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By VICKI URBANIK
In the race for Porter County
Superior Court Judge #1, Republican incumbent Roger Bradford faces Democrat
Both candidates have a
lengthy law background in Porter County, with both having their career starts
The Superior Court Division 1
handles criminal cases, including capital punishment cases. The court is one
of five superior courts in Porter County, which also has a circuit court and
county magistrates. The judges are elected to six-year terms. Their pay is
$115,500 this year, of which $5,000 comes from the county government and the
rest from the state.
A lifelong Porter County
resident, Roger Bradford obtained his law degree from Valparaiso University
and worked as an attorney in Portage before he was appointed judge of the
first county court in Portage in 1979. In 1991, he was elected to Superior
Court #1 and is now seeking a fifth term.
A Portage Township resident,
he is also an adjunct professor at the VU School of Law.
Bradford said the achievement
that he is most proud of is his work establishing the one-day, one-trial
jury service system. In the past, individuals were subject to being called
for jury duty every three months. Now, once an individual is called for jury
duty, regardless of whether they get selected or not, their jury service is
complete for two years. Bradford worked to get legislation enacted to allow
the one-trial jury system, and for seven years, Porter County was the only
county in the state with it. As of 2003, the practice became statewide.
“This was a way of spreading
the service around and make it more fair to everyone,” he said.
Bradford said he also
instituted computer-aided transcriptions for all cases in his court. Now, the
transcriptions are required statewide for all death penalty cases.
He also noted that he has
handled a number of high-profile cases -- among them, the Helmchen murder --
and feels that he handled the complex cases very well.
When asked the biggest
challenge facing the Porter County judiciary, Bradford cited the increasing
caseload, as well as the increasing work associated with each case, and the
need for judges to work efficiently and at the lowest cost possible.
Toward that end, Bradford
said he has advocated increased use of technology in the form of video
conferencing, which reduces the need to transport defendants to and from the
county jail. Also, as the judge who has a supervisory role over a county
magistrate, he said he in effect operates two courts, but with a combined
staffing that’s less than some of the other single county courts.
Democrat William Suarez has 50 years experience in law. He
graduated from Valparaiso University with a bachelor’s degree in 1956 and
from the Valparaiso Law School two years later.
Suarez served as the first city judge in Portage and also
worked as a deputy county prosecutor under then-County Prosecutor Robert
Harper. He was attorney for the Portage School Board for 20 years. He also
served as the attorney for the city of Portage, its park board and its
economic development commission.
In 1998, he was elected to the Portage Township Board and
served one term. He was also appointed to Indiana Supreme Court Committee on
Character and Fitness for Porter County, on which he served from 1988-2004.
Now a semi-retired attorney, Suarez lived in Ogden Dunes for
about 30 years before moving to the town of Porter about two and a half years
Suarez said he is running in part because he wants to “give
the voters a choice.”
“I think I have the experience and background to be a judge,”
he said. “I’ve handled all kinds of jury trials -- civil and criminal --
during the last 50 years.”
When asked the greatest challenge facing the Porter County
judiciary, Suarez said the need for judges to be fair and honest. He pledged
to scrutinize all criminal plea agreements to ensure that they are fair to
the public and not too lenient for the offense involved. “I think that’s a
big problem,” he said of certain plea agreements in the county courts.
His top priority, he said, would be to “treat everyone fairly
and equally” and to “rule on cases promptly and without delay.”