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Indiana Daily Student

Voter guide: Monroe County District Court election

<p>From left to right, Kara Krothe, Geoff Bradley, Judy Benckart and Carl Lamb.</p>

From left to right, Kara Krothe, Geoff Bradley, Judy Benckart and Carl Lamb.

Divisions 1, 2 and 8 are on the ballot for elections this year, with divisions 1 and 8 being contested this year. Judgeship in other divisions are not up for election this cycle. Circuit Court judges terms are 6 years.

Division 1, Seat 9

Geoff Bradley

Bradley has 21 years of experience as a prosecutor, seven years of which were as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Ohio, and the past 14 years were as a deputy prosecutor in Monroe County. He is the by-laws chair of the Monroe County Black Democratic Caucus, a member of the Monroe County branch of the NAACP and a 9th District member of the Indiana Latino Democratic Caucus.

Do you support the legalization of marijuana? If so, would you support the expungement of the records of people arrested on marijuana charges?

Do you want to see reforms in the current criminal justice system?  If so, what?

Do you support abortion rights?

Do you support a mask mandate?  If so, to what extent?

I want to address these questions together because they deal with areas where there are limitations as to how judicial candidates can respond. The Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct notes that the role of a judge is different from that of a legislator or executive branch official, even when the judge is subject to public election. Campaigns for judicial office must be conducted differently from campaigns for other offices. Rule 4.1 of the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judicial candidates from making public statements or commitments that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the duties of judicial office. In my opinion, to answer these questions would be inconsistent with the rules of the Code of Judicial Conduct and might be perceived by a reasonable person as undermining a candidate's independence or impartiality, or that it might lead to frequent disqualification. As a judge, I will keep an open mind and carry out my adjudicative duties faithfully and impartially if elected.

The Indiana General Assembly is responsible for enacting laws to address many of these issues. The Indiana Supreme Court and members of the state judiciary, including our local judges, have been involved with various programs and initiatives such as the Jail Overcrowding Task Force, the Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council and the Juvenile Justice Improvement Committee to assist in this effort. These groups review, evaluate and make recommendations concerning jail overcrowding, criminal justice systems and corrections programs. I would welcome the opportunity to assist the Indiana Supreme Court in working to increase access to justice and providing a fair and equitable court system.

Do you support problem solving courts like drug courts?

Yes. Problem solving courts provide innovative responses to issues faced in our community, such as substance use disorder and mental illness. By working with community partners, problem solving courts provide positive outcomes for individuals and their families, victims and the community. In the 2020 State of the Judiciary address, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush spoke of the importance and impact of problem solving courts in addressing a variety of issues impacting Indiana, such as the opioid epidemic. She noted the existence of a variety of specialized courts, including veterans, drug, mental health, domestic violence, reentry and family recovery courts. Monroe County has been at the forefront in the state in developing alternative problem-solving courts. We currently have a drug court, veterans court, mental health court and reentry court. Maintaining and expanding the significant investments in problem solving courts, addressing mental health and substance use disorder issues, and strengthening and enhancing services provided to the community are ways to create a fair, equitable and effective system. I want to work collaboratively with the Board of Judges, the Indiana Office of Court Services and local partners to expand access to the Problem Solving Courts and also identify additional courts that would positively impact challenges faced in Monroe County’s criminal, civil and juvenile court systems.

Anything else you want voters to know?

I would like voters to know that I have been an attorney for over 26 years. During that time, I have developed and demonstrated the necessary commitment, integrity, diversity of experiences and versatility to serve as a Circuit Court Judge. I believe it is essential, for the welfare and safety of our community, to assess and develop the civil and criminal system to meet the needs of those in our county. I am devoted to preserving and furthering the investments and innovations of the judiciary in Monroe County. With my broad range of experience, commitment to fairness and equity and public service, I feel I have the tools necessary to not only maintain but continue to improve and enhance our judiciary as a member of the Board of Judges.

