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The candidates running for the new Cole County associate circuit judge position have answered questions submitted by News Tribune readers.
Republican Brian Stumpe faces Democrat Scott Evans in the Nov. 3 primary. The judicial position they are seeking will begin hearing cases in January.
The Cole County Democratic Committee asked: Do you believe the composition of juries adequately and fairly reflects society at large? Why or why not? What are the pros and cons of using driver's license registration as a source of jurors?
STUMPE: "In 2015, there was a study performed for the Cole County Courts on this exact issue. The study found that the court's utilization of drawing a jury pool from both voter registration lists and driver's licenses created a jury pool that was indeed a representation of the community as a whole. However, the study went on to say that although the proper make-up of the jury pool existed, there was not a proper representation of the jury pool that actually showed up for jury duty. This puts the court in a unique position, although they can summon the proper people they cannot make them show up to be selected as jurors. This is not a problem created by the court; this is a problem created by people who choose not to fulfill their civic duty to serve on a jury. The utilization of the driver's license gives the court a broader and more representative class of people to pull from and should be continued."
EVANS: "I do not believe the average jury composition in Cole County accurately reflects our society's demographics. This has improved the last couple years since Prosecutor (Locke) Thompson took office, but there's still room for improvement. Far too often, minorities are being disqualified during jury selection simply because of their appearance. This practice needs to stop in order for progress to be achieved. A major flaw with driver's license registration being a source for jury duty is the fact many people's driver's license address is outdated, and they simply do not receive notice they have been selected. However, driver's license registration can be a useful source of jury selection because you could make sure all areas of the county are represented on a jury, rather than possibly ending up with 12 people from the same small town or neighborhood."
A News Tribune reader asked: During the pandemic, the method of how courtrooms operated changed dramatically. What are some of the changes that occurred that you'd push to remain after the pandemic passes?
STUMPE: "There are many things that can continue post pandemic which will streamline the legal system and also lower the cost of representation. I would like to see the court continue to utilize online tools for law days, pre-trial conferences, docket management, witnesses in civil cases being able to appear via video. Suppose there is a case where a service member is deployed and you have to wait a year for them to return; if you can utilize the video-conferencing abilities, then that case can be resolved quickly instead of waiting a year. It will also cut down costs for bringing in expert witnesses and increase the availability of witnesses."
EVANS: "COVID-19 has drastically altered how our court has operated in 2020. I believe the court has done a good job, given the circumstances, and I expect some of the changes to remain. We have streamlined some dockets by making them virtual or by phone and not required as many personal appearances in some instances. I have long maintained we need the court to operate in a way that does not jeopardize someone's employment. I believe maintaining some of the new policies, which have made it easier and quicker for people to appear, would be a benefit to all."