Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Role of rehabilitation was discussed at candidate forum

Incumbent Del Norte Superior Court Judge Chris Doehle, who is running in this June's election to keep her seat on the bench, is quick to remind voters of the restrictions put on judicial candidates.

"We're not supposed to give personal opinions because the judiciary is an independent branch," Doehle said during last week's forum held by the Smith River Neighborhood Watch group.

Judicial candidate Darren McElfresh has the added restriction of not being able to comment on cases involving one of his many clients as a county public defender, which was an issue for a question asked during the forum involving an armed man who broke into a 72-year-old woman's home.

McElfresh consistently pointed to his significant trial experience as the reason why he should be elected, and he made his case with a dramatic passion.

In most responses at the forum, he left open the possibility for aiming for rehabilitation if appropriate, especially with juveniles, who he said need rehabilitation over punishment. But overall he wanted forum attendees to know that he is a judge that will be "tough on crime," he said.Endorsements from the two primary local law enforcement employee associations demonstrate this fact, he argued.

Doehle emphasized her calm temperament, knowledge of family law and the fact that she was appointed to judge by a thorough vetting process as reasons for why should she be elected, and her responses emphasized the importance of rehabilitation, making nods to the restorative justice programs implemented by local tribes and the Bar O Boys Ranch. During the forum, Doehle also noted that she is the chair of a local domestic violence task force, working to address that crime's prevalence in Del Norte.

While McElfresh pointed to how his endorsements reflect his focus on crime, Doehle highlighted endorsements by Del Norte's other superior court judge, a Humboldt County judge, and local tribes that reflect her experience on the bench and openness to alternative rehabilitation, she said.

Henion, who was not at last week's forum but spoke recently at a Smith River Neighborhood Watch sheriff forum, said he believes his broad experience in a variety of law arenas, including civil cases representing Del Norte's municipal agencies, makes him the most qualified candidate.

Henion pointed to his experience as legal advisor to a variety of local law enforcement agencies as a point of experience that shouldn't be overlooked.

"All of these law enforcement agencies look to me for advice, and by having that kind of contact with them and only by having that kind of contact with them can you really understand the criminal law system," Henion said.

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