Since graduating from law school in 1994, I have had the fortune of serving most of my professional career in public service. I have served as a deputy prosecutor in Monroe County since 2005. I am responsible for a general felony caseload which involves cases ranging from theft to murder. As part of my caseload I handle all aspects of a case including working with victims and witnesses, assessing and identifying appropriate options to resolve cases, presenting arguments and evidence in court hearings, drafting motions and legal memoranda and conducting other activities related to the prosecution of cases. I also manage, guide and supervise the prosecutor’s office internship program for undergraduate students and law students. Since 2012, I have served as a criminal law instructor at the Indiana University Police Academy. 

I have handled a broad range of legal matters, including criminal, child support, juvenile, children in need of services, small claims, contract, appellate, tax and bankruptcy law in Ohio (1994-2001) and in Indiana (2003-2020). While working at the University of Kentucky from 2001-2003, I had the opportunity to develop my skills as a supervisor and as a student conduct administrator and hearing officer. I worked collaboratively on budget issues, served as a liaison with agencies and university stakeholders and participated in the evaluation and implementation of programs and services.  

I have also involved myself in my community in various capacities. In Wilmington, Ohio, I served as a board member for the Rural Legal Aid Society, the Clinton County YMCA and Hot Hoops, which focused on providing programming for at-risk youth in the community. I also was a member of the President’s Partnership Council for Wilmington College and the Rotary Club. In Indiana, I serve on the board of the Lotus Educational and Arts Foundation, and I am a member of various organizations such as the Arlington Heights Elementary PTO, Real Men Read, the Monroe County Black Democratic Caucus, Elks Lodge #446 and Stone City Lodge #54. As a member of this diverse range of organizations, I have worked to positively engage with and impact my community. It is also this deep sense of service, diversity of experiences and inclusion that I want to bring to the bench. 

I encourage voters to visit www.bradley4judge.com/ and www.facebook.com/Bradley4Judge/ to learn more about my campaign. If voters are interested in volunteering with the campaign they can contact us at info@bradley4judge.com.   

Carl Lamb

Lamb was the attorney for Monroe County for four years. He has been a practicing attorney at Carl Lamb and Associates for over 30 years, served four years in the Marine Corps and is a co-founder of the Hope for Hoosiers Foundation. Lamb helped develop the annual collegiate charity hockey event Drop the Puck on Cancer, which raised over $400,000 in the past nine years.

Do you support the legalization of marijuana? If so, would you support the expungement of the records of people arrested on marijuana charges?

Under the judicial rules of ethics, I am unable to say whether or not I oppose or support the legalization of marijuana. I genuinely believe it should be up to the voters of Indiana to decide this issue. Indiana residents have the authority to vote for representatives who share their beliefs, and this issue can be solved democratically. As far as expungements as a whole, I strongly support expungements. As a criminal defense attorney, I have seen too many times people have suffered for years due to a small mistake in their past. I feel expungements have been one of the best changes to the criminal justice system in my 36 years of law practice.  

Do you want to see reforms in the current criminal justice system? If so, what?

Yes. I want to see non violent criminals have more opportunities to rehabilitate. In addition, I would like to see the ways that individuals can be allowed to do pretrial release and post-conviction "in home detention." There is no reason to incarcerate first-time offenders for non violent crimes, especially the types of crimes you see in college communities like Bloomington. I think the Pre-Trial Diversion Program ("PDP") is a great thing. However, the use of PDP as a means to subsidize the Prosecutor's Office, especially around Little 500, should be stopped. There are many more ways we can make positive and long-term changes to the criminal justice system. What we need is to "do it" and not just keep making committees and exploratory groups to make "reviews” without implementing any real changes. 

Do you support abortion rights?  

This is not something the Judicial Rules of Ethics will allow me to answer.  

 Do you support problem solving courts like drug courts?   

Absolutely, in fact, we need an individual standing court that addresses issues for veterans, mental health and the like. We have a "domestic violence" type of court, criminal courts as a whole, small claims merged into civil court and other civil courts. We need to have a court that uses the vast amount of people in our community (especially from the Indiana University community) that could provide a wealth of information and experience to help people, who come into the judicial system (primarily into the criminal justice system). Many of those individuals, like my wife and I, would be more than willing to help on a volunteer basis. Thus, we could have a “win-win” situation. Helping people, who need the help, by people who are wanting to help — thus, keeping down the costs (as a whole) to the judicial system. I feel that my years of experience (36) and certified mediator status, will enable me to resolve cases that are in the long-term best interest of the “person” (Defendant)and the community as a whole.  

