Meet the Candidates: Clearfield County District Attorney

(GantDaily Graphic)

Welcome to GantDaily’s Meet the Candidates, district attorney edition.

We asked the two candidates the following questions:

-What areas, crime-wise, do you feel need more attention in Clearfield County?

-Why are you seeking the position of district attorney?

-What role will technology play in your administration/term?

-What’s something about the position you’re running for the public might not know?

-What are your thoughts on the state not paying its share of its mandated DA salary?

Candidates are listed alphabetically.

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Kim C. Kesner, Esq. (Provided Photo)

Kim C. Kesner, Esquire

Hometown: Lawrence Township (Haney Development)

Republican candidate

Incumbent: No

Kim served as full-time assistant district attorney under Thomas Morgan.  While assistant DA, he also prosecuted cases in Blair County by appointment of the Blair County DA.  Later, he was promoted to deputy district attorney by Morgan.

A Clearfield County Solicitor since 1988, Kim is solicitor to numerous Clearfield County communities.

A Pennsylvania attorney since August 1978, Kim is admitted to practice in all Pennsylvania Courts, State and Federal, as well as the US Supreme Court.

Kim graduated from Clarion University with a bachelor degree in political science and received his Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law.

1) What areas, crime-wise, do you feel need more attention in Clearfield County?

Our local and state police, and not the district attorney determine where their resources need to be applied to effectively deal with crime in our communities.  The DA prosecutes cases after they are filed and provides investigative support.  Not being in office, it would be presumptuous for me to say where police efforts should be better directed in an era of tight budgets.  My objective will be to make the DA’s office a potent force with law enforcement with a commitment to impartial prosecution.

A primary goal for the district attorney must be the safety and betterment of the residents of all communities throughout Clearfield County.  Each of the boroughs and townships in Clearfield County face many of the same criminal justice issues.  However, each has specific and unique requirements that must be addressed.  Both as a prosecutor and as a municipal solicitor, I have become well acquainted with the separate and distinct needs of the communities in our county, from Burnside to Frenchville and from DuBois to Houtzdale. 

One aspect that I believe needs greater emphasis by the DA is community outreach.  As district attorney, I will be active and visible in our communities to promote crime prevention.  We have learned that we can’t build jails fast enough if our sole emphasis is punishment.  I will work with schools, communities, churches and the youth mentoring programs by our sportsmen’s groups, as well as law enforcement in an attempt to reach and encourage our youth – no matter their environment or circumstance – to avoid the choices that lead to criminal activity. 

2) Why are you seeking the position of district attorney?

There is a growing consensus among the citizens of Clearfield County that after eight years new leadership is needed in the district attorney’s office.  Those who know me know that my career and life have revolved around public service – first as an assistant and then deputy district attorney, as county solicitor, and as legal counsel to many of Clearfield County’s boroughs and townships.  I believe that this is a call that I should heed.

In my time in the district attorney’s office, I developed a reputation as an effective prosecutor obtaining convictions on all of the cases that I took to trial in my three years.  However, my range of experience since makes me uniquely qualified to lead a staff of sometimes young prosecuting attorneys to provide justice for all.  

Also, I want to make Clearfield County not just tough on crime, but a community where justice, not politics, guide the prosecution of cases.  The key to this is integrity.  As Sen. Alan Simpson once said:  “If a man has integrity, nothing else matters.  If a man lacks integrity, nothing else matters.”

3) What role will technology play in your administration/term?

Many of the forms and procedures presently used by the district attorney’s office were developed during the time I served as full time assistant and then deputy district attorney in charge of administration of the office.  What has advanced significantly is the technology available for data management and communication.  From my years as county solicitor, I know that the County Commissioners have put Clearfield County ahead of other counties in our region technologically.  However, it is my understanding that the current district attorney maintains his computer systems separate from the County.  While there may be some security reasons for this, when I am elected, I will immediately review the need and appropriateness of this. 

4) What’s something about the position you’re running for the public might not know?

The Clearfield County District Attorney is full-time and is compensated at one thousand ($1,000) dollars less than the compensation paid to our two judges of the Court of Common Pleas.  Clearfield County’s District Attorney was part-time until amendments were made to the County Code in 2005 (Act 57 of 2005).  Those amendments did not mandate a full-time DA.  They gave to the sitting district attorney the election to make the position full-time upon providing written notice to the county commissioners.  If the sitting district attorney or a subsequent district attorney did not make this election, the position would have remained part-time.  However, the amendments provide that once the office of District Attorney becomes full-time “it shall not thereafter be changed”.  Mr. Shaw converted his position from part-time to full-time beginning in 2006. 

5) What are your thoughts on the state not paying its share of its mandated DA salary?

