The Republic Masthead

Bartholomew County Republican primary

Judge Superior Court 1


Chris Monroe

Age: 56.

Occupation: Judge of Bartholomew Superior Court 1.

Years in community: More than 50.

Education: Law degree from Tulane University in New Orleans; undergraduate studies at Indiana University Bloomington.

Family: Daughters Danielle, 26, and Madison, 15; son, Clayton, 18; grandson, Clark, 1.

Party affiliation: Republican.


Jim Worton

Age: 41.

Occupation: Attorney with Worton & Rohde Attorneys at Law; detective with Columbus Police Department.

Years in the community: 41.

Education: Law Degree from Indiana University School of Law; undergraduate studies at Indiana University.

Family: Wife, Amberly; sons Zach, 16, Logan, 15, and Ryan, 10; daughters, Hannah, 12.

Party: Republican.


1. What are the major criminal concerns in Bartholomew County and how can the court address those problems?

1. I think the single largest criminal concern is the use of methamphetamine, but other substances are a big problem as well. Methamphetamine drives a lot of other criminal behavior. With methamphetamine, not only do you have the use of the drug and the problems that it causes, but you've got the manufacturing of the drug and all the safety issues with regard to that. Substance abuse is a big piece of what we need to do.

The first overall concern is community safety. So you look at that both short term and long term. You look at what is the dangerousness of the person, and dangerousness trumps everything else. People who are dangerous probably need to be in prison. A huge majority -- way over 90 percent of people who go to prison -- come back, so we need to be aware of that, and deal with them in the long term. So we have set up a number of programs based on evidence-based practices. We've been very committed to that for over 10 years in this county, all the courts, so we can know what programs work.

Some programs are bad programs. Some people say something is better than nothing and that is not true. Sometimes something is worse than nothing. Two very clear examples are boot camps and "scared straight." They have been proven to make people worse. They offend at a higher rate than people with whom you do nothing. As a judge, I think it's our responsibility to be aware of the latest research and what is effective programming. Effective means you're trying to get the right job done.

Our job, and we have a statement of purpose through all of the county that we've developed while I've been on with the court, and that is we are committed to the safety of the community to reduce the risk of recidivism. Courts don't have as much impact on the original crime, the crime prevention. We respond to the people who have been convicted. Those people who we supervise and develop programs for, we know that certain things work better than others, and we're committed to keeping up with that and to utilize those programs.

1. I think the main criminal concern from my experience of nearly 20 years on the police department, the main criminal concern I've seen over the years is that with drug abuse in our community. Right now we're seeing a big problem with methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse. Previously, years ago we had a problem with crack cocaine and different types of narcotics.

And of course one of the other things that has been getting a lot of press lately is the spice issue. Thankfully, there's some new legislation out to help us with that. The one thing to think about when talking about the topic of drugs in our community, the vast number of different other types of crimes that it contributes to -- burglaries, thefts, robberies, things like that.

As far as prescription drugs, these cases have actually torn apart families. If you have a family member who is an addict, we've received numerous situations where people in the family are stealing from other family members. These are situations that are very serious.

One thing that separates me in this election is my experience in dealing with real people in real situations. Real people who are real drug dealers or drug users or drug addicts in actual situations. I have seen personally these effects that these types of things have on the families.

I think that kind of rolls into as a judge, how that would help me better relate to these types of situations because of the types of things that I've seen. It's different when you hear about them. It's different when someone just tells you about these situations. It's another thing when you actually see the person when they're under the influence and you deal with them when they're under the influence. You can see what these families are going through.

I think that type of experience would help me in having a better understanding in what we're dealing with and trying to do the appropriate thing in each situation that's given to me.

2. How can the court schedule cases to ensure efficient resolutions?

2. Historically, we didn't start counting cases the way we count cases now until 1991. That year I had 599 cases. A few years ago I had 2,400. Those have been reduced because even the other judges recognized that was too many so we made some adjustments in regards to where certain cases are filed. It's very challenging because we don't have any more days or hours when more cases are filed.

In fact the reality is we have fewer hours than we used to because of security concerns. We cannot open the building earlier than we normally do, and we need to shut it down at 5 rather than going late which I used to do regularly, because of security issues. That affects not only the judges but other people who work in the courthouse and the public in general. One thing that we've done is that we ask for people, especially attorneys, to give us how much time they think a case will take.

That's very important to us, so we say this is what time it will take. One of the challenges is getting the litigants and the attorneys sometimes to show up on time. Another issue is explaining to the litigants and the attorneys that if the case starts at 10, and you start talking in the hallway about it, your time is running now because we have another case scheduled to start at 11. Those scheduling times are very critical to get people going.

