BLUE HILL — The candidates for district attorney in the Nov. 4 election debated drug court, plea bargains and the goings-on inside the prosecutor’s office during a forum at the Blue Hill Library Tuesday.
Republican Matt Foster is on the ballot for District 7, which encompasses Hancock and Washington counties.
Assistant District Attorney Bill Entwisle is the Democratic candidate.
Foster shared details of the aforementioned goings-on during his opening statement, at which point a DA’s office employee began yelling at him.
Foster said the employee had a dispute with a relative and made a complaint about her “cousin’s husband driving” when his license had been suspended.
The DA brought charges and was seeking jail time in the case even though those charges usually are just fines, Foster said.
Foster was appointed to represent the husband.
The DA’s office ignored requests for discovery, meaning evidence and files, in the case, resulting in a court sanction and a $300 fine for the DA. The fine was paid for by taxpayers, the candidate said.
“What should make you angry is the DA’s office allowed an employee to use that office for a personal vendetta against a relative,” Foster said.
Foster had just told the audience “I won’t let that happen,” when the employee in question, file clerk Andrea Nunn, stood up and began shouting at Foster.
“It’s not personal,” Nunn said. “I’m required to have a license. His client should also. It was Judge Mallonee who said ‘I’ll see you in jail.’”
Penobscot Bay Press Publisher Nat Barrows, who was moderating the event, approached Nunn.
“Excuse me, you’re out of order,” Barrows said to Nunn and tried to get her to sit down.
Nunn left and the debate resumed.
Each candidate was asked to state his position on domestic abuse plea bargains.
“A plea bargain is a negotiated resolution to a case,” Entwisle said. “It involves a conviction we obtained without going to trial.
“Our strongest cases are where we don’t go to trial. There’s plenty of evidence.” So those cases are negotiated outside of trial.
“That’s the process we’ll continue to use and it’s an appropriate way to manage the resources of the office,” Entwisle said.
Entwisle said his office would continue to work with law enforcement and The Next Step Domestic Violence Project to make victims feel safe to come forward.
Foster said he saw Governor Paul LePage speak in Jonesboro a few months ago.
When LePage heard Foster was a candidate for DA, the Governor allegedly told him, “We have a real problem with the Hancock County DA because they have dismissed, lost or pled down over 60 percent of their domestic violence cases.”
“We need to be sure if it’s a one-time event or a chronic domestic violence abuse,” Foster said. For one-timers, he said, “That type of person should be dealt with differently.”
In terms of plea bargaining, making a determination between chronic domestic violence abuse and single incidents of violence are important because the law does not, Foster said. “We need to dig deeper so we make the right decisions.”
The candidates debated drug court’s utilization as well.
Foster said Hancock County’s drug court program isn’t used as much as it could. There are 10 people enrolled in Hancock County’s program and five enrolled in Washington County’s program, he said.
“That’s not full utilization of that resource,” Foster said. “If they were being supported, they would be full because there’s plenty of people out there who could use those services.”
In rebuttal, Entwisle said, “The idea of drug court, that it’s a responsibility of the DA’s office that there’s a low enrollm
ent, displays a fairly superficial understanding of how drug court works.”
“We do not decide who goes into drug court,” Entwisle said. “That’s just one example of an incorrect statement that our office is not functioning properly.”
The drug court team includes judges, a drug court case manager, treatment professionals and law enforcement.
“To say I don’t have an understanding is incorrect,” Foster replied. “There needs to be an offer from the DA’s office that’s acceptable to the team or the person doesn’t get into drug court. So they have de facto veto power over drug court.”
Each candidate gave a closing statement.
“There’s a choice to be made here,” Entwisle said. “I’m the best qualified candidate to be your next DA. I’ve been fighting for your public safety since 2003. I bring the experience, the background to do the job that needs to be done.
“I have the skill and background to manage the office. I understand how to assess cases, decide which cases are worthy of prosecution.”
“I’m motivated by holding offenders accountable and serving you to attain justice in every case,” Entwisle said.
Foster told a story about his best friend who’s worked for Verizon and then FairPoint for years. He knows everything there is to know about the industry, but he wouldn’t be appointed the next CEO of FairPoint.
“Those aren’t the skill sets that are necessary to do the job,” Foster said.
The office of district attorney is “managing an office, managing people,” Foster said.
“I was a combat medic in the 82nd Airborne Division,” Foster said. “I was a city councilor. I was master of the Lygonia Lodge. I’m a Shriner. I would do a good job for you and I would always keep your best interest at heart. I would really ask for your vote in November.”