Judicial candidate Carole Walbert on the issues
1. What should voters be looking for when choosing a Carbon County judge?
I believe that voters in Carbon County should be looking for a judge that, in addition to being experienced and fair, is going to be the perspective of ensuring that we protect our community interests and values as they are presented to a judge on the bench on Carbon County.
We have a strong family community in Carbon County, but one that is often besieged now by numerous problems in our families, drugs for example, and I believe that the voters should be looking for a judge that will strictly enforce the law with respect to drug dealers.
We want a judge that's going to manage the court system so that it is efficient and effective: so that our police are on the street rather than sitting in a courtroom, so that our families get swift decisions in their cases, and that the voters have a judge that is going to ensure that the interests of the Carbon County citizens are always foremost in decision making.
2. What experience has prepared you for becoming a Carbon County judge?
First and foremost, voters should be looking for experience. I bring 28 years of experience to the table in all areas of the law. I think that's a critical facet. I have been in courtrooms throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I have tried over 14 jury trials. My opponent has never tried a jury trial. I have had thousands on non-jury matters that I have handled in court.
Equally important, I have extensive judicial experience. For 19 years, I have acted as a judicial hearing officer in support, custody, divorce and various other matters. That means, I have heard evidence and I've written reports and recommendations to the court over the years many times. I've written over 1800 judicial reports. So, I bring extensive judicial experience to the bench.
Another aspect of experience is that it gives me a viewpoint on the needs of our community and of our judicial system here in Carbon County. While we have excellent judges and we have an excellent judicial system, I believe it is in need of modernization. I think my experience gives me the unique ability to work for change in the County judicial system.
3. What are the current challenges that you expect to face as judge?
In 28 years of practice, one of the aspects that I most love about my business, is that I like challenges. I see many challenges in the court system.
A primary one is that I think that we need to address our family court system in the County. We have a good court system, but I believe there is much room for improvement. I believe we should adopt some of the more modern approaches that are out there such as mediation in family matters, so that we get swift decisions, so that families get quick resolutions and can go on with their lives, so children's lives aren't torn apart. That's very important to me.
Another challenge I see is which is of great concern to me is with respect to the mortgage foreclosure and debt collection crisis in not only our community but throughout the state. I believe that we need to adopt much more aggressive approaches in our court system to ensure that there is a real opportunity for mediation and resolution of these matters so our families are not displaced unnecessarily or wrongly because of an inability to communicate with the mortgage companies and the debt collection companies.
I know that recently Northampton County, which has adopted a mediation program which I believe we should have, announced that it had a 45 percent drop in its foreclosure rate. That's extremely significant and shows what can be done simply by adopting such practices. So, that to me is a challenge.
Another challenge is to continue working with improvements to our child care system within the county. I've been a member for several years of the Children's Round Table of Carbon County and I have worked very hard to effect improvements in our child care system so that we have a significant reduction in foster care placements within the County.
We need to close that revolving door of children in foster care. Through several initiatives, we have been working in that direction. We've dropped our foster care placement rate by 15 to 20 percent. That's a significant drop in the last few years. I hope as a judge, because that's something that the judge works with every day, to continue those practices, and to find permanent safe, secure homes for our children.
4. What can the court system do to reduce the number of juvenile offenders?
There's a number of issues that I have been involved in and am working on. One of the things that we are trying to do right now, and hopefully in the next year or so, we will have effective, is put a Children and Youth Services caseworker right in the schools. That casework would be there so there would be earlier intervention with juveniles in crisis so that we could reach out and provide services to them before they become offenders, or before they become serious offenders. That's one area that's important.
Another item to me is-I don't think most people realize how serious the truancy problems are in our County. One thing I find frustrating in the Children and Youth Services system sometimes is that unfortunately we don't get child referrals until sometimes the kids are 120 or 200 days truant. Some of them are truant for a whole year.
We've got to reach out and adopt a zero tolerance policy on truancy. Kids belong in school. If they are in school, they are not out offending, or they are less likely to offend. That is something that has to be done. We have to get a lot more aggressive in working with our schools to reduce the level of truancy.
Another issue, and it is a constant issue, is drugs. Drugs are the worse evil that faces our teenagers. Today, cases dealing with heroin are regularly referred into the system. That iwould have been unheard of when I grew up.
I believe that we have to strictly scrutinize all plea bargains that involve drug dealers. We need to crack down and we need to be very aggressive in dealing with drug issues in our community. That bar none, I think, is the greatest evil that faces our community today.
5. What do you think about the growing prison population and what response should society have to prison overcrowding?
There are two sides to that question because we have a dual system here. We have county prisons and we have the statewide prison system. You see overcrowding both in the county system and the statewide system.
Our county prisons were never designed to manage, over a long term, people that commit serious crimes. Yet we have overcrowding in our local prison. With regard to lesser offenders, over the past few years there have been some very innovative programs being adopted to deal with minor offenders who are not likely to recommit crimes, or to commit any type of serious crime.
An intermediate punishment program has been adopted in Carbon County. It has worked successfully. So, there have been, within the County, a number of initiatives with some of the lesser offenses in the County.
However, the statewide issue is a whole different bale of hay because we have, in the State system, serious offenders. People who have committed crimes against persons or property. These are not people who belong on the street and certainly should never be released onto the street.
I think our State legislature has to look at the prisons themselves and make a determination whether or not we should increase the number of prisons in the state. That, of cause, is always a budget problem and will continue to be one. That's why we have such pressure on our prisons today.
Our population in prison is also growing not just because more people are being sentenced, but because the crime rates are growing. If you want to deal with it from the intake end and lower the crime rate, let's start with our juvenile offenders. Let's get more aggressive in terms of being able to provide treatment and effective ways of helping our youth so that they don't end up in the criminal system.
Most criminals, it is well documented, start out as juvenile offenders. So, if you want to head them off at the pass, that's where we've go to get them. It is something that is close and important to me-to work with our youth and to bring effective programs to our youth to keep them on a positive track so they are contributing to our community rather than offending against our community.