Do you support a mask mandate? If so, to what extent?  

I believe a mask mandate during a global pandemic is something the government must consider, although it will be a controversial decision. The imposition of a mask mandate should be pursued in a constitutional route, through the legislature. Although, I realize that in times like today, it is necessary for our government officials to make decisions in the best interest of public health and safety. As a survivor of COVID-19, I am aware of the risks and dangers of this terrible virus. I personally had to suffer through the damage it has made to this community and the country as a whole. I understand the severity of this illness and the value of face masks, social distancing and following Centers for Disease C ontrol guidelines. 

Anything else you want voters to know?  

I have been defending the Constitutional rights of students and the local community for 36 years. I am not only a two -time graduate of Indiana University, but I have been a resident of this community for over 42 years, 36 years as a lawyer.

During my 36 years, I have been actively involved in the local community, especially with our “youth.” I have been a Vacation Bible School Teacher, a Youth Group (3rd and 4th grade) Leader, along with my wife and involved with Sherwood Oaks Christian Church youth “Christian” sports.  

As a another means of helping our youth, I was the founder and creator of a National Youth Travel Organization — United States Tournament of Sports (“USTOC”), which sponsored and promoted numerous highly competitive travel baseball tournaments in and around the area, as well as in and around the Midwest. 

But, most importantly, I am the Founder of Collegiate Charities, Drop the Puck on Cancer and Broomball. 10 years ago, I started working with the Indiana University Sigma Chi's and Beta's in the promotion of the Drop the Puck event.  Over the past 10 years, I have worked with many of the IU fraternities (Drop the Puck) and most of the IU sororities (Broomball) in raising money for cancer related organizations. Over the past 10 years, we have raised over $500,000 for multiple nonprofit organizations.  Three years ago, my wife Angie and I, along with the local greek community helped create the Hope for Hoosiers Foundation — raising money for the local IU community.  This past year, I have created the Hope for Hoosiers Legal Assistance Project ("Hope Project"), which is geared towards helping — legally — our veterans, first responders and other low-income members of our local community who have been impacted by COVID-19.  In my 36 years, I have helped hundreds, if not thousands, of Indiana University students, faculty and staff with numerous legal issues and needs. I remain incredibly supportive and committed to the Indiana University, Bloomington and Monroe County communities.  I am a firm believer that the position of judge must be earned and that Experience Matters. 

Division 8, seat 5 

Judith Benckart (Incumbent)

Benckart has served as a Monroe County Circuit Court judge in division eight since 2018. She is graduate of the Maurer School of Law and a supervisor of motor carrier authority legal section at Indiana Department of Revenue, on a corporate counsel and as a deputy prosecuting attorney of misdemeanors.

Do you support the legalization of marijuana? If so, would you support the expungement of the records of people arrested on marijuana charges?

This question asks that I make a public statement on my personal position on policy. The Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct requires that I act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary's independence, integrity and impartiality. It is my belief, therefore, that I cannot answer this question. I believe the concern is if I express my opinion, it will lead the public to think that, should the issue arise in a matter over which I was presiding, my personal opinion would affect my decision.  

Do you want to see reforms in the current criminal justice system? If so, what?

Any specific reforms in the criminal justice system should be focused on reducing recidivism and overpopulation in jail. The pretrial release program is already in place and appears to be easing jail overpopulation. Back when the legislature overhauled the criminal code, it expanded the pretrial release statute to allow prosecutors to include Level 5 felonies in their pretrial release programs. I understand that there is a workgroup encouraging prosecutors to utilize this statute. However, it is a work in progress. There must be a determination of who is appropriate for this type of program and whether it would result in recidivism before implementing it. Any changes in statutes or practices should be done holistically, keeping the public's safety very much in mind.

