GREENFIELD — For years, the judge in Hancock Circuit Court has led the creation of local problem-solving courts — specialty judicial dockets that emphasize rehabilitation over punishment.
Three men vying for the Republican nomination for Hancock Circuit Court judge say that, if elected, they’ll help grow these courts already offered locally and work with their colleagues in the county’s judicial system to create others.
Local attorneys D.J. Davis and Scott Wooldridge are challenging incumbent Scott Sirk in the primary May 8. Sirk was appointed to the circuit court bench by Gov. Eric Holcomb late last year to replace the newly retired Judge Richard Culver, who had been on the bench in Hancock Circuit Court for nearly 30 years.
No Democrats have filed to run in the primary.
In his nearly three decades working in circuit court, Culver fostered the creation of the two problem-solving courts — the drug court and the local heroin protocol. Each program is overseen by circuit court.
Culver started the county’s drug court in 2004 to help rehabilitate non-violent, repeat offenders who admitted to committing crimes because of alcohol or drug addiction. With help from local addiction specialist Amy Ikerd, in 2016 he fostered the creation of the heroin protocol, an intense probation program that helps people addicted to opioids seek treatment.
All three candidates believe problem-solving courts can have a positive impact on the local judicial system, but their views differ on how best to implement such programs.
Davis wants to see a veteran’s treatment court added to the Hancock Circuit Court docket. These specialty courts serve those veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, who’ve become wrapped up in the judicial system because of those mental health issues, he said.
Davis, whose political experience includes an eight-year stint on the Greenfield City Council, said his son’s service in the Marine Corps inspired him to push for a veteran’s court. If elected, he hopes to lead the charge in creating the program, which he hopes local veterans will support and offer to volunteer with, giving those soldiers-turned-offenders some much needed camaraderie and support.
Davis said he believes implementing a few strict but simple rules to make circuit court run more efficiently will free up some of the court staff’s time to introduce these specialized cases onto the current docket.
Sirk also supports the creation of a veteran’s treatment court, as well as a formal mental health court; but he said he believes those programs can be integrated in the county’s current drug court protocols.
Prior to being appointed to the bench in circuit court, Sirk worked as the county’s court commissioner — a job that gave him the same duties and responsibilities of a sitting judge — and Hancock County chief deputy prosecutor. He worked heavily with the county’s drug court in both capacities and now oversees the program from the circuit court bench.
Those who suffered from substance abuse and addictions often have the same mental and emotional issues that are addressed in veterans and mental health courts, Sirk said; and veterans suffering from PTSD would benefit from the same supervision and mentoring the drug court participants currently receive.
By expanding and tweaking the current program, veterans and others who suffer from mental health issues can be easily incorporated, Sirk said. He’s already seen several residents who suffer from these issues pass through the drug court program successfully despite not having the addictions the program typically looks to address.
Though he joins in his opponents’ touting problem-solving courts, Wooldridge said he doesn’t believe it’s a judge’s place to create the programs.
Instead, a judge should allow others to take the lead on creating specialty court programs but promise to uphold whatever protocols the group outlines, Wooldridge said.
If elected, he’ll continue the problem-solving courts that are already in place in Hancock County and support whatever others the local judicial system decides to create.
Where they stand Q&A: