Probate, magistrate judge candidates square off during event

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FARMINGTON — Experience was one of the central themes addressed when the candidates for local judicial positions answered questions at a forum Wednesday evening at the Farmington Civic Center.

The three Republican candidates for probate judge and the three Republican candidates for magistrate judge Division 1 attended the forum.

The event took place less than two weeks before the June 5 primary election and served as a way for the public to get to know the candidates in contested races.

There are no Democratic or Libertarian party candidates in either the probate judge or magistrate judge race.

Probate judge candidates talk goals

Experience became a central point of discussion for Republican probate judge candidates Stacey Biel, Gary Risley and Brandt Thrower.

Both Risley and Thrower are attorneys who specialize in such matters as probate and estate planning. The probate court focuses on carrying out wills.

Risley has previously served as probate judge, and Thrower is the son of the current probate judge, Larry Thrower, who has reached term limits and cannot run again.

Biel does not have a law degree, but she previously served as magistrate judge.

Risley and Thrower said the probate court needs a judge with experience handling estate matters.

Risley said the probate court deals with a highly technical area of the law.

"It matters that you know the details and the ins and outs of the law," he said.

Biel said the magistrate judge position she previously held serves a higher court and requires higher levels of training. She also questioned Risley and Thrower's ability to be impartial as probate judge.

"How can you be the attorney, the probate attorney and the probate judge?" Biel said.

She said being a probate attorney would create a conflict of interest for the two candidates.

"We don't do our own cases, so the conflict-of-interest thing is simply a red herring," Thrower countered.

The three candidates were asked about their goals.

“Let’s get things done quickly and efficiently,” Brandt Thrower said. “Nobody wants to waste time or money, especially in these sorts of circumstances.”

Risley said his primary goal is to make sure the public receives the best service possible.

“My goal is always to have things out in a week or less,” he said.

Biel said she would like the San Juan County probate court to have the reputation as being the most professional probate court in the state.

Judge candidates discuss cooperation with law enforcement

Division 1 Republican candidates Erich Cole, Frank Dart and Gary McDaniel all have a background in the police force. They were asked about how local law enforcement agencies and the magistrate court can work together to improve community safety.

Cole is the incumbent magistrate judge after being appointed to the position by the governor earlier this year. McDaniel has previously served as magistrate judge.

 “The magistrate court has to be independent of law enforcement,” McDaniel said.

He said part of the court’s role is making certain law enforcement respects the rights of residents.

McDaniel said the courts can make sure cases are handled properly, meaning the witnesses show up to court and records are up to date and accurate. He said judges can communicate with law enforcement officials to make sure officers know why things went wrong with cases.

“I don’t always side with the cops,” McDaniel said. “I’m a cop at heart. I love law enforcement. I know what it takes to prove a case, but you have to prove a case. So I don’t always side with the cops. You have to be fair and impartial.”

Cole said communication and cooperation between judges and law enforcement officials leads to improved safety for the community.

“I believe our cooperation is essential to maintain a safe community,” he said. “Police do their part by removing the alleged criminals as well as providing thorough investigations... Judges need to be available to determine arrest and search warrants. Judges adjudicate and, if found guilty, determine if the offender can be deterred (from) future offenses by sometimes imposing a fine, a judgment of taking classes or counseling, or, if they’re too dangerous to be in our society, then jail.”

Dart said law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors and lawmakers need to pay attention to what happens to cases, identify problems and work together to find solutions.

“Everyone wants to know why someone who’s committed a crime is running around the streets,” he said. “Everyone wants to know why there isn’t justice and we are in a system of men and women. Unfortunately, in that kind of system there are going to be mistakes that happen. And sometimes there are going to be people charged with crimes that should not be charged with crimes. Sometimes there are going to be people that are guilty of crimes that don’t get justice. There’s no perfect solution, a perfect fix to that.”

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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