Oct 22, 2012 10:48 AM by KRTV
Candidate Profile: Greg Pinski, candidate for District Court Judge
KRTV sent questions to candidates for public office; replies are posted verbatim below, with a link to the candidate's website (if available) or Facebook page (if available) at the bottom.
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1. What have you learned from the public about our court system since beginning your campaign?
Child abuse and neglect cases have reached a public health crisis in our community. In addition to the tragic high profile infant deaths, there were 251 abuse and neglect cases filed in Cascade County District Court in 2011. In Missoula County District Court, on the other hand, 76 abuse and neglect cases were filed last year. That is a dramatic difference in similarly populated counties. While there are any number of socioeconomic explanations for the crisis and judges play a limited role in the solution, judges must recognize the crisis and afford the cases the serious attention they deserve. Judges must commit to prioritizing abuse and neglect cases and to making decisions on what is in the best interests of the child. I strongly encourage public health, social services, and criminal justice officials to develop educational programs and awareness initiatives to reduce the incidents of abuse and neglect in the community.
2. Do plea agreements always serve the best interest of the public? Why or why not?
The public's interest is always a consideration in the State's negotiation of a plea agreement, and it is always a consideration of the court in whether to approve the agreement. Ultimately, plea agreements only serve the public interest if the process and outcome is transparent to the public. Particularly in high profile cases, the public has a right to know why a defendant received a particular sentence and why he or she was able to avoid an otherwise harsher sentence. Plea agreements also need to be transparent and open to the public so that citizens can hold government accountable for its actions.
3. Can you share your thoughts on the recent ruling allowing political parties to back judicial candidates?
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in Sanders County Republican Central Committee v. Bullock is disappointing. While I respect the court's reasoning, the Montana Legislature has determined that judicial races are non-partisan. As the dissenting judge said in the court's decision, "This decision is a big step backwards for the state of Montana, which we all agree has a compelling interest in maintaining an independent and impartial judiciary." Within a day of the decision, I publicly vowed not to seek or accept endorsements or contributions from political parties. In this era of partisan bickering, judicial elections are a relief to voters. Judges should be above the daily political fray, and I have sought to do just that in my campaign.
4. Is there anything you would do to improve the Justice system?
I am laying the groundwork now to bring a veterans' court to the Cascade County District Court. I have a fundamental belief that courts do not exist simply to dispense justice, they exist to make the community a better, safer place. Many veterans in the criminal justice system need help. They need counseling. They need substance abuse treatment. They need moral and mental health support. The court system can be in a unique position to help veterans obtain the help they need, while reducing repeat crime in the community. In veterans' courts, the judge, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, VA specialists, veteran mentors and mental health professionals work together to address crime and provide counseling, treatment, education and intense monitoring of compliance through a treatment program. Treatment programs involve regular court appearances, frequent drug tests, required attendance at treatment, and immediate rewards for positive behavior and immediate sanctions for repeated failures. These treatment programs do not let veteran offenders off easy. To the contrary, completing such a treatment program can often be more difficult than serving a jail sentence. There are currently 96 veterans' courts in the United States, including Billings and Missoula. Given the connection between the military and the Great Falls community, bringing a veterans' court to Cascade County District Court is an obvious and compelling addition to our justice system. After all, veterans fought for the very ideals our justice system represents, and we have a moral obligation to help them in return.
5. Why is this race so important to Cascade County?
Voters only elect district judges every six years. Oftentimes, once elected, judges are unopposed, resulting in judges serving for decades. The last contested district judge election in Cascade County occurred in 2002. For that reason, it is vital that voters evaluate the trial experience, legal ability, temperament, community involvement, and professional judgment of candidates. Both as a trial attorney at a 150-lawyer firm and at Conner & Pinski, I have been privileged to litigate complex cases before judges in 23 states, providing me with the unique opportunity to study many different judicial styles and practices. I have also worked as a prosecutor, taught law school at the University of Minnesota, served as a law review editor, authored numerous articles, and co-authored an upcoming book from the American Bar Association. As a service to the community, I annually perform hundreds of hours of free legal work for those in need, including victims of domestic abuse and non-profit organizations. I am also an Eagle Scout who volunteers extensively for the Boy Scouts and this marks the 25th year of my work for Special Olympics. I am deeply honored and humbled that in light of these considerations, existing District Court Judges Thomas McKittrick, Julie Macek and Dirk Sandefur have exclusively endorsed me to succeed Judge McKittrick on the bench.
Candidate Website: GregPinski.com