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Putnam judge candidates would find ways to expedite cases, and deal with drug problems

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Democrat Robert Leslie and Republican Joseph Reeder told Gazette editors Wednesday that if elected as Putnam County's circuit judge they would find ways to expedite cases, which would free up time to handle the county's drug problem.

Leslie and Reeder are running to fill the remainder of retired Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding's term. Leslie was appointed in June by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to fill the seat until the November election. Reeder, a Hurricane attorney, didn't apply for the appointment.

Ninety-percent of the time, criminal cases in Putnam involve drugs, Leslie said.

"Probation violators come before the court again and again ... we can't keep bringing them back in and shaking our finger at them," he said.

Leslie believes using more pre-sentence testing services offered by the state Division of Corrections would help identify those most likely to re-offend, he said.

In addition to an adult drug court, Reeder said, the county should look at programs to keep the rate of recidivism down, which usually occurs when convicted felons can't kick their drug habits.

"People think because Putnam County is more suburban there isn't a drug problem here," Reeder said. By streamlining cases, noting the new business court division of the state Supreme Court, Reeder believes judges will have more time to focus on deterring drug use.

Also to expedite cases, Leslie said he's interested in bringing a Kanawha County mediation program to Putnam that allows even the smallest civil disputes to get help from volunteer mediators rather than having to pay and hire their own.

Neither candidate thought accepting campaign contributions from lawyers and litigants would interfere with his ability to be objective on the bench. As of Sept. 28, Leslie had received about $25,000 in donations and Reeder about $30,000.

In light of the ethics charges Putnam Family Judge William Watkins faces over alleged inappropriate behavior, both Reeder and Leslie said having courteous courtroom decorum is an important part of the job.

"Tongue-lashings and tantrums on the bench, that's not anything you would ever see in my court," Leslie said.     

"The courtroom is a solemn place, an important place," Reeder said. "I don't believe those kinds of outbursts are appropriate and it's not something that's in my nature, typically."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.     


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