2 await Nov. vote for muni court judge

Two have thrown in their hats for the Marietta Municipal Court judge race this year in Washington County: Democratic incumbent Janet Dyar Welch and Republican challenger Paul Bertram.

The position, which oversees civil and small claims cases, forcible entry and detainer actions, evictions, conversions of property, replevin actions, preliminary hearings for felonies and administration of justice for misdemeanor crimes, will begin a new term at the new year for a period of six years.

Both will run unopposed on the May 2 primary ballots and face off in the November general election.

Welch has held the position for the past 11 years and has been practicing law in various capacities since 1980.

“This would be my final term if the voters re-elect me,” said Welch. “I have things I want to finish before I leave the bench.”

Bertram, who has served as Marietta’s law director for the past five years while continuing to practice law privately has been a lawyer since 1989. He said he wants to bring a different perspective to the office and be a “hands-on, approachable judge.”

“Socrates said four charges belong to a judge: to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly and to decide impartially,” explained Bertram. “I want to add to that to be approachable. I think I can bring that quality to the bench also.”

Recent and ongoing events have posed challenges to the office and court, including a bomb scare in December and the opiate epidemic in the Valley.

Bomb scare and public safety

The December scare occurred through actions by probation personnel after arresting a man on probation and placing him in the Washington County Jail overnight. At the time of the arrest the probation officer reportedly opened the man’s backpack to find needles and did not search the bag further until the next morning at the municipal courthouse at which time a bomb was found.

Bertram said that without a current policy in place regarding inventory and storing seized contraband, even after business hours, the public was placed at risk.

“The jail should have been where that backpack was explored on the night of the arrest,” said Bertram. “There’s light there and the capability to secure the area if, and in that case when, explosives, are found. It should have never entered a public building.”

Welch said that while the subsequent evacuation of the courthouse was unfortunate, she maintained the stance that the safety of the community as a whole was maintained.

“I continue to believe that however embarrassing it may have been for the court, it was still best for us to find it,” she said. “That’s because we don’t know who the intended target was.”

Welch said the probation office will be debriefing from the incident in the coming weeks and review steps that should have been taken.

“A mistake made twice is a decision,” she said. “So we will reassess it.”

Other aspects of public safety that are more frequently considered by the office are warrants and cases of domestic violence.

“When signing warrants you have to be careful because you need to be neutral and detached,” said Bertram. “I want for the defendant to not feel that I have a preconceived opinion before they even walk into the room but I would also have to consider the safety of those involved and the general public.”

Welch said the perception of fairness is just as important as its practice.

“Looking at it from the outside it may seem that criminals get treated better than regular citizens,” she said. “But everything that I do is established within the parameters of the law.”

Drugs

Drugs, poverty and the social cycle of abuse plagues the community not only through overdoses and trafficking, but also through theft and endangerment of children.

“Judge Welch’s probation department is first class and they work their tails off for a thankless job,” said Bertram. “But they’re working within a system without a drug court which would give us more function to break the cycle of addiction.”

Bertram said he estimated 75 percent of all theft cases are related to an addiction issue and that further opportunities to work with outside agencies could abate trickle-down crime.

“There is a group of people that have no hope because society has failed, and it cuts across all social and economic lines,” he said. “If you want to stop theft, then you have to deal with the underlying problem of addiction. A drug court would allow you to work with a halfway house, treatment facilities and granting programs to get these people out of that cycle.”

Welch said that while previous applications to fund and certify as a drug court have been unsuccessful, the municipal court’s current Thinking For A Change program has provided probationers with a chance to evolve from a criminal to civic mindset.

“By focusing our resources we’re hopefully getting the biggest bang for our buck,” she said. “Further collaboration with the Washington County Court of Common Pleas may be in the form of a drug court but I firmly believe that the same defendants who are in my court for drugs could just as easily have been prosecuted in common pleas if arrested a day or a couple hours earlier.”

Priorities

Welch said her three priorities for managing the court if re-elected will be to improve technology and public access, improve probation services through rehabilitative programs and collaboration with the common pleas court and to provide better service through the staff of the court.

“Everywhere from a website that really works and is accessible through all mobile devices, to better communication and opportunities to get restitution, we need to keep working,” said Welch. “And we need to continue to do what we’ve been trusted to do, administer fair justice.”

Bertram said his top three priorities for the office if elected lie in creating better productivity for the court through due process, outlining a pre-trial system focused on scheduling and questions of law rather than plea-bargaining and applying law while not creating policy.

“I’m running for judge because I believe in fairness and justice for all and because I believe I have a judicial temperament to deal with people and cases respectfully,” he said. “All people, attorneys, victims, police, defendants and jurors, deserve courtesy and respect.”

At a glance

¯ Two candidates are running for Municipal Court Judge this election cycle.

¯ Democrat Janet Dyar Welch is the incumbent.

¯ Republican Paul Bertram is the challenger.

¯ Both will appear on the primary ballot in May unopposed for their parties but will face off in the November general election.

Source: Times research.

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