosecutor and have successfully helped thousands of clients in my 22 years of private practice. I’ve maintained and managed my office in Valparaiso for over two decades. I have many years of experience as a trial attorney, have tried a number of cases in various courts, including some in front of Judge Bradford, and have handled a variety of cases including criminal defense, personal injury, divorce, landlord/tenant, and small claims. I’ve practiced law in every Porter County Court, including all the Superior Courts, Circuit Court, and Juvenile Court.

(4) What are the key issues in this race? (150 words)

Spence-Smock: There are several. One is transparency. I would publish the Court's docket in advance so citizens could see what’s pending and attend sessions if needed. I’m also interested in broadcasting Court proceedings like our neighbors to the west. Another issue concerns access to Courts due to COVID-19. The Court should be able to hold hearings telephonically or online through such platforms as Zoom and GoToMeetings. We need a Judge who is knowledgeable in Alternative Treatment Courts, as I am, to address the opioid crisis, other addictions, and mental health issues while working to keep our communities safe. We need a Judge who is familiar with the Supreme Court's edict concerning pretrial release. I would be that Judge. Finally, we need a Judge who would keep civil cases moving by instituting status dates. I believe having attorneys appear in court will help get civil cases resolved short of trial.

Fish: Safely administering justice is the most significant concern right now. Continuing to reopen government services while protecting high risk people and respecting risk averse people is challenging. We will manage it through cooperation with county government, the bench, and bar. I expect to continue appropriate resolution of this dynamic problem.

Expanding virtual services to the court’s customers is the future. Offering online dispute resolution as an alternative to face-to-face mediation creates another way for people to resolve litigation. This saves judicial time and encourages people to settle their matters. Litigants reach better solutions on their own terms and are happier with results they personally control.

Unrepresented people create a significant need within our system. Judges must encourage increased attorney volunteerism. Additional funding is required for agencies that offer pro bono services and other resources including online legal information/assistance portals. Increasing public awareness regarding this need suits the judiciary.

Jury: Judicial candidates are prohibited from taking sides on issues that may come before the Court.

(5) What role does the judiciary play in addressing the opioid crisis in Porter County? (75 words)

Spence-Smock: The Judiciary is limited in its role to either accepting or rejecting plea agreements, or setting matters for trial. I believe the Judiciary needs to be educated in opioid addiction and make use of Alternative Treatment Courts like Veterans Court, Drug Court, and Restoration CourtÑall of which I am intimately aware of their functions and am a member of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

Fish: I respect those wishing to gain strength and understanding by overcoming adversity. Some addicts’ recovery paths go through court. Courts can often offer suitable folks some professional services. People can seek sobriety and learn the tools to continue working to stay clean.

Protecting the public from violent criminals, including gangs and major drug dealers, is critical. If convicted, violent drug offenders must receive impactful sentences that disrupt drug markets and keep criminals locked up.

Jury: The opioid/drug problem is an ongoing national issue. Porter County has a Drug Court, and there are drug classes offered in Porter County in an attempt to help alleviate the problem. There are inpatient and outpatient facilities located in Northwest Indiana. A large number of criminal cases that come before the court are a result of drug and/or alcohol abuse.

(6) How, in your view, does plea bargaining promote justice? To what degree does it confound justice? (100 words)

Spence-Smock: Plea agreements are a way to make the victim whole, by requiring defendants to pay restitution, seek counseling, complete an alternative treatment court, perform community service, or serve jail time. In this sense, plea agreements promote justice. Some, however, argue that plea agreements fail to make victims whole. In any case, the Judge must accept or reject a plea agreement, in its entirety. The Judge cannot amend an agreement. After establishing a factual basis for a plea agreement, she may only accept or reject it. If elected, I would approach each plea agreement on a case-by-case basis.

Fish: An accused person willing to stand, admit their wrongdoing, and accept appropriate consequences, promotes justice by streamlining the court's docket. Everyone benefits. Accused people better control their destiny; the State then focuses upon other crimes; defense counsel is freed up to handle tougher cases. Thus, more processing of justice occurs resulting in a safer community. However, the public often perceives plea bargained sentences as slaps on the wrist. Victims feel cheated of real justice. “Power players” like influential and wealthy people swing seemingly unfair deals. Although Justice is our most important social institution, people who cheat at justice confound it.

Jury: The vast majority of criminal cases end with a plea bargain. The court system would be utterly overwhelmed if most criminal cases went to trial. If the parties can successfully reach a fair and equitable agreement, there is no reason to further burden the court system with an unnecessary trial.


Posted 4/26/2020




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