(Second of three parts)
By Scotta Callister
Blue Mountain Eagle
MT. VERNON – The two men running for Grant County district attorney posed a choice between change and continuity in the recent candidate forum at the Mt. Vernon Grange.
The event, held April 6, offered candidates for local and state offices a chance to pitch the voters and explain their views as the May 20 primary election nears.
Ryan Joslin, incumbent district attorney, and challenger Jim Carpenter, an attorney in private practice, came to the dais from common ground. Former law partners, they are the same age, 45, and have roots in the community.
Joslin, in his second term as DA, said his experience should give him the edge. He noted that eight years ago, he and Carpenter ran for the job untested as prosecutors.
“Now I stand here as the only candidate with experience as a prosecutor,” Joslin said.
He cited his promises from prior campaigns, saying he has worked to make the community safer. He said he participates in the Safe Communities Coalition, serves on the District 3 school board and prosecutes drug and burglary crimes to keep the community safe.
“We have a meth problem, and also a marijuana problem and a prescription drug problem,” Joslin noted. He cited the successful prosecution of a major meth dealer in John Day, and a number of marijuana cases in his favor.
He urged people to ask law enforcement officials what they think of him, predicting they would feel he works well with them to combat crime.
Carpenter also cited experience with such issues and noted his experience early in his career when he worked for the district attorney’s office in Harris County, Texas.
He said his experience as a defense attorney has given him an understanding of what it takes to be successful as a prosecutor.
He said he’s been asked why he’s running now, against a friend and former partner.
From conversations with people in the community, he said, “I get the sense we need a change.”
Carpenter also said he would focus on drug crimes, and he also noted the need to address juvenile crime.
“Our juveniles need to be accountable,” he said, adding that through the justice system he would work to see that they get connected to services needed to better their lives.
Asked about a perception that cases and discovery have been slow, Joslin didn’t see a problem.
He said it may be important to keep the Circuit Court and the judge happy, “the district attorney has to do what’s best for the people, and to be sure the cases are prosecuted, and the criminals held accountable.”
He added that delays from the state crime labs may be a factor in some cases.
Carpenter said he feels there could be more preparation and better ways “to move things along” in the courtroom.
“I’d be mortified if I was unprepared and had to explain (to the judge) why,” Carpenter said.
A question suggested the community is disappointed in the Jessie Bratcher case, which ended with a jury finding the Iraq War guilty except for insanity in the shooting death of a John Day man. Bratcher recently was released from the Oregon State Hospital.
“A lot of folks are disappointed,”Joslin said, but he rejected the suggestion of blame.
He said he made a case for premeditated murder, but the jury decided Bratcher was acting under the effects of PTSD, a mental defect.
“We know now that was wrong,” said Joslin, noting Bratcher has had no symptoms of PTSD since his trial. “Mr. Bratcher got away with murder.”
Carpenter declined to discuss the specific cases, saying he didn’t try it.
However, he stressed that jury service can be extremely difficult.
“No one should ever find fault with a jury,” he said.
Asked about the state’s decision to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, both candidates were unhappy with the situation.
Joslin, saying he has vigorously prosecuted marijuana crimes, said it’s up to the county and the cities to pass ordinances setting moratoriums on dispensaries.
Unfortunately, he said, “that just kicks the can down the road a year.”
His view is that medical marijuana statutes have been abused by people whose real intent is to traffic in the drug.
Carpenter noted the district attorney’s role is to prosecute crimes, and the situation is complicated if legislators pass laws saying marijuana is OK.
However, he said he opposes marijuana and sees it doing harm in the community. Noting it’s too simple to qualify for medical marijuana, he said he even tested the process himself and found it easy to get a doctor’s approval and deal with the application online.
Carpenter was asked how he would transition from opposing law enforcement to assisting law enforcement, if elected.
He echoed Joslin’s earlier comment, urging people to talk to any law enforcement official about the relationship he has with them.
“I think we get along, we talk, we understand one another,” he said, noting it would be a matter of seeing cases from a different perspective and a different role in the justice system.
Joslin clarified that he doesn’t represent law enforcement – “I don’t work for them, and they don’t work for me” – but he thinks trust with his office is important.
Asked about leadership, Carpenter said he will be prepared for cases, available to the public and “more accountable to the people.”
He said he would be able to say, “the buck stops here,” and promised there wouldn’t be any excuses.
Joslin said that after some 1,300 cases over the years, he’s not hearing feedback calling for change.
“I get good results and I pursue justice,” he said.
Joslin raised the specter of the president’s promises of change in two elections, saying, “I don’t think change is always a good thing.”
He said even his opponent acknowledged in their first race the county needed a district attorney who would “stay the course.”
Joslin, who said he will do that, told the crowd he’s done a good job, been tough on crime and helped people.
Carpenter said he and Joslin have a lot in common, “but we do things differently.”
“If I didn’t think I could do a better job, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Next: Candidates for state House and Congress speak out at the forum.