by Caitlin Huston
In the race for Circuit Court judge, incumbent Leo Burns, a Democrat, is focusing on education and programming while Douglas Cox, a former judge and the Republican candidate, is turning to the workings of the court system.
While Burns stresses education as the key in dealing with juvenile cases, Cox vows to streamline the court process so that filings are made in a timely manner. The Circuit Court judge position has a six-year term.
Burns was elected to the position in 2006 and before had practiced law as Logansport city attorney as well as in private practice. He was a deputy prosecuting attorney from 1986 to 2000. Burns is a graduate of Indiana Judicial College, as well as a 1974 graduate of Purdue University and 1986 graduate of Valparaiso University School of Law.
Cox spent 12 years as the judge of Cass Superior Court and currently works in private practice. He has also worked as an administrative law judge for the Indiana Employment Security Office and as the staff counsel for First National Bank of Logansport. Cox is a graduate of the Indiana Judicial College and National Judicial College, a 1976 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a 1979 graduate of Indiana University School of Law at Bloomington.
As a judge, Cox helped start the Cass-Pulaski Community Corrections program while Burns brought in the Six-to-Six program, which gives middle school students an alternative way to serve suspensions.
Circuit Court is the only court in Cass County that deals with juveniles, and because of that distinction, both candidates agreed that the handling of juveniles was a key part of the job.
Burns said he prides himself on providing education to juveniles, or to anyone in need of services.
“I’m the education judge,” he said. “I focus on education.”
These programs can be an essential way to break a cycle of criminality, he said, especially when the intervention is done early.
“We all realize that an early intervention is the way to go,” Burns said.
Cox said his experience working on children in need of services cases and serving on the board of the county children’s home prepared him for the job.
“These are things that give me those unique perspectives and experiences that I believe make me the best qualified candidate,” Cox said.
One of the biggest challenges of the job, Burns said, is dealing with funding cuts to the programs. In face of the cuts, he said, he’s tried to work with other agencies to make sure needed services, like the adult GED program, are still offered.
“What I’ve tried to do is adapt to them,” Burns said.
Budget also figures prominently in Cox’s campaign, and he says he will work to monitor administrative budgets as well as the success of programs in place and make sure offices are properly staffed. But beyond that, Cox said he’s hoping to make a change in the Circuit Court so that decisions are made within 24 hours, or within 60 days if the matter is more complex, and that entries are made in the clerk’s office within 24 hours.
“That is not always the case now in the Circuit Court,” Cox said.
Burns responded that some cases need time for a proper ruling, but he said he believed the court is functioning properly.
“I get routine things out routinely,” he said.
Both Cox and Burns have received reprimands from the Indiana Supreme Court. As Superior Court Judge, Cox received a 30-day-suspension in 1997 after the Supreme Court found that he had violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by increasing a woman’s sentence because she demanded a jury trial and for other misconduct involving her case.
In the initial interview, Cox apologized for the situation, saying that he was unaware at the time of some of the guidelines mandated by the state in sentencing.
“Simply, I made a mistake,” Cox said. “I learned from the mistake, and I’m a better judge because of it,”
However, he later added in a phone interview that he was not legally allowed to discuss the case.
“There is a system in place on all matters that happen in any trial court,” Cox said. “Appellate courts review the decisions, in this case conviction and sentence were affirmed. The parties also have the right to voice their complaints through another system. Judges are not able to discuss details of any case.”
Burns received a public reprimand in 2008 for a 2004 case where he had been an attorney on an appeal. The court found that Burns had failed to give a copy of the appellate court’s denial ruling to a defendant, causing the defendant to miss a deadline for filing another appeal.
Burns said he would not comment further on the case, but at the time he said he accepted the court’s ruling.
“I take full responsibility for my actions,” he said. “I accept the Supreme Court’s order as a fair and just resolution of this matter.”
If they win the position, both candidates vowed to treat the people who come before them with respect.
“I try to treat everybody the way I would want to be treated, and I think that works,” Burns said.
Cox said he also would listen and respect everyone who came before him.
“I want them to know that they were heard,” Cox said.
• Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or firstname.lastname@example.org.