Municipal court judge candidates debate at Marietta College

Marietta Municipal Court candidates Janet Dyar-Welch, left, and Paul Bertram, right, shake hands at the Marietta College McDonough Leadership Center after a debate Monday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

MARIETTA — The two candidates facing off for the role of municipal court judge in Marietta on Nov. 7 met Monday for a debate at Marietta College.

Democratic incumbent Janet Dyar-Welch and Republican challenger Paul Bertram fielded questions concerning the roles of a municipal judge, how their backgrounds and experience would influence the next six-year term and what improvements they believe could be made at the court.

Bertram said the debate was an opportunity for the public to watch how each candidate interacts, thinks through questions and responds.

“You as the voter get to see the different perspectives,” he said. “That benefits the voting public as they decide what attributes they value most in their judge.”

Attorney Ray Smith, who appears often in Welch’s courtroom beside defendants, said he was surprised to see no more than a handful of lawyers in attendance Monday.

“What I’m looking for is to see how they make decisions and how they think through answers,” he said. “There are definitely time management aspects that could improve in the court but I’m here as an observer to see how they make their decisions.”

Welch, in her opening statement, touted a fulfillment of previous campaign platforms to keep the court “on time and under budget” she said she promised in her past and present terms.

“The court has been under-budget for 11 years now and I’m proud of that,” she said. “If you elect me for a third term I will continue to be on time and under budget.”

According to the Marietta City budget, the Municipal Court revenues are expected to be about $780,000 in 2017.

Bertram first looked to suggested improvements in time efficiency throughout the pretrial process saying that the current docket is hindered by prisoner transportation and scheduling conflicts between different hearings in the court.

“It may start on time but doesn’t always end on time,” he said. “I would develop policies per the (Ohio) Supreme Court to put together an online docket system … so that everyone can see what’s going on in court and make it more efficient.”

The mood turned tense when Bertram stated he would be more collaborative and work with lawyers and “all parties” in cases more than Welch, and would change requirements for who must appear for different types of hearings and meetings during cases.

“Don’t you misrepresent what this court does,” said Welch to Bertram with a finger raised. “This court does not require everybody at every pretrial to show up … After so many years I am tired of people that show up to court unprepared.”

The two were next asked about qualifying experience. Both boasted about years of experience in a variety of types of law from criminal to family to cases including housing elements, warranties and contracts.

“I believe I know what I’m talking about because I did the prosecutor job for five years before going into my private practice,” said Welch.

Bertram added a similar background in criminal law, also noting experience in the Washington County Juvenile Court and working as a contracted attorney with the Washington County Public Defenders Office.

“I’m well rounded to be able to be the municipal court judge because I have handled all the cases the court handles,” said Bertram.

They both also shared views on a drug court to coordinate the fight against the opioid crisis which has sent many individuals through the court system for both felony and misdemeanor cases.

“There are grants to be had and you can build and tailor the program based on the needs of that individual,” said Bertram.

Welch said much of what goes on in a drug court is already completed by her probation department and her greatest deterrent is in guaranteeing continued funding for a program that could serve less than the need.

But the two did have similar answers, almost identical, when the time came for the public to submit questions. Both said that regardless of political affiliation they ran under in the primary that race isn’t about leaning to one or the other major party.

“Politics has no place in a courtroom,” said Welch.

To which Bertram echoed similar sentiments.

“You will not see a ‘D’ or ‘R’ next to our names,” he said. “If elected I would follow the law and (the court) would not be run based upon a Republican or Democrat platform.”

Baffour Paapa Nkrumah-Ababio, 22, of Ghana, said as he lead the student consulting team putting on the event in the weeks prior to Monday he was intrigued by the pair’s civility and respect towards each other.

“Especially given the political climate in America today,” he said. “I realized that because we’re in a small town maybe that they were both very professional and was surprised by how respectful they were of each other coming into this.”

The event was attended by more than 70 local residents and will be rebroadcast on the college’s television and radio channels Thursday and twice next week.

“It was an exciting opportunity for the students that put this on as well,” mused Welch after she and Bertram shared a meal with the McDonough Leadership students that coordinated the debate. “They brought in questions and had to practice coordinating and establishing an event which will be of such value to them when they enter the workforce.”