Borger attorneys seek county attorney office

By: 
Jessica Ozbun
Staff Writer

Borger attorneys Craig Jones and Amanda Harris are running against each other for the position of Hutchinson County attorney. Both are Republicans and will battle for the Republican nomination in the upcoming primary election on Tuesday, March 3, 2020.
Recently, the Borger News-Herald had an opportunity to speak with both candidates about the upcoming election for county attorney and ask some questions. Listed below are the questions we asked and their replies.

Q: What makes you think that you would be a good candidate for Hutchinson County Attorney?
Answer from Jones: “I think the first thing you have to look at is relevant experience. The time that I have had for most of the many years that I have been in practice here in Hutchinson County. I have practiced in the Hutchinson County Court, representing criminal defendants. Also, I represented parties, parents and children in CPS cases in the 316th district court. So, that part of the job I have been involved in for the majority of my career here. But probably just as important I’ve assisted my clients both governmental and private sector, including Frank Phillips College and others, in assuring legal compliance, which will have to be done with the commissioner’s court to make sure the county is compliant with all applicable laws and regulations that they have to deal with. So, I am prepared to represent the commissioner’s court in legal matters because I have experience in those kinds of issues. The second thing is the county attorney needs to be able to work well and in cooperation with the agencies and individuals that are part of the system. I’ve always had a good relationship with Judge Irwin and her staff and the management and case workers with CPS and I think that’s essential to make sure we do the job effectively and administer justice in an efficient way. Finally, I have a conservative approach to government, I’m the most conservative candidate in the race and these kinds of conservative values are what I live by. I am a life-time republican. I believe in small government. I believe in protecting our 2nd Amendment rights and our basic rights that we have under the constitution. In that regard I am a life-time member of the NRA and hold a CHL License and those things are important because Hutchinson County residents expect their elected officials to operate in away that is beneficial to them but also keeps an eye on the bottom line and operates in a conservative way.”
Answer from Harris: “Because I know how to do the job. I’ve trialed criminal jury trials, civil jury trials, and I’m a hard-worker. I plan to use accountability and respect. I think it’s about offering compassion and accountability to the citizens of Hutchinson County. I’ve also done a lot of reading and training for the job. I feel like a big part of the job would be encouraging people to be the best they can be.”

Q: Explain, what you feel are the most important issues in the race for county attorney?
Answer from Harris: “The willingness to do something different and being open-minded to doing things differently.”
Answer from Jones: “I think the first thing is that we need to elect someone to this office who is both respected in this community and most importantly by the individuals and the agencies that are going to be in the system that I’ll be working with every day. Like I said previously, I have had the opportunity for many years to work with those individuals with those agencies and have developed a good relationship with them that will allow me to hopefully administer justice, to protect vulnerable residents like parents and children, and also assist the county government with complying with the legal requirements that they are required to. I think we need someone that will look at the way things were done and not necessary do things the way we have always done them. I think its good for the new county attorney to be innovative and not only talk the talk as far as things we can do but also walk the walk and get in and innovate.”

Q: Drugs (methamphetamine) are an issue in Hutchinson County; How can the Hutchinson County attorney’s office help to address the issue?
Answer from Jones: “First the county attorney does not have the jurisdiction over the possession of meth cases because those are felonies, so as far as dealing with it in criminal court that’s not something that we would do or have power over. There is research that has pretty well accepted that someone will not immediately get into meth; it will start with marijuana or less hard drugs. So, the way that we deal with those people in misdemeanor court is going to be important. Do we educate, rehabilitate, and punish in a way that way that hopefully prevents repeat offenses and prevents people from continuing to think drugs are the right choice. But more importantly I think where we see the effects of drugs is in family court in our CPS cases because I would say probably 80 to 90% of those cases the reason for removal is drug use and sometimes drug use around the kids. So that’s a problem that we have to remedy. I’ve spoken with Judge Mosley, that handles those cases, and the idea of a family drug court. He and the D.A., Mark Snider and others that are involved with drug court have been very successful in dealing with criminal offenders that have drug issues but we don’t really take that to the CPS side and say can we help parents to really kick this thing and not really pass a couple of drug test during the process, so we know going forward that drugs won’t be an issue hopefully in that home. There are ways that we can do that as well and we have been looking at those ideas. I have some research on that and that may be a possibility too. As far as how do we help meth get out of these family cases and try to curb this problem as well.”
Answer from Harris: “Absolutely it (the county attorney office) can because 95% plus of our CPS (Child Protective Service) cases involve drugs. What we do right now in the CPS cases is we take away their kids and (try to get the parents clean) and to say clean. Then a year and a half passes by and generally, we are right back where we began. I think that’s where a lot of negative attitude comes in and mind set. I think we need to offer encouragement and compassion, which is a trauma informed approach that generally people don’t use with drug cases. People do not use drugs because they think it’s fun or cool or smoke meth to get their kids taken away, because it’s something that they enjoy. They do it because there is something really wrong. I believe that the Hutchinson County Attorney’s office can help children stay with their families.”

Q: What’s your stance on plea bargains in Hutchinson County?
Answer from Harris: “It’s a necessary evil; if we trialed every case the county would have zero dollars to do other stuff. It has to happen. I know a lot a people don’t understand that, because they hear the word bargain and they think someone is getting a deal but it’s not really a bargain it’s an agreement; it’s a plea agreement. (The accused are) going to give up their right to trial by jury for this punishment, entering a plea of guilty, and taking responsibility for their actions.”
Answer from Jones: “Plea bargains are not a bad thing. As the county attorney if I have ability to make an agreement that everyone can agree on and that we ensure that justice is done. First of all, that’s what the office is supposed to do, so why wouldn’t we do that. The benefits of that are we avoid having tax payers taking time off of work and away from their families for jury service. Also, we don’t stick them with the bill as tax payers for a court appointed attorney to spend several days in trial and the stats kind of tell us that it is probably less than 5% of cases that are trialed by jury and actually in the county court it is probably much less like 1%, those things hardly happen. So, the main job of the county attorney is to see that justice is done and usually that is through a plea agreement, and so what we have to do is make sure that those plea agreements actually do justice. Are we entering into an agreement that’s going to detour future criminal conduct and is going hopefully provide some education and rehabilitation and some assurance that hopefully these things are not going to repeat themselves.”

Q: If elected what do you plan to do to ensure that the office of Hutchinson County Attorney is open to assist all the county’s citizens?”
Answer from Jones: “I plan to work closely with victims of crime to ensure just is done in their cases, as I said that’s the objective that we have in the county attorney’s office. I want to work with law enforcement to administer justice in the most efficient and effective way. I have a high level of respect for law enforcement. I will be sensitive to the concerns of tax payers that foot the bill for my office and I will have open communication with them about the effective and efficient operation of that office. The last thing is that my staff and I will be holy committed to the protection of the vulnerable people in Hutchinson County; children, victims of crime, victims of domestic violence, and things like that. We will do that through we way we deal criminal offenders and the way we deal with CPS cases
Answer from Harris: “Oh, that’s a good question; that goes back to caring and compassion. A lot of people avoid conversations, or don’t return phone calls. I’m going to have an open line of communication with law enforcement and the citizens. I have a lot of practice giving people information that they don’t want to hear and delivering it in a way that’s caring and compassionate.”

Campaign signs for Harris may be obtained by contacting her at her Facebook page. Campaign signs for Jones may be obtained by contacting him on his website at craigjonesforcountyattorney.com.

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