Do you support abortion rights?

As I stated in my answer to question one above, I cannot make a public statement on my personal position on abortion rights. But what I can tell you is my life experience on this issue. After marrying my husband, Ted, we were anxious to add to our family. We already had a daughter from Ted's previous marriage, and we wanted her to have siblings. Unfortunately, after suffering two miscarriages, we concluded that it was doubtful that I would be physically capable of carrying a child to full term. So, we decided to adopt. We were chosen by two different birthmothers to be the parents of their baby boys. I have never been more grateful that they chose life for our boys and chose us to be their parents. 

Do you support problem-solving courts like drug courts? 

Circuit Court 8 is a civil court and rarely involves incarceration. However, domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health issues often play a part in the lives of the folks who come to my court regarding domestic relation matters (divorce, child custody, parenting time) and civil protective orders. Therefore, I support the problem-solving courts allowed in IC 33-23-16-11. They include drug court, reentry court, mental health court, veterans court, family dependency drug courts, community courts and domestic violence courts. Monroe County currently has a drug court, reentry court, mental health court and veteran's court. I would also support the certification of a family dependency drug court, community court and domestic violence court, as well as a juvenile detention alternative initiative. I support the Stride Center, which allows the police to bring individuals suspected of having mental health issues to it for evaluation before placing them in the criminal justice system in hopes of getting these people help and avoiding jail altogether, if more appropriate. And finally, I support the use of technology, such as electronic monitoring and Soberlink. Any problem-solving court or technology that helps keep folks out of jail, stay with their families and contributing positively to society is a win-win for all involved.

Do you support a mask mandate? If so, to what extent?

As I stated in my answers to questions one and three above, I cannot make a public statement on my personal position on the mask mandate.

Anything else you want voters to know?

Circuit Court 8 is a civil court that presides over divorces, child custody, child support, evictions, small claims, civil protective matters, and ordinance violations. I have a total of 35 years of legal experience — 31 and a half in civil law, 1 and a half years in the prosecutor's office, and two years doing the job I now seek to retain. During these two years on the bench, I have helped establish the Housing Eviction Prevention Program (HEPP), which provides free legal services and mediation services to landlords and tenants to avoid evictions. Should removal be inevitable, the tenant is encouraged to agree to a move-out date to prevent an eviction from being placed on his/her/their records. Also, where eviction is unavoidable, the tenant is provided access to an individual knowledgeable about available financial and other resources in the community to help that tenant find a new place to live. I have been in the Bloomington community for 32 years, raised 3 children and have a granddaughter. My legal and life experience makes me the most qualified and prepared candidate for Circuit Court 8, Seat 5. I ask for your vote, whether by absentee ballot, early voting or vote on Nov. 3rd. See JudgeJudith.orgJudgeJudith2020@gmail.com; Judge Judith Benckart on Facebook for more information.

Kara Krothe 

Krothe spent three years in private practice doing civil law and the past 16 years as a Monroe County Public Defender, in which role she volunteered for seven years on the Drug Treatment Court team.

Do you support the legalization of marijuana? If so, would you support the expungement of the records of people arrested on marijuana charges?

As a judicial candidate I am governed by the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct, and I do not believe I can answer this question. Comment 1 of that rule states “Public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary is eroded if judges or judicial candidates are perceived to be subject to political influence. In furtherance of this interest, judges and judicial candidates must, to the greatest extent possible, be free, and appear to be free, from political influence and partisan interests. Therefore, this Canon permits only narrowly-tailored exceptions to the prohibitions against political activities of judges and judicial candidates, taking into account the different methods of judicial selection and the role of the electorate in selecting and retaining its judiciary”

The law in Indiana allows for people to have marijuana charges sealed after five years, and I would follow that law. As a public defender, I have seen how minor drug convictions can affect the ability for people to obtain housing, employment and funding for college.

Do you want to see reforms in the current criminal justice system? If so, what?

