Candidates for judge answer questions at Democrat event

Audrey Caro

Four judicial candidates were featured speakers at the Linn County Democrats meeting at the Albany Public Library on May 3.

Jennifer S. Hisey, Rachel Kittson-MaQatish, Teri Plagmann and Rebecca Winters are running in the May 15 nonpartisan primary election for Linn County Circuit Court Judge Position 3.

They are vying to fill the seat vacated by Judge Daniel Murphy, who has retired. The two top finishers in the primary will face off in the November election.

Each candidate had four minutes to talk about herself and her candidacy and one minute to answer each question.

Hisey graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law in 2004. She practiced for two years in Eugene at the Lane County Legal Aid Domestic Violence Clinic. In February of 2006, she started at the Legal Aid Services of Oregon Albany regional office, where she has worked since.

She trains new attorneys, she said, because she has been there a long time.

“Legal aid has a high turnover rate,” she added.

Outreach is another part of her job. She attends various meetings with community partners throughout Linn County, she said.

“I’m on the family law advisory committee for Linn County and Benton County,” Hisey said. “That works with the court to address family law issues and parenting plans and those sorts of things.”

She also staffs a medical-legal partnership that was formerly in Sweet Home but now is in Lebanon, she said.

“I’ve dedicated my career to public service and I think that being judge is the best and most effective way for me to continue serving the public,” Hisey said. “I also want to continue the work of the judges that are currently on the bench and those that have recently retired or will be retiring.

“(Murphy) is very active on the bench. He has been a presiding judge for quite some time. He staffs many committees and just does a lot of work in addition to his time on the bench and I want to help continue the work that he has been doing as well as Judge (Carol) Bispham, who left last year.”

Bispham was a “driving force” behind the current forms database, she said.

“I have many qualities that I think would be good for a judge to have – I’m dedicated to rule of law. No matter what my personal opinion is, I would follow the statutes that are currently enacted make sure they apply fairly to anyone who shows up in the courtroom. I’m hard-working. I come from a not-affluent background. I’m the first lawyer in the family.”

Hisey’s time was accidentally cut short. When she was given the rest of her time later in the meeting, she added that she has three children. One is 21 years old, one is 18 and the youngest is 5 years old. “Those older two went through law school with me,” Hisey said.

Kittson-MaQatish has two grown children and two that are home. She has been married for 17 years.

“My husband, if you look at my last name it’s difficult to pronounce,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “It’s Middle Eastern. My husband is from the country of Jordan. I have traveled to the Middle East on at least on four occasions.”

She said one reason people should vote for her is that she is hardworking.

“I was a teenage mother at the age of 17,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “I found myself in a legal battle that had to do with a constitutional issue within a family law situation at the age of 19.

“The only reason I am a lawyer is that I was blessed by scholarships. I was blessed by this community. I grew up in this community and I grew up here.”

She received more than $70,000 in scholarships she said.

“My father had a sixth-grade education and my mother worked 35 years at a factory and retired at the age of 75,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “My education, it empowered me but this community inspired me and that’s why I want to be your judge.”

She is a partner in a six-member law firm, she said.

“I have a diverse legal experience,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “I am a trial attorney. I will be in the courtroom weekly if not daily. I practice criminal law as a prosecutor for the city of Lebanon.”

She has a contract with Linn County for civil commitments.

“When a person is mentally ill, I’m the one attorney for Linn County that goes in representing the state asking for that individual to get help and to be hospitalized when they are a danger to themselves, a danger to others or have an inability to care,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “In that work that I do, I work closely with the police department, the hospital and Linn County Mental Health so that we work together with the courts to run a very efficient, respectful process.”

She has a family law practice and a personal injury practice, she said.

“Your circuit court judges hear all kinds of cases,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “I’m an attorney the can go to the bench and practice many different areas of law with an understanding from the get-go.”

Teri Plagmann grew up in Linn County.

“I was born and raised east of Albany on a grass seed farm that’s been in my family for over 100 year,” Plagmann said. “I actually still live on the grass seed farm today. My grandparents were very involved in this community. My parents as well. One of the reasons I want to be a judge is to continue that family tradition of service to our community and involvement as well.”

Plagmann graduated from South Albany High School in 1988 and then went to Oregon State University.

“I was brutally attacked, my last year of college,” Plagmann said. “It was incredibly scary. Probably the most terrifying incident of my entire life. I was living in an apartment by myself at that time and I spent almost every night in the library because I was scared to go back to my apartment. I just didn’t want to be there.”

While at the library, she started looking at books about the law school admissions test and going to law school.

