Two seek judge seat

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Crouse
Verkamp

Two candidates hope to be the one sitting in the Dubois Circuit Judge seat for the next six years.

Democratic incumbent Nathan Verkamp hopes to retain the seat, while Republican challenger Kevin Crouse hopes to win his first term.

The voters will make that decision in the General Election. Early voting started today, with the General Election on Nov. 3.

To get some insight into each man’s values, The Herald sent each candidate a questionnaire with a series of questions related to the judicial position. Each candidate received the same questions.

The responses that follow are their answers in their own words.

Kevin Crouse

Can you explain your judicial philosophy in plain English?

Some judges decide cases based upon their personal leanings and try to legislate from the bench. I believe that judges should follow the law and the constitution. As judge, I will treat everyone fairly and render evenhanded, common sense decisions. I will be neutral and unbiased, and will serve all people. I will carefully consider the facts and evidence of a particular case and the applicable law before making a decision. I will work diligently to ensure cases are decided in a timely manner.

What are the biggest changes you think we need to make to our justice system?

People suffering from mental illness or drug addiction issues often become involved in the criminal justice system because we have no other way to deal with them. Although significant efforts have been made to develop programs to attempt to rehabilitate such persons, even more needs to be done. Problem-solving courts, such as our drug court operated under the guidance of Superior Court, seek to address the underlying problems that contribute to criminal behavior. There are other types of problem-solving courts, such as those that involve persons suffering from mental illness and ones that accommodate veterans and the challenges some of them face as they attempt to re-enter society, that we should consider implementing. Also, a number of years ago certain court hearings were conducted by teleconference, and many counties do so today. Using audio-visual technology to conduct certain hearings could be more efficient and cost-effective as it would lessen the number of prisoners the sheriff’s department needs to transport between the jail and the courthouse, and it could increase public safety by keeping those persons at the jail, so I feel it is worth investigating whether such a system would be of benefit to us.

What reforms do you support to increase access to justice for all? Will you fight for them?

Access to justice is important because it enables a person to protect their rights and to have their voice heard. One barrier to access to justice in civil cases is an inability to afford an attorney. In criminal matters, an attorney will be appointed if a person cannot afford one, but that is not generally the case in civil matters. These cases concern issues such as family law, child custody, protective orders, foreclosures and debt collection. Not having representation in those types of cases can have a significant impact on a person’s life. More resources are needed, keeping in mind that we should be vigilant in ensuring that those resources are directed to people who are truly in need. Justice should be impartial and non-discriminatory. As judge I would work to make sure that people are treated fairly and their cases decided on the merits. The Indiana Judicial Conference has developed a strategic plan to address changes intended to improve the justice system and to make it more fair. One goal of this plan is to improve access to justice for all persons. As judge I would work to help implement this goal.

How will you work to ensure equality for people of all backgrounds in your courtroom?

There is the saying that justice is blind, which means that justice should be impartial and objective. I fully believe in this principle. I took pride in the fact that as prosecutor, I treated everyone fairly and equally and did not take their background into consideration. I treated people with courtesy and respect. I will continue that practice as judge. If it ever came to my attention that someone was not being treated fairly and equally, then I would act to correct the injustice.

What qualifies you to be a judge beyond a law degree? Why should I vote for you?

Having been an attorney for nearly 30 years, I have handled the types of cases that are heard in circuit court. Also, similar to a judge, a prosecuting attorney makes judgments involving the law on a daily basis, such as evaluating cases, determining whether to file criminal charges and if so, what charges to file, assessing the strength of cases and choosing how to resolve them, deciding appropriate sentences to offer, etc. The experience gained as prosecutor is one of the reasons that many prosecutors become judges. As judge, I would be open-minded, patient and free from bias when deciding cases. I would consider all sides of a case before making a decision. It is important to have a fair and impartial justice system. As your judge, I would do everything that I could to protect your peace and civil liberties and to defend your constitutional rights. I believe that my broad range of experience, as an attorney, in business, and in life, would serve me well as judge.

Nathan Verkamp

Can you explain your judicial philosophy in plain English?

I strive each day to live up to my judicial philosophy. That is, each case before me is the most important issue in that person’s life. They deserve to be heard, cared about, and their case decided fairly, and smartly, with the law being applied, as it is found, not what one might think it should be.

What are the biggest changes you think we need to make to our justice system?

Fundamental fairness dictates that all litigants have access to similar programs and services. The current system of funding the courts and services is inefficient and unfair. By that, I mean your ability to access services may be dictated by where you live or what court you find yourself. The State of Indiana needs to take a long hard look at how the courts and services, such as legal aid, are funded. Currently, the county is charged with funding court’s functions and services leading to inequities. It is time for the state to step up and take ownership. This would alleviate the financial burden on the counties and make services available to all Hoosiers regardless of our address.

Also, the courts are about people and not politics. Indiana is one of the minority of states that still has a partisan elections for trial courts. The judiciary should reflect the demographics of the population it serves. A nonpartisan selection process would better meet the judiciary's constitutional charge that courts remain independent, fair and impartial.

What reforms do you support to increase access to justice for all? Will you fight for them?

Our Constitutional promises of accessibility, prompt and fair justice must extend to all regardless of one’s financial resource or situation. The State of Indiana should take ownership of the huge increase in unrepresented litigants. People need access to attorneys. This increase has created a backlog of cases. While the members of the Dubois County Bar Association do more than their fair share of pro bono (free) legal work, there is still a huge void. Indiana Legal Services needs to be fully funded to meet the growing demand. I implemented a Family Court Project here in Dubois County. The program needs to become universal in all counties. It allows parents to have a say in the outcome of their case outside of the court in a less adversarial system. When parents are able to agree on a path forward rather than being dictated by the court, children are the beneficiary. I will continue to explore every available option to ensure everyone has full access to the courts, our communities are safe and our children are looked after.

How will you work to ensure equality for people of all backgrounds in your courtroom?

Our system of government is founded on the principle that all people are created equal. To that end, I strive each day to foster a tradition of fairness. I am committed to providing a level playing field to all in an open and accessible court. It is my duty to treat all parties, witnesses and attorneys with patience, civility and respect. I will continue to apply the law with impartiality, uniformity and fairness to all.

What qualifies you to be a judge beyond a law degree? Why should I vote for you?

I have learned from the law and life that respect, empathy, fortitude and humility are musts. I'm running because I care about ensuring that our courts keep our community safe and uphold the rule of law. I have worked hard to build a reputation as a judge who adheres to the principles of law and order. To that end, I believe that judicial temperament and consistency are essential to promote confidence in the judicial system. Fairness is essential. I have the knowledge of the law, experience — both in the courtroom and in life — coupled with the common sense to apply it. In short, experience and character matter.




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