Sometimes people get upset when you say, 'Look, your attorney said this is only set for an hour. We've hit the hour. We need to come in at a different time.' Another challenge is with the volume. We can give people more time but we'd have to push them out so far. So there's a balancing issue between getting them in fairly promptly and then trying to get the full case hear in time.

The last piece, the really big piece that is relatively new is pro-se litigants, people who don't have attorneys. They don't know, they're not experienced in the court process so their ability to anticipate how much time it takes is a problem, and we also anticipate that they won't show up because that's our experience. So we have days when more people show up than we expected and we have days when less people show up. Sometimes we end up having extra time and sometimes we don't seem to have enough. You just don't know. We're dealing with people -- getting them to show up on time, to stay within the time parameters, to try to get them in promptly, and all of that is very challenging especially with the increase of people who are not represented by attorneys.

2. I think the first step in that is as judge you have to make sure that you are maintaining the schedule that you keep. I think there several things that can be done to trim that down and speed things up.

One thing that I would do is I would allow sentence negotiations with regards to plea bargains. In other words, when the parties come before you in criminal case, the parties have already agreed to an agreed upon sentence. Obviously the judge would have the discretion over that, whether or not to accept. Those things kind of speed the process up.

The other thing is making sure things start on time and end on time. I'm an attorney, and as an attorney I know sometimes we can get a little verbose and talk a little more than we should. A judge has a responsibility to make sure that when an attorney is doing that they are monitoring that time and making sure that they finish within the allotted time they are given. If they don't, then the next case gets behind and the next case goes behind.

The judge also has to make sure they don't contribute to that by engaging in long, unnecessary lectures of people simply because then you're just contributing to the further backlog there.

The other thing is you have to make sure your staff is doing their job. You have to make sure the staff in the court is keeping up on things and making sure things are done properly. As judge, some of my goals would be to make sure that hearings start on time and end on time, to increase turn around time on orders and I think some of the ways to increase that type of time is to make more decisions in the court room. The ones that don't require a lot of additional research, make those decisions in the court room instead of taking them under advisement and putting things off even further.

3. Has the specialization of Superior Court 1 to handle domestic violence cases worked well or are there other options for organizing courts?

3. When I agreed to take the domestic violence case load, we increased our case load significantly. I think 2010, we had 338 criminal cases that were charges. Circuit Court had 118. So, that increased our criminal case load significantly. We didn't add any new staff.

Eventually we had to add another public defender just to try to process those cases. Just that volume increase created problems because criminal cases have a certain time frame within which they need to be completed if the person is in jail. There's a different time frame if they're out of jail, there's a longer time frame. We've got to get those things done. So that creates challenges. The effectiveness of domestic violence is very helpful because there are very interesting dynamics in that area that a lot of people are not familiar with.

(Former deputy prosecutor) Kelly Benjamin was outstanding. She had been in domestic violence before she came here, she brought with her a huge amount of expertise on that. We have a group that gets together from time to time to look at the specific dynamics. We are committed to taking our general evidence-based practices approach into the domestic violence world. There are practices that have been proven, but some of them have not been proven because there has not been much use of those.

We are the only county in the state that's using the ODARA, which is the Ontario Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment developed in Canada. It is a state of the art assessment instrument. It required a huge amount of work and coordination between our chief probation officer, who got trained in it, deputy prosecuting attorney Ms. Benjamin, the police, because that information must be gathered beginning at the site of the event. It is a huge benefit for us to know how do we deal with this group. If you didn't have specific domestic violence jurisdiction, you might not even be aware that such a thing is out there. From what I've been able to figure out, other courts in this state do not know about it.

That specialization has permitted me to focus on this issue and to get the focus of other people and to put together a group that includes some people from Turning Point (Domestic Violence Services) and Center Stone and probation, and a prosecutor, and a defense attorney and an advocate from Turning Point, to say how can we best be effective to help the community become safer by effectively doing that, and effective means reducing the risk of re-offense.

3. I think it is working and it is a good thing. A situation like domestic violence, I think it is very important that a judge understand the dynamics of the totality of a domestic violence situation.

I was the original domestic violence coordinator for the Columbus Police Department. I established the position that is still being used by CPD and by the Bartholomew County Sheriff's Department, and I also served on the Domestic Violence Action Team here in Columbus.

