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Close primary leads to 2-person race for District Court Dept. 23

Two candidates who emerged from a very close primary are advancing to the general election, where the winner will become a judge in District Court Department 23.

Incumbent Judge Stephanie Miley didn’t seek re-election.

Attorney Jasmin Lilly-Spells won the June primary with 34.21 percent of the vote, just ahead of fellow lawyer Karl Armstrong, who got 32.35 percent.

The candidates were asked in a Review-Journal debate about their judicial philosophy and view of the constitution. They agreed that the law should be interpreted based on the circumstances presented.

Both candidates say they would actively listen to both sides and seek the best decision for the case.

“I will come to a sentence that exacts justice between the victim and the defendant and the state, while taking into consideration community safety and also looking at mitigating circumstances and programs in which we can utilize to ensure that this person doesn’t recycle into the system,” Lilly-Spells said.

Although Armstrong has tried few criminal and civil jury trials to verdict, he says jury trials do not specifically show a person’s experience in court. Instead, mediation and problem solving can keep some cases from going to trial.

“Most times we as attorneys try to resolve matters before we get to trial, that can either be through a plea bargain or that can be through some type of settlement of a civil matter,” he said. “So the question is not really ‘how many jury trials or civil trials that you’ve done.’ It’s more of basically saying that, ‘have you basically resolved cases to conclusion.’”

Public defender work

Candidate Lilly-Spells has worked in the public defender’s office for more than a decade. She assures voters that her work at the public defender’s office will not make her too lenient when it comes to sentencing, especially because she sees the world as a mom.

“Not only have I argued for people to have probation, but there are times where I have articulated and argued for people to go to prison where I have made negotiations for people to go to prison,” she said. “So my primary goal is to be impartial and additionally to ensure that all of us are safe within our community so that is not a concern at all.”

If elected, Lilly-Spills would like to have meetings with the other judges to discuss what is effective and what is not.

“What I’ve been doing throughout my campaign is speaking with practitioners and other individuals to understand to them what works well and what doesn’t work well,” she said. “Because a judge is a public servant, so it’s extremely important that we engage the community and the attorneys who appear before the courtroom, to make that decision as to what can be handled differently, the courtroom needs to be efficient.”

Better temperment

If elected, Armstrong would like to change character he has seen and have a better temperament than other judges. He would also like to work on the current system’s bail process by keeping a better record for courts to be “transparent and the actions that they’re taking, so that the right people get allowed releases and the wrong people do not.”

“One of the problems that we have with most judges is some judges are short-tempered so just some judges have a tendency not to be listening to the party, some judges have a tendency to make determinations based upon how someone looks, or deals with them based upon their status, everyone that comes into my court will be treated with respect,” he added.

Lilly-Spills says judges must look specifically at whether a person is a “flight risk” and a danger to the community. She suggests that programs like electronic monitoring and house arrest could help address community safety better than if someone can make bail.

“When we’re talking about releasing individuals, we need to look at community safety, we need to understand that we are in a global pandemic,” she said. “Now we shouldn’t be having people in custody. If they are serving time for not paying their traffic fine, but in the same aspects we should not be releasing sexual predators, or murderers, because of the global pandemic so we need to take those items into account.”

Contact Jannelle Calderon at jcalderon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @NewsyJan on Twitter.

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