Putnam judge hopefuls cite need for decorum in courtroom
Both candidates for Putnam County circuit judge promise to rule over a courtroom with fairness and decorum.
Republican Joe Reeder and Democrat Robert Leslie met with members of the Daily Mail Editorial Board on Monday. They admitted that the topic of judicial temperament is one that might be on the minds of Putnam voters this year.
That's because Putnam Family Court Judge William Watkins is facing ethics charges from the state Supreme Court, which alleges that he has screamed at parties in domestic cases and exhibited rude behavior.
Reeder, 46, of Hurricane, said, "Based on my past experience, I believe I possess the knowledge and temperament to do the job. Humor is necessary and you must be able to tolerate the things that face you as a judge.
"Hopefully, after the election I'll be getting that bench experience, and I hope never to see myself on YouTube," he said.
Leslie was appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to temporarily replace Judge O.C. Spaulding, who stepped down after revealing that he had Lou Gehrig's disease. Leslie was sworn in in mid-June.
"Yes, things aggravate you on the bench," he acknowledged. "But if you lose your decorum, that's disgraceful."
He cited a case involving a defendant convicted of the abuse of his child. The man was requesting a review of his prison sentence and family members turned out to support him.
"That one made me angry," Leslie said. "I listened to the arguments, walked back to my chambers and came back and issued a ruling. I had to stop and think about what I wanted to say."
That kind of cool-off period can be a good tool, he said.
"The bench is here; the door is there," Leslie said. "You can step out if you need to."
Reeder said, "Outbursts from the bench, that's the kind of thing I'm never going to do. The courtroom is a serious and important place and everyone in there should act respectfully.
"Things can get heated," he said. "Tempers can flare."
Reeder said he relies on the patience and tolerance he's learned as a parent and volunteer with children and expects those experiences would serve him well as a judge.
Leslie and Reeder, for now, are hesitant to sling any mud on each other. They expressed respect for one another but wished each other a long, successful career as attorney instead of judge.
Reeder is a 1991 graduate of the West Virginia University College of Law and a 1987 graduate of the WVU College of Business and Economics. He has been in private practice in Kanawha and Putnam Counties for 21 years and is active in the Boy Scouts.
Leslie, also a Hurricane resident, earned a law degree from Ohio Northern University in 1993 and a history degree from Marshall University in 1988. He is active in his church youth program and the Lions Club.
"We get along," said Reeder. "And I don't expect this race to change that. There was an opportunity for the county to elect a new circuit judge, and I believe I'm the right candidate to fill that role."
Both candidates would expand the current juvenile drug court program in Putnam to include an adult component as an alternate sentencing option.
"Public safety is the most important factor," Leslie said. "But a judge has to look at other alternatives to prison. We need a secure facility for drug treatment, so they can't just walk out.
"I have to look at what effect a sentence has on the general public," Leslie said, addressing a concern about prison overcrowding. "The cost of incarceration is minor compared to the destruction a person can cause."
Reeder said, "Public safety is the primary concern, but other issues should be considered. If elected, I'll consider each sentence individually. But I feel in the last 10 years, I've handled triple or more the criminal matters as my opponent."