Credentials and judiciary practices are typically the extent of the discussion found during a debate for town justice. During Thursday's League of Women Voter's debate for Pomfret Town Justice, however, candidate David DeJoe pulled no punches and delved into topics he tied to incumbent David Prince and the Office of Court Administration Judicial Ethics Committee.
DeJoe, who received endorsements by the Town of Pomfret Republican Committee and Pomfret Conservative Committee, questioned what he claimed as being unethical practices by 21-year incumbent Justice David Prince.
"The image of the court is very important. People also asked me while I was campaigning, 'Mr. DeJoe, if you're elected are we going to see your car downtown every day parked in front of drinking establishments?' I said, no, you wouldn't see me doing that," DeJoe said in his opening statement. "If you want to go and have a drink that's OK, but when you display that license plate that says I'm a judge, it's no different than a policeman pulling a cruiser in front of a tavern and saying the same thing."
In an area where the largest majority of the cases that come into the court are for open container, underage drinking and for DUI cases, DeJoe implied that Prince's personal conduct could be questioned.
"How can you sit in judgment when you yourself may be every bit as guilty as the person standing before (you). That's hypocritical, and that's not what needs to be exhibited in a judge," DeJoe said. "I'll move away from that, I promise you."
DeJoe continued on the same topic during his three-minute-long opening statement and noted how voters he spoke with, and those who had been through the court system under Prince, told him they would like the right to be treated fair and more like human being and not with arrogance and condescension.
"They said they would be pleased to come in here and plead guilty to a charge but they didn't want to be preached to and they didn't want to be belittled," DeJoe said.
Further on into the debate each candidate was given a chance to ask questions of one another. Prince had no questions for DeJoe, but DeJoe questioned Prince's campaigning practices.
"Well, being a judge is supposed to be about fundamental fairness and about following the rules and about following campaign rules," DeJoe began. "I tried to follow campaign rules very very closely and one of the campaign rules in judicial ethics is that the sitting judge can not use a photo of himself on the bench, acting from the bench, because it might have an unfair advantage of him during the court of the campaign."
DeJoe sifted through a few examples of documents showing Judge Prince presiding on the court bench in his campaign literature.
"I was the nominated Republican candidate and I have the nomination of the Republican Party. But a letter was circulated that was called the Pomfret Republicans for Prince. Now that's a point of politics and that doesn't bother me, but this organization does not appear anywhere on the state rolls that require such an organization be registered. All I'm asking for is fair play. I don't think this was fair play, I it was dirty politics."
Prince wished to respond, stating DeJoe was correct on his point about the campaign literature and that he had corrected the issue.
"I did use a photo taken on the bench. I was advised of it Wednesday, Mr. Wilcox called one of the members of my committee to advise us that we had illegally used a picture of me on the bench. I did not know that I couldn't do that," he said. "Fifteen years ago when I ran for village court I also used a picture of myself on the bench and so did Judge Saso at that time."
Prince said on Wednesday he called the Office of Court Administration Judicial Ethics Committee and told them what he had done.
"They said it was wrong. I told them I didn't know, what should I do? 'Stop it right now,' and I did. I had new palm cards made out today. I was wrong, I did have my picture and I used it on the bench," Prince said.
In his closing statement, Prince said he feels he has done a great job serving as the judge in the town of Pomfret for 21 years.
"I'm confident in what I've done. I'm proud of what I've done, and I would like to continue doing this. It's a passion of me to help people," he said. "It's such a thrill when you have an opportunity to help someone that has made a mistake to get their life back together and help their family. I feel I'm very fair."
For his best credentials, Prince said, they can be found by asking any attorney, any police officer, or the district attorney, what kind of judge he is.
"I'm glad the judge brought up the ethics committee," DeJoe began in his closing statement. "I spoke with someone at the ethics committee Thursday and in my e-mail they responded there was an open pending investigation on Judge Prince just for these palm cards. It involved also an investigation into this Pomfret Republican for Prince not having proper paperwork filed."
DeJoe said the investigation is also looking into a contribution in 2009 where in the last village cycle Prince was noted as being the biggest contributor to the Democratic Party.
"And most importantly, it involves an investigation where people who were bold enough to give me their names when I was circulating door-to-door and give statements about Mr. Prince driving his vehicle after drinking," DeJoe said. "Based upon this, on more than 80 instances of surveillance, there is video evidence, there is audio evidence, photographic evidence and testimonial evidence at the ethics committee now."
Prince did not respond to DeJoe's closing statement. An additional article highlighting the candidates views on court consolidation and incarceration alternatives can be found in a future edition of the OBSERVER.
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