One more Montana RLC endorsement?
- http://www.whitefishpilot.com/articles/2006/05/31/news/news03.txtFour candidates are competing this year in the nonpartisan race for a second Justice of the Peace in Flathead County.
A Flathead native since 1943, Jerry O'Neil grew up in the retail lumber business. He has been an independent paralegal and mediator in the valley for more than 20 years. As a charter member of the Montana Mediation Association, he says he has mediated several cases for Judge Ortley's Justice Court Mediation Program and hundreds of disputes elsewhere.
O'Neil is currently serving his second term in the Montana Senate. He ran as a Republican, but he has also served as secretary for the state Libertarian Party.
"During my time in the Senate, I have been a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where I have worked to increase the public's access to our justice system, and a member of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee, where I have worked to protect families," he said.
O'Neil said his 25 years spent trying to improve access to the courts was one factor in his decision to run for Justice Court. One of his goals is to reduce the number of people held in county jail.
"Today, the majority of inmates in the county jail are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of anything," he said. "I hope that if we can make it easier for them to be bonded out prior to trial, it will relieve the pressure on the county jail. Hopefully, we can accomplish this by providing the accused the forms and help necessary for them to post property bonds, or have others pledge assets for their release."
He also wants Justice Court to be more open to the public.
"I believe the public needs to know they are welcome to watch the trials and proceedings in Justice Court," he said.
While he agrees with the commissioners that making Justice Court a court of record "will increase the level and quality of justice," O'Neil said he wasn't completely sold on the proposal.
"I have some concern that we are losing the informality our Justice Courts previously provided us," he said.
O'Neil supports alternative sentencing, including offering public service in lieu of fines for traffic tickets.
"I am also supportive of house arrest, which allows offenders the ability to be employed and support their families, thus relieving the taxpayers the cost of providing welfare," he said.
By working "smarter," Justice Court can handle its growing workload with the same level of funding it currently receives, O'Neil said. To streamline the process, O'Neil said he would ask parties to submit briefs, memorandums or letters prior to trial explaining their side of the case.
"I intend to involve the litigants in the writing of the decisions," he said. "I also have some friends who are very knowledgeable about the law, whom I believe will be willing to give me advice on other ways to streamline the process."
O'Neil said he will quit his other jobs and devote a full-time effort to Justice Court.
"I know I will never be able to fill the shoes of some of the great Justices of the Peace from our past, such as Mary Riedel and Orville Fredenberg, but I will attempt to maintain the honor of the position," he said.-- end --
... Aaron Biterman
Americans for Limited Government