Part of my job as domestic violence coordinator was to deal one on one with victims, to help them understand and utilize the services that our community offers, and to work closely with other agencies such as Turning Point to make sure the job was getting done properly.

I think that has been a very successful program. With regards to handling domestic violence in the court, I think again going back to that experience that I've had dealing with real victims in real situations and real defendants in real situations as they happen and having to be charged with making decisions on the streets, on the front lines when things are going on, I think that gives me a different perspective and a different understanding of what is exactly it is that is happening in these types of situations.

I think that is something that I would bring to the bench that would be pretty unique. But I do think I would support keeping that in the court room.

With regards to other types of specialized courts, I know our juvenile court is specialized. It's very important when dealing with juveniles that the judge understand that juveniles are different than adults and that they are developed differently at that point in their lives.

I know that some communities have drug courts and they have been very successful. I would support having something like that in this county if it were feasible simply because I know that there are different types of alternative sentencing programs that have been able to really help people out and help them stop coming back into the criminal justice system over and over again.

4. Are there ways that the court can address the issue of re-offenders, either through certain kinds of sentences or other alternatives?

4. The first issue on that is to look at dangerousness. People who are a danger to people need to be out of the society as long as possible. I have given people sentences of 90 (years), 100 (years), long sentences which in many respects will end up being life sentences, although they're not specifically described that way. I know at the end of (a newspaper) article, (Prosecutor Bill) Nash said (the sentencing of Matthew Bryant) is one of the longest sentences he had seen since he had been prosecutor, and he mentioned two or three others and he said Judge Monroe handed those out too.

In some cases, the longest sentence possible is absolutely the appropriate sentence to have. For others, the question is again what is the long-term best interest to the community. I live here. I want this community to be safe for me and my children and my family and friends. So what best does that, and not only for safety but also for community improvement period.

Most of the time, a theft case, a shoplifting case doesn't significantly reduce the quality of life in the community. But what do you do? It's a fairly simple process to describe but complex to understand and implement. The first thing you do is you assess them. You have to know who are you dealing with. What is the risk that person will re-offend.

Some people are very low risk. They're not dangerous. If you put them in prison, you make them worse. We absolutely know that, the research is very clear on that. So if you have a shoplifter, somebody who steals a pack of gum, do you send them to prison for three years? The answer is, it depends. So you do an assessment, so the bias and prejudice of the individual person involved is taken out of the process. That's the 'who' question. The next question is the 'what' process. What are the needs they have? Overwhelmingly, substance abuse is in there. So you look at what drug are they using, how are they using it. You need to know if somebody's using meth whether they are snorting it or if they're injecting it because it makes a difference. That detail is huge.

The next question is the how. How do you deal with them? That's effective programs. You don't just make them up.

The fourth component is how well. You have to stay true to the program. You can't say I'm going to tweak it a little bit. Then it's not evidence-based any more. It may be evidence-based in principal but it's not evidence-based in proof. You have to be very cautious of doing any of that. The how well is having a program that has already been researched, having qualified people operate that program, you measure your results and you see if it's working. If it's not working, then sometimes it's because of the way you deliver the program. Maybe you're not delivering it properly.

4. First let me say that it is important as a judge that the judge look at each case that comes before him as its own individual case. You have to do what is appropriate in that situation for that person.

With regards to what the court can do, first of all let me say that I believe in personal responsibility and accountability for one's actions. There's only so much a court can do to change a person's behavior. I believe that most likely that change has to come from within the person. I think there are multiple aspects when considering a sentence for someone.

Number one, you have to consider community safety first. If elected, that's my number one priority -- community safety. But you also have to remember that our system is designed to rehabilitate the offenders and to keep them from coming back into our system. For some people, the answer is prison. For some people, that is the answer.

There may be programs in prison that will help them and there needs to be that incapacitation from society, that separation from society to keep the community safe. For other people, for other, lesser offenders or people who are non-violent offenders, then probation or some other alternative sentence may be the best answer. And I support those different types of alternative sentences.

Certainly we can't live in a society that goes by the 'lock them up and throw away the key' idea. We have to make sure we're doing the best in each situation that we can. Each situation is kind of its own thing. It's hard to speak specifically about what to do in a certain situation.

One thing the courts can do to help (recidivism rates) out, if you give someone a break and they get put on probation the first time and then they keep on violating that probation, at some point there has to be another answer other than putting them on probation again. I think that also contributes to the backlog of cases within the court.

If you have the same people coming before the court time and time again, sometimes it's time to say, 'You know what, the court has done what it can do you for you. It's time for you to do for yourself or just going to have to face the music.'

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