I would like to see reforms in the criminal justice system. Sixteen years as a public defender has shown me that the system we have in place does not work well for all citizens which results in a lack of trust in our judiciary. It is important that we elect judges who recognize that there are inequities and who work to make our criminal justice system more equal for all people. Systematic changes are necessary, and I hope to be part of those decisions in future years.

Monroe County has progressive programs that I will continue to support as a judge such as problem solving courts and the pretrial release program. Problem solving courts use evidence-based practices to help those struggling with an underlying issue, such as substance abuse disorder, that is causing them to come into the criminal justice system. problem solving courts reduce recidivism. Pretrial release is a pilot project that is designed to eliminate monetary bond for those accused in criminal cases. Monetary bond puts an unfair burden on those who lack resources, and it leads to an unfair administration of justice. Our pretrial release program focuses on connecting pretrial defendants with services like mental health or substance abuse treatment to help them avoid future contact with the criminal justice system.

As a judge I will foster trust by making fair and impartial decisions. I will strive to recognize and be aware of implicit bias, implement evidence based practices and engage in additional educational opportunities.

Do you support abortion rights?

As a judicial candidate I am governed by the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct, and I do not believe I can answer this question. Comment 1 of that rule states “Public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary is eroded if judges or judicial candidates are perceived to be subject to political influence. In furtherance of this interest, judges and judicial candidates must, to the greatest extent possible, be free, and appear to be free, from political influence and partisan interests. Therefore, this Canon permits only narrowly-tailored exceptions to the prohibitions against political activities of judges and judicial candidates, taking into account the different methods of judicial selection and the role of the electorate in selecting and retaining its judiciary.

Do you support problem solving courts like drug courts?

I have been a longtime advocate for problem solving courts. I have spent seven years as the public defender representative for the problem solving courts team, and I have seen firsthand the positive impact they are having on our community. We have four problem solving courts in Monroe County, which are Drug Treatment Court, Mental Health Court, Veterans Court and Reentry Court. These courts operate on the premise that an underlying treatable issue is causing the individual to come into contact with the courts. Using evidence-based practices, participants in these courts receive treatment and case management among other services. This results in better success in reducing recidivism which is good for the participant and the community.

Addressing recidivism helps the community by integrating people back into the workforce, lowering the jail population and reducing cost to the community. I would advocate implementing a problem solving court relying on restorative justice that concentrates on younger offenders in the 18-24 year range. By intervening early, the goal is to keep people from having a felony conviction that will adversely affect their ability to work, to obtain housing and to pay for college classes.

Do you support a mask mandate? If so, to what extent?

Public health experts recommend wearing a mask. As long as science continues to support that recommendation, I support it. The courts are considered an essential service, therefore it is important to find ways to safely conduct court business including the use of technology to conduct hearings remotely, when possible. My top priority would be to work with the board of judges and other elected officials to keep court staff, participants and the public as safe as possible by following recommendations from public health experts and the Indiana Supreme Court.

Anything else you want voters to know?

My greatest strength as a candidate is that I have 19 years of courtroom experience practicing civil and criminal law. As a public defender for the last 16 years, I understand that many people come into the system because they are struggling with mental health or substance abuse disorder. If the underlying issue is treated, they will have a better likelihood of success. Working to find solutions to jail overcrowding, I have volunteered to be a member of the problem solving courts. My experience lends itself to the type of judge we need right now.

Many people are not aware that Monroe County Public Defenders represent clients in civil cases on a daily basis in addition to criminal cases. We represent indigent clients in Children In Need of Services (CHINS) cases, and I have 16 years of experience with these cases. I have written appeals in civil cases and have three years civil experience in private practice before becoming a public defender. This experience makes me well-versed in both civil and criminal law.

I have a proven record for being honest, objective and most importantly being kind and compassionate. Before I attended law school, I was employed in the Monroe County Clerk’s office and as a court reporter for Judge Randy Bridges. I know firsthand the level of support and teamwork provided by court personnel to run a productive courtroom. As a judge, I will treat everyone that comes into my courtroom with respect, and I hope to make the courtroom a less intimidating and more welcoming place for all.

The IDS voter guide includes candidates who are on the ballot in contested elections.

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