Judge candidates debate qualifications

By David Kirkpatrick

Questions of experience and qualifications remain in the race for circuit judge, after candidates in last night’s debate each maintained they are more qualified.

Democrat Ed Diedrich again charged State’s Attorney Phil DiMarzio of not having any experience in trial cases.

DiMarzio said even though Diedrich has been a trial lawyer for years, being a litigator is not enough when it comes to serving the people.

“One cannot be a lawyer if he doesn’t have a deep inner feeling of what is just,” Diedrich said. “Out of respect to the public, I can honestly say that I have never seen you in the courtroom, Phil.” Diedrich has said in past interviews that DiMarzio spends all of his time acting as an administrator.

DiMarzio had the opportunity to counter Diedrich’s remarks but chose to avoid the issue. He said politics and personal attacks in a judicial race are the symptoms of a less than confident candidate.

“Mr. Diedrich’s remarks are the sign of a desperate candidate,” DiMarzio said. “It is absurd to think that I have never prosecuted a criminal case.”

DiMarzio answered a question from the 50-member audience concerning his trial experiences by saying he has prepared so many trial cases he cannot remember exactly how many he has been involved with.

Mike Coghlan, assistant state’s attorney, said Diedrich’s remarks indicate a lack of recollection.

“Phil has contributed to at least 50 percent of my trial cases,” Coghlan said. “Mr. Diedrich’s remarks indicate to me a complete lack of recall, because Mr. Diedrich was the opposing attorney in some of the cases.”

This lack of recollection by Diedrich poses severe doubts as to whether he is capable of ruling accurately on trial cases, Coghlan said.

Linda Finn, democratic candidate for circuit clerk, said that Diedrich proved to everyone present at the debate that he is more qualified.

The candidates were relatively cautious about answering questions pertaining to specific judicial decisions, due to a U.S. Supreme Court law forbidding them to comment on such matters.

As the opponents addressed the question of extra consideration for a college student who is arrested for a first offense, the candidates disagreed as to whether plea-bargaining should be involved.

Diedrich said that plea-bargaining is not an attractive characteristic of the court. Instead, a thorough search of a defendant’s history should be taken into consideration before determining a sentence, he said.

DiMarzio said that at times, plea-bargaining is necessary in court because all pertinent information of a person’s history is not always available at the time of arrest. DiMarzio underscored the idea that both parties in the case must agree that the plea-bargaining is legitimate.

Disagreement also surfaced concerning the legal aspects of probable search of suspected wrongdoers.

DiMarzio said that warrantless searches should not be condoned and are unconstitutional. “Laws protecting individual rights should not be relaxed,” DiMarzio said.

Diedrich said even though timeliness is often the main concern in law enforcement cases involving a warrant, it should not be more important than the situation. “At times, it is more important for the officer to react to the situation. The officer would not need to ask for a warrant if he didn’t have probable cause.”