“That’s when I decided that I wanted to go to law school and I made a commitment to do that,” Plagmann said.

After she graduated from OSU, she spent time on the grass seed farm “and healed (her) wounds a little bit,” studied for the law school admission test and worked on the farm.

“When I started law school I started volunteering for the domestic violence project,” Plagmann said.

She worked at several different law firms in Portland after graduating from Lewis & Clark College, she said.

She was encouraged by one of her bosses to volunteer at St. Andrews Legal Clinic to work on family law and domestic violence cases.

“I really wasn’t thrilled with the Portland rat race and my son was born and had a lot of medical issues,” Plagmann said. “I took some time off of work to be at home with him. He had six surgeries in his first two years of life. I went back to work when he was ready.”

One of the cases she’s most proud of is one she worked on while she was with the Portland law firm Marandas & Purdue.

The case involved an infant who was overdosed by hospital staff, she said.

“The baby died,” Plagmann said. “It was a horrible situation and it was one of the hardest cases to work on when my son was sick as well. We were able to get the hospital to institute a practice that you see at hospitals now – a double check system.

“Whenever you have those medical pumps and you see that with certain medications they always have a nurse that comes in and double checks, and makes sure that that number is right, one of those reasons is because of that case that I worked on. That’s a case that I’m very proud of.”

She said court is not always about criminal cases, sometimes civil cases save lives.

Winters earned her bachelor of arts in psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

She went to law school in Arkansas and had her daughter in between.

“I had worked as a typist and word processing operator and you know just trying to make ends meet,” Winters said. “I got in to the legal field as a legal secretary and then I got in to child support services which I really enjoyed.”

She managed a heavy caseload, she said.

“There were a lot of people who may not have been the happiest people, dealing with child support services, but I always got along with people and it wasn’t about them but just about providing the service and helping people,” Winters said. “Helping both sides in a case. I really enjoyed that job. The hard work, having about 500 cases. I wouldn’t stop all day long.”

Winters said she went to law school because she was “broke” and she wanted to be a role model for her daughter.

“I hated living paycheck to paycheck,” Winters said. “It was a very difficult situation. I thought the best way for her to have a career is for me to have one.”

She has always been interested in family law, Winters said.

“I like to help children,” Winters said. “I like to see that their best interests are looked after. One of the reasons why I’m running for judge is because I want the best interests of children first and foremost. There’s nothing more important than protecting children.”

Winters graduated from law school in 1996 and practiced in Colorado, she said.

“In 2004, I took a 40-hour mediation training,” Winters said. “I’ve always liked helping people resolve their conflict and I really enjoyed the mediation training.”

She volunteered for Jefferson County Mediation in Colorado.

“I really wanted to be a mediator,” Winters said. “That is my love is to see people reach agreements and reach resolutions where possible and to understand both sides of the case, not just fight on one side and be one-sided but that’s why I want to be a judge too. To look at both sides.”

QUESTION: Would you favor the elimination of mandatory sentences and give judges the discretion to apply sentences based on the unique circumstances of each offender, crime and victim?

Kittson-MaQatish said she will follow the law.

“As far as favoring and what we should do, we’ve gone back and forth as a state in regards to sentence guidelines, Measure 11 and then Measure 57 and what we should do,” Kittson-MaQatish said.

She said she understands both sides.

“There’s no incentive for good behavior in prison when you have a mandatory sentence,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “I understand why we’ve gone back and forth, meaning that at times, it seems like we’re too tough as a group and at times we’re too soft and we’re not consistent.”

Plagmann said one of the issues with mandatory sentencing is that a two-thirds vote would be required in order to change it.

“Those were passed by the voters,” Plagmann said. “As the judge, you do have to uphold what the law says. Periodically there are different initiatives that have been passed since then that do allow some modifications as well.”

Sentencing guidelines pose a problem because “because there’s only a finite amount of resources as well,” she said.

Winters said she would follow the law.

“Judges are required to follow the law whether they agree with it or not,” Winters said. “I can see both sides where it’s, it wouldn’t be fair if someone is in the same circumstances, committed the same crime and they get this pretty light sentence and the next person gets a pretty tough sentence.

“On the other hand, if there were some extenuating circumstances, it would be good to consider those as a factor when you’re sentencing somebody.”

Maybe one size doesn’t fit all, she added.

“In the broad picture, my personal opinion isn’t actually relevant to this subject because I would be bound by the law and that’s what I would apply,” Hisey said. “If I disagreed with the law I would need to go and talk to my legislature about that, so that’s what I would do.”

Hisey said she understands the impetus behind mandatory sentencing because she deals with clients whose “other half” sometimes commit crimes but don’t get any significant jail time.

Mandatory sentencing has several flaws though, she said.

“You can’t take into consideration any mitigating factors and the one size fits all is not necessarily the fairest way to approach things,” she said.

QUESTION: Are you in favor or opposed to the death penalty?

Each candidate said that, as a judge, she would follow the law, not her opinion.

“I believe right now, Oregon, we’re not executing people,” Plagmann said. “That’s what the law is right now. I can see both sides of it. The whole reason why we have the death penalty is because it’s punitive.”

The cost of going through the appeals process and putting someone to death is greater than that of keeping someone in prison for life, she said.

She can see both sides, she said.

Winters said though she has a strong opinion on the topic, she did not want to state it.

“It’s the best system we can come up with,” Winters said. “I think keeping in mind, that’s the kind of mistake that cannot be undone so making sure there are no mistakes made in the legal process in a serious case like that is very important.”

“I know it has to be frustrating to hear us all say we’re going to follow the law and we’re not going to tell you our real opinion,” Hisey said. “I have a philosophical objection to the death penalty but I would follow the law if that was the case in front of me and that was the sentence that was recommended.

“We’re different from other political candidates in that we’re not going to legislate. I’m not going to legislate from the bench. To get the death penalty out of the state of Oregon, you need to talk to your legislators.”

Kittson-MaQatish said the question “made (her) think seriously in regards to the role that we’re asking to be put into.”

A sentence has an impact on the community as well as the victims and the family of the perpetrator, she said.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: (regarding how immigrants are treated at the Linn County Courthouse) Will you be sensitive to how your questions and treatment of them might impair their willingness to testify and appear in court?

Hisey said in her experience, a litigant’s immigration status is irrelevant to a case.

“I will not inquire and I will shut down any other inquiry into it,” Hisey said.

Kittson-MaQatish said she believes the “courthouse has to be a safe place for an individual to come.”

Plagmann has had clients who were concerned about the issue, she said.

“I have never had any of our Linn County judges ask me if any of my clients were here legally or not.” Winters said she agreed and that people should be treated with respect and has not heard of ICE taking people into custody in a courtroom because they were in the United States illegally.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How do you personally define injustice?

Injustice sometimes occurs when there is not enough time to hear a case, Kittson-MaQatish said.

“When there’s not a voice given to your situation, injustice can occur,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “There’s plenty of times in the courtroom where individuals walk out and they don’t feel like they got what they wanted but that doesn’t mean injustice occurred.”

Plagmann said injustice occurs when people aren’t being heard.

“We only have a certain amount of time to hear cases,” Plagmann said.

She has had this happen many times in instances where a case that was heard before hers went over time.

“I have an hour scheduled for a case and all of a sudden I only have 30 minutes, or maybe 15 minutes because the case before me took too long,” Plagmann said. “Now I have to take my witnesses and and questions and narrow them down and get as much information before the judge as a I can and sometimes that’s not enough. We need to make sure we have judges on the bench who are well educated on the law and are able to deal with time management as well and treat all of the people in the courthouse respectfully to make sure that their case is being heard.”

Winters said injustice is where the law isn’t applied appropriately.

“Maybe (the judge) rules in a way that might just demonstrate their bent of mind rather than being fair and even handed,” Winters said. “(There are) a lot of ways injustice can occur.”

That’s one of the reasons she and the other candidates don’t answer questions about political issues, she added.

“Injustice is when those who have power get what they want simply because they have power and not because of the merit of the situation,” Hisey said. “Access, fairness, impartiality – those are the types of things that will help alleviate injustice that is built into our society and justice system.”

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Who are the top three funders of your campaign?

“That’s easy, myself,” Plagmann said.

“Me, myself and I,” Winters said.

“I actually have two: myself and my aunt Jan sent me a check which allowed me to get a couple of signs but I’m still under the $750 limit which is why I don’t have a campaign fund (listed) on the Secretary of State website,” Hisey said.

“The top funders in my campaign are first, myself, I put my own money in,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “The next would be the Friends of Roger Nyquist. The reason that came about, I had applied for the position that was open in Judge Bispham’s retirement. I applied and I made it all the way to the top with the interview with the governor.”

Kittson-MaQatish said she works with all the county commissioners in her volunteerism.

She said Nyquist told her he knew she was going to get the position.

When she was not selected, Nyquist told her he wanted her to run, Kittson-MaQatish said.

“So I said OK, I will do that,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “I was downhearted. I was feeling a little sorry for myself. I thought I was going to be a judge.

“The rest are people in the community who have come and given me $50 here, $100 there. They’ll stop by my office and they’ll give.”

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