The legislature’s failure in this regard is a sin and a shame.  As a lawyer, it is impossible for me to explain to taxpayers how the Pennsylvania Legislature can violate the law they established.  The 2005 amendments provided: 

“(T)he Commonwealth shall annually reimburse each County with a full-time district attorney an amount equal to 65percent of the district attorney’s salary.” 

16 P.S. Section 1401(3)(p).

After a number of years of not providing any of the required funding, the Legislature created a dedicated court fee paid by defendants for the purposes of funding its obligation.  Clearfield County has been reimbursed from this fund only through 2008 with a partial payment for 2009.  It has not received any funding for 2010 or 2011.

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William A. Shaw Jr. (GantDaily File Photo)

William A. Shaw Jr.

Hometown: Clearfield

Democrat candidate

Incumbent: Yes

Shaw became District Attorney on Jan. 3, 2004. Before that, Shaw served as an Assistant District Attorney and as the First Assistant District Attorney. During his fifteen years as a prosecutor, Shaw has successfully prosecuted a wide variety of criminal cases including, murder, rape, robbery, burglary, assault, as well as a variety of drug related cases. Shaw is a lifelong resident of Clearfield County and the son of Prothonotary William Shaw and Jeannie Shaw.
Shaw and his wife Jennifer live in Pine Township. Shaw is an avid outdoorsman and member of various civic and sporting organizations. Shaw graduated from Clearfield High School and is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard. Shaw graduated from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and obtained his law degree from the Roger Williams University School of Law.
 
1) What areas, crime-wise, do you feel need more attention in Clearfield County?

Illegal drug use is a major problem across our nation and it is no secret that drug dealers operate in our county. We have citizens living in their homes who are fearful of neighborhood drug houses. We have young people dying from illegal drug usage on a regular basis. We have crime being committed as the direct result of drug addiction. These situations are completely unacceptable to me and fighting drug dealers remains a top priority.

Unfortunately, budget shortages have limited the number of police officers available to investigate these crimes and it is becoming more challenging to identify and prosecute drug dealers. Speaking frankly, we have far more drug dealers than we have police officers. Under these circumstances, it has been necessary to develop new cost effective strategies to assist law enforcement in combating this issue.

I have created the District Attorney’s Web site, www.ClearfieldDA.org, that enables community members to provide anonymous tips to law enforcement. In these difficult financial times, it is essential that community members work with law enforcement to protect our neighborhoods. Citizens can now get involved without the fear of retaliation from unsavory criminals. Anonymous tips from community members have resulted in a significant number of arrests. These are real results that show when the community and law enforcement work together, we can keep our community a safe place to raise a family.

2) Why are you seeking the position of district attorney?

For the past 15 years I have worked as a prosecutor in Clearfield County and it has been a privilege to serve as the District Attorney for the past eight years. I am seeking the position of district attorney because I believe in Clearfield County and I believe in our community. Clearfield County remains a safe place to live and raise a family. We have good children and fine schools. Our community is made up of hard working and honest citizens.

I have the experience and qualifications to serve as your district attorney. I believe in being a fair and honest prosecutor. I make decisions based upon the law and the facts of each case. Favoritism or considerations of social, political, or economic status have no place when a district attorney determines how a case should be resolved and I treat every case fairly and objectively. I am an honest and impartial prosecutor. My duty is to seek justice in every case and the citizens of Clearfield County deserve nothing less.

3) What role will technology play in your administration/term?

Technology has always played a vital role in my office. Most recently, I have created the “Fugitive of the Week” program to enable community members to use the internet as a tool for providing anonymous tips to report the location of wanted criminals. In the past, community members were reluctant to get involved because they feared retaliation. Citizens are now able to assist law enforcement by providing information through the use of internet technology. I recognized the need to promote community involvement in order to assist law enforcement and I developed a system that enables community members to help locate fugitives, as well as report criminal activity. The “Fugitive of the Week” program has been extremely successful thanks to the cooperation of citizens who provide anonymous tips.

When I first took office in 2003, my goal was to use technology to reduce the cost of prosecuting crime and provide better services to our community. In my eight years serving as your district attorney, I have worked hard to achieve this goal.

For example, in every criminal case, the district attorney must provide all information that may be used against a defendant during trial. This procedure, called “discovery”, is required by law.

In 2004, the District Attorney’s Office was required to print more than 200,000 pages of discovery that was provided to defense attorneys. This was an extremely costly legal requirement that used your tax dollars. Using modern technology, I developed a system to eliminate this inefficient procedure.

