Circuit court judge gets challenge

    Democrat incumbent Frederick Schurger and political newcomer Chad Kuklehan, a Republican, are the candidates for the Adams County Circuit Court judge seat on November 6.
    Schurger, a rural Decatur resident, was appointed as judge of the Adams County Circuit Court by former Gov. Frank O’Bannon on Aug. 2, 1999. He was elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2006.
    Kuklehan, who resides at 227 N. 13th St., has been a practicing attorney for the last 10 years. He is making his first bid for elected office.
    The candidates were submitted a list of questions to help voters better understand their positions and priorities. Their answers follow:
Q. List your top priorities if elected (re-elected).

    Schurger: I am running to continue to provide the best judicial service for the people of Adams County. I plan to continue operating the court in a business-like manner, with the patience expected of a judicial officer. Juvenile law has a priority, and childrens’ needs must be met promptly. I have taken the leading role in getting our Community Corrections program established, and an out-of-school suspension program in support of the educators of the county. If re-elected, these programs will continue.

    Kuklehan: My top priorities if elected are to maintain court staff and make sure that perception and reality reflect that I am the leader of the court.  In order to provide a smooth transition in leadership it is essential to maintain staff and overall continuity.  Over the last four years I have had the opportunity to work with the Adams Circuit Court staff, attorneys, probation department, jail personnel, and citizens before the court.  My personality and diligence will work to assure that all of these people are working together to make for the best environment for justice to be served. 

Q. Do you favor some type of statewide sentencing reforms and/or guidelines?  Please explain.

    Kuklehan:  I cannot say whether I am for or against sentencing reform in the state of Indiana because, as a judicial candidate, it is not for me to address the merits of the issue.  Plainly put, we do not yet know what form the changes in the law might be and it is difficult to form an opinion as to the potential law changes.  My job as Circuit Court judge would be to apply the law to the facts and render timely and fair decisions based on that information.  Making those decisions is precisely what I will do as the next Circuit Court judge.

    Schurger: As a judicial officer, my role is to pick a sentence within certain limits. Each felony has a range given by the legislature. The sentencing statute lists over 22 different factors to consider in picking a sentence within the range, focusing on (a) protecting the law-abiding citizens; and (b) the realization that each defendant is different, and that person’s conduct relative to the specific crime committed and the likelihood to re-offend.
    The IDOC credit time programs usually result in an actual sentence of roughly one-third of the time a judge may impose.
    Paying for crowded prisons is forcing statewide sentencing reforms.

Q.  What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the court in 2013 and beyond?

    Schurger: For the circuit court, with the General Assembly changed the age of emanicaption from 21 to 19 in 2012, and created a disparity between children born out of wedlock and children of marriages for educational support for college. The Supreme Court is changing the Parenting Time Guidelines. Those family law changes are coming for 2013 as affected people learn of them and seek hearings. The circuit court hears most of those cases, and as more people try to “wing-it” without attorneys to help them on emancipation/college support issues, those family law changes will be the biggest challenge, time-wise.
    The biggest agenda for the General Assembly is criminal law sentencing reform. I expect that to be the most notorious challenge. If it results in all Class D felons being dumped on the counties, there will be a county jail housing issue. The Adams County jail is already crowded. If that happens, there will be a lot of pressure on the courts, and especially Superior Court, which hears most of the D felony cases.

    Kuklehan: The biggest challenge facing Circuit Court and Adams County at this time is maintaining a budget that can be justified. Across our nation resources are scarce and yet services are still needed. Our county is very similar to the nation at large, we have fewer resources and yet we still need the services of the court. It will be my job and challenge to manage the Circuit Court’s budget under these circumstances, and more importantly, to utilize Adams County’s resources wisely and conservatively.