The two men vying for the Place 2 District Court judgeship in Mobile County met with AL.com/Press-Register reporters and editors Tuesday and discussed their almost 50 years of combined experience.
Incumbent Judge Jay A. York who was in 2012 is a 31-year veteran of the bar. He points to his experience as a certified mediator and advocate of small businesses as driving his success on the bench. That and the thousands of cases he s adjudicated during his tenure.
His challenger, Bryan D Angelo, is a self-described working man who has spent 16 years as a criminal defense attorney. D Angelo says his career in the U.S. Army, and the last six years he s been a professional firefighter and medic, give him the front-line sensibilities he needs to be a District Court judge. And his law career has given him the practical experience for that specific office, he said.
And while York and D Angelo agreed on certain points during Tuesday s meeting such as their admiration of certain top judges and the need for more prosecutors in the county there were some points of contention between them.
Considering the manpower currently in place to deal with the high volume of cases, York said he feels like the District Court is doing the best it can, while D Angelo sees room for improvement.
The two candidates are . There are no Democrats running in the general election. This is the first time either candidate has run for public office, as York was appointed to replace retiring District Judge Michael McMaken.
The Place 2 judgeship has a six-year term.
Some of the issues addressed during Tuesday s meeting are:
Are you satisfied with the state of Alabama s gun laws?
D Angelo, a criminal defense attorney with 16 years of experience, said he found the current gun laws satisfying and felt that tightening them any more would only serve to infringe on citizens 2nd Amendment rights. However, he said he felt like the enforcement of those laws needed to be more stringent.
York disagreed and said that the laws themselves need to be harder on criminals who commit crimes using guns.
I think the wrong people have the guns, York said. I think that we need to have tougher laws so that when people are involved in crimes, and they have weapons, that needs to be dealt harshly with.
Does Mobile County need more judges?
Both candidates felt like there not only needed to be more District Court judges, but that at least one was already supposed to be in place, making five total. Citing studies from 2002 and 2007, D Angelo said the recommendation was rightly made that the court needed an additional judge, because the workload in Mobile County is very large.
York agreed that the allocation was there, but whether or not we get it I don t know.
If you could create or support one piece of new legislation that would impact the court system the most, what would it be?
York said he was in favor of a fairly radical shift in the way the District Court deals with civil cases. Called trial de novo, it allows either party to appeal the District Court judge s decision, which would land the case in front of a Mobile County Circuit Court judge for another trial.
York said that additional level of appeal creates a log jam in the Circuit Court that could be avoided entirely if both parties were allowed to waive their rights to a jury trial, which can t be conducted in District Court. Then, if an appeal is still requested, it would be handled through the state appellate courts, he said.
Ensuring a fifth Mobile County District Court judgeship was D Angelo s primary focus on the legislative question, but he said he felt that reform on the civil side was also in order. He opined that doing away with trial de novo would open up too many constitutional issues, but argued that one answer might be changing procedure so District Court judges could hold trials by jury, as well.
What causes the most inefficiencies in District Court?
On this question, the candidates agreed that the current judges were inundated with a formidable number of cases on each day s docket. D Angleo said he felt there were too many undue continuances, primarily due to attorney-client miscues.
That s probably a big one, he said.
And also, not enough cases are fast-tracked on to the higher courts and an expedient end result should be achieved in a greater number of cases.
York, on the other hand, complimented the court staff, law enforcement officers and attorneys for their diligence each day, working on an average of 60 to 75 non-traffic cases each day.
As heavy a volume as we have, I don t know how we can be any more efficient than we are with the manpower we have to get it done with, he said.
How is the court dealing with mental health issues on the district level?
Both candidates found common ground on this issue as well, agreeing that while cases effected by the defendant s mental health may not be on the rise currently, there is a heightened awareness of the problem.
I don t think it s been handled as good as it could have been, D Angelo said, and suggested the future possibility of staffing a mental-health professional in every courtroom, not just in District Court. A similar procedure exists in Municipal Court, he said.
York suggested the creation of a Mental Health Court, similar to the county s Drug Court, to handle specifically identified cases. Other circuits have such a thing, and our antennae s up, he said, although funding for such is a huge issue.
True mental disorders that lead to criminal activity, they need to be handled differently, York said.
On a related note, York said the creation of a Veterans Court was underway, and shouldn t cost the state anything.
The Veterans Administration could take care of treatment issues for veterans accused of crimes, and the specialty court would handle adjudication of their cases, he said.
These are people who would not otherwise have been lured into criminal activity, but something happened along the way in combat, York said.
D Angelo was in support of the Veterans Court idea, and reiterated that veterans are only one component of the bigger picture that is mental illness in criminal courts.
In deeply personal responses, dozens of former inmates, family members of current inmates and volunteers with prison ministries have given detailed accounts of how their experiences with the facility continue to affect their lives.
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