Discovery material is now scanned and an electronic file is placed on a secure portion of the district attorney’s Web site. Defense attorneys are assigned user names and passwords to access their discovery material and the cost of copying and mailing discovery material has been eliminated. Over the past eight years, this procedure has saved the taxpayers of Clearfield County over $30,000.00.

Because of my hard work, Clearfield County became the first county in Pennsylvania to use electronic discovery. This procedure is now being used in many District Attorney’s Offices throughout Pennsylvania.

Additionally, upon taking office, I saw to it that Clearfield County gained access to the Commonwealth Justice Network (JNET). JNET is a nationwide law enforcement computer network that provides instant access to important criminal history information used to investigate and prosecute crimes. Every municipal police department in Clearfield County now has access to this extremely valuable law enforcement tool.

I also brought JNET to the Clearfield County Courthouse. Prosecutors, probation officers, judges, sheriffs, domestic relations officers, and CYS caseworkers now have access to JNET and can quickly access vital information that would have otherwise taken days to obtain. I also made certain that the Clearfield County Jail had access to JNET. Officials at the County Jail can now verify criminal records in seconds, instead of the hours and days that it took before.

I am also responsible for bringing PASAVIN to Clearfield County. This technology is used to inform victims of crime when an offender has been released from the county jail. This is especially important in cases involving sexual assault or domestic violence. In the past, a crime victim may not have been aware when their assailant was released from jail. Now, crime victims are able to enroll in PASAVIN and receive advance notification of an inmate’s release. With advance notice, victims are able to take proactive measures to guarantee their personal safety.

These are a few examples of how I have used technology to improve the criminal justice system in Clearfield County. Technology is important to me and finding new ways to utilize technology in an effort to improve services, reduce costs, and more effectively prosecute crime will always be an important part of my office.

4) What’s something about the position you’re running for the public might not know?

The question I am most often asked is, “why did one person get one sentence and another person get a different sentence for the same crime”. This is a fair question and community members deserve to understand how our system of sentencing works.

As a general statement, the public is not aware of sentencing guidelines. In Pennsylvania, for every crime there is a corresponding sentencing guideline. Sentencing guidelines are created by legislation and establish a permissible sentence. The two main components in calculating a sentencing guideline range include the prior record of the offender and the offense gravity score for the crime charged. Because of sentencing guidelines, a prosecutor or sentencing judge, is not able to impose an arbitrary sentence. Every case is treated the same based upon sentencing guidelines.

For example, a person charged with simple assault who has no prior criminal record may receive a sentence of probation. A different person charged with simple assault who has a prior criminal record may be required to serve a period of incarceration.

Sentencing guidelines are a guide for prosecutors to use when negotiating plea agreements. What is important to recognize is that a sentence imposed is the result of a sentencing guideline, as opposed to an arbitrary decision of a prosecutor or sentencing judge.

5) What are your thoughts on the state not paying its share of its mandated DA salary?

The state should pay its share of the mandated district attorney salary, and I believe the state is working to satisfy this legal obligation. To fully understand this issue, some background information is helpful.

In July 2005, the state passed full-time district attorney legislation (FTDA) requiring all district attorneys to be full time. Prior to that, 40 out of Pennsylvania’s 67 district attorneys were still part-time, despite the increasing statutory responsibilities of the office. Over the past 10 years, the duties of a district attorney have evolved to include new roles that deserved a new approach.

Part-time prosecutors were no longer just prosecutors. All prosecutors are now law enforcement legal advisors, victim’s rights advocates, and administrators. In today’s day and age, prosecutors can no longer just pick up a file and prosecute a case. Yet, prior to July 2005, Pennsylvania was the only state east of the Mississippi that relied on part-time elected district attorneys.

Now, every district attorney in Pennsylvania receives the same salary which is set by statute. The new law further required the state to reimburse each county for 65 percent of the full-time district attorney’s salary.

To fund this legal obligation, the state passed the Criminal Justice Enhancement Act (CJEA) which collects fees from criminal cases filed in Pennsylvania. When the FTDA statute was originally enacted, the CJEA had no available funds. It has taken several years for the CJEA to generate income. Currently, the CJEA is collecting approximately $500,000.00 a month. The state is now able to reimburse counties as the law requires. The counties are paid-in-full through 2008 and every county has received a partial payment for 2009. It is anticipated that the CJEA fund will have enough revenue in the near future to reimburse every county in full as required by law.

While it has taken time for the CJEA to generate required funding, the end result will be that every county will have a full-time district attorney that is paid for primarily from fees imposed upon criminals. Each county will ultimately recognize a substantial savings from this legislation.

Ultimately, I believe the state is paying the required reimbursements to each county. However, it is taking time to do so.

Meet the Candidates: Clearfield County Commissioner
Meet the Candidates: MDJ 46-3-03

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