Judge hopefuls debate merits

By Adam Spencer, The Triplicate May 08, 2014 12:22 pm

Best kind of experience a point of contention at forum 

Candidates for Del Norte County Superior Court Judge tried to distinguish themselves from the pack during a forum held last week by the League of Women Voters of Humboldt County on KEET-TV.

Incumbent judge Chris Doehle said that the thorough vetting process through which she was chosen to finish the remainder of a retiring judge’s term is proof that she is the right person for the job, on top of 21 years as an attorney, primarily in civil matters.  

“I am the only person who is seeking this position who has experience in the position,” Doehle said. “I was chosen as the best person for this job — not based on political considerations but after an independent vetting process that took into account information from other attorneys, judges, law enforcement and community members.”

Challenger Dohn Henion said that he is the right candidate due to his breadth of law experience from representing municipal agencies in Del Norte, being a criminal defense attorney for nine years, and arguing complex civil cases in venues including the California Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court as a prosecutor for the Department of the Interior.

“Only with this type of experience can an individual truly know the criminal justice system,” Henion said.

Challenger Darren McElfresh said that his depth of trial and courtroom experience puts him ahead of his opponents and makes him the best candidate for judge.

“A qualified judge will have actual trial experience, will have prosecuted violent offenders, defended the innocent and everything in between.  They will have done civil trials in all aspects of civil trials because they’ll be better equipped with all of this experience to protect people’s rights and make sure there is no abuse of process,” said McElfresh, before adding “I have that experience.”

McElfresh, who is the quickest candidate to attack his opponents’ perceived lack of experience, said that Del Norte would “do ourselves a disservice” by picking a candidate who has minimal criminal law experience as an attorney, which Doehle does not, McElfresh noted.

Doehle said that her experience as an appointed judge since late 2012 gives her the criminal law experience that she needs.

McElfresh emphasized his experience as the only sworn deputy district attorney out of the candidates, an experience that Henion characterized as a “four-month reign, and apparently it was a significant event” while Henion said he is a current member of the District Attorney Association, “prosecuting crimes.”   

Henion said that he was selected to take over for McElfresh as the attorney for the Solid Waste Authority and the Harbor District, while McElfresh said he resigned from those positions to be deputy DA. 

The candidates expressed similar positions when responding to questions related to repeat offenders, AB 109 realignment, compliant medical marijuana users, plea bargaining and marijuana cartels.

In closing, the candidates tried to point out how they stood out from their opponents:

“There’s been an indication that since Chris Doehle has been in the position for a year she should continue, but for 25 years I’ve acted in the public interest as a public servant,” Henion said, adding that in various roles he has “advised government whether they are acting lawfully,” which he takes seriously. “It takes a seasoned candidate to rule on what is best for this community and to protect it, and you are empowered to ensure that by electing me as your judge.”

McElfresh again highlighted his courtroom and trial experience, criticizing Doehle’s lack of jury trial experience and Henion’s lack of jury trial experience locally in the last ten years.  McElfresh also noted that he is the only candidate endorsed by the Crescent City Police Officers Association and the Del Norte Sheriff’s Employee Association.

Doehle pointed to a successful year on the bench so far as reason to leave her in the position, and she also cited her endorsements by Del Norte Superior Court Judge William Follett and Humboldt County judges.

“I am the only person who has been endorsed by other judges as doing a good job in this position.  Neither of the other opponents have been endorsed by other judges who would know what the right qualifications are for this position,” Doehle said. “I am proving myself everyday to have judicial temperament, the right skills to run a courtroom, and the right skills to make decisions.”

Voting day is June 3. 

The forum can be viewed on KEET’s website by following this link: goo.gl/6vjrFo.

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