LWV hosts judge hopefuls at Council on Aging

Published 3:58 am Friday, October 24, 2008

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Dowagiac Daily News
CASSOPOLIS – Who has the most experience was debated Wednesday evening by the two candidates for the judgeship being vacated by Fourth District Judge Paul Deats, who is retiring at the end of 2008.
Attorneys Dale Blunier and Stacey Rentfrow answered questions posed by those in attendance at the Cass County Council on Aging.
The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Berrien and Cass Counties.
President Susan Gilbert introduced the candidates.
Since judges have no term limits, Gilbert remined the audience, the person elected could serve a life term.
Moderator was retired Iowa District Court Judge L. Vernon Robinson.
Rentfrow's only promise was to uphold the laws of both the state and land. In private practice in five counties, The Marcellus resident offered her experience with hearings in Van Buren County as training and experience as a moderator.
Blunier, of Edwardsburg, has been in Cass County for 19 years, 11 of which has been with a contract as a public defender. Along with her experience with felony cases and trials, he said he has built a relationship with the sheriff's department, Woodland's and the staff at the court.
In answer to questions on style, Rentfrow said she would do as she has previously, giving everyone the same time and patience, whether they were first or last of the docket.
Some decisions would be "on the spot," while others would depend on seeking more research.
Blunier vowed trials need to come to a quick completion and not be delayed, especially in domestic abuse cases. "The longer the trial is delayed, they will get back together," he added, due to economic reasons.
Both agree educating the public about the courts is important. Rentfrow would like to inform youth about the consequences of believing consentual sex between the underage is allowed.
They also would both like to see more technology in the district court, which now includes video appearances from the jail. Rentfrow would like people to be able to pay fines through the Internet and electronic tickets.
Blunier would like more recommendations from law enforcement and "catch up" with what is available.
In answer to the role of judges in rehabilitation, Rentfrow hopes to find money to help those addicted, as it would "be money well spent."
Blunier agreed seed money was needed. Should the program work and beds become available at the jail, money can be made from renting rooms to other counties. The program could "pay for itself in the long run."
Both candidates see mediation as a good way to work with both parties. Blunier would like to see volunteers to help with small claims.
As far as closing the courtroom to the public, Rentfrow would if there was a safety issue, such as a victim was testifying. Or to save embarrassment in a criminal sexual case, Blunier added.
He said the Law and Courts building itself has good security with sensitive metal detectors, to keep out weapons.
Rentfrow would like to see longer and expanded anger management classes in domestic violence cases.
Serious felony cases wouldn't be handled by District Court, Blunier said, when asked if sanctions are adequate, and cases shouldn't be prejudged by previous behavior, but people should be made made accountable for their actions.
Rentfrow concluded her vast experience in Allegan County applies to Cass.
Blunier highlighted the relationships he has already formed and that he wouldn't have to learn on the job.
Blunier was also questioned about a $1,000 fine, which he incurred. His treasurer failed to file paperwork in time, he said, so he was given a "late fee," not a fine, which he is appealing.
Following the first debate, candidates Matt Lori and Carol Higgins faced questions from the small crowd. They are running for the 59 District House seat now served by Rick Shaffer.