IT’S THE MOST CONSEQUENTIAL office in the county. One person, the district attorney, for four years at a time, determines who will face trial for alleged crimes committed here. That person has the responsibility to convince a jury and judge that the people he has charged are indeed guilty.
Or not. Data confronts us with the facts that much of our criminal justice system nationwide is outdated and ineffective. We pressure police, prosecutors and courts to handle those who are sick or damaged alongside the people who need to be locked up for our safety if not theirs.
This year Columbia County voters choose a DA. The incumbent, Paul Czajka, is running for reelection and is challenged by Eugene Keeler, the county DA for a term in 1980s. On experience alone, Mr. Czajka, who also served as a county judge, would be the obvious choice. But experience is not the single factor that should determine your vote.
The state legislature and the governor have embarked on a major experiment in criminal justice reform in this state, adopting legislation that includes broadly restricting the use of bail. It also requires prosecutors to quickly disclose evidence that includes the identities of crime victims.
Bail often takes the greatest toll on those with the fewest resources. It is supposed to be a way of assuring that defendants would show up in court, but it too often seemed more like a punishment.
Mr. Czajka has misgivings about parts of the new laws. He is also busy planning how to comply with them and still, for instance, shield victims of abuse from their alleged abusers in cases where the law might help alleged abusers locate those victims. He is also working on a transition to a digital record keeping system that will make it possible to share records with the defense within the window allowed by law, and to do that at a lower cost to taxpayers.
Mr. Keeler evokes worthwhile initiatives like collaborative justice and engaging the community to evaluate his performance. These approaches should be considered and some given a chance to become part of justice system. But overall these are social programs that are the dividends of a more humane justice system. Especially in an era of limited funding, the core task facing any district attorney is protecting the public from people who have committed crimes.
While Mr. Keeler proposes broadening the constituency of the DA’s office, Mr. Czajka has steadfastly kept his focus on serving a much smaller group: the victims of crime. They are why we have a district attorney. If we feel safer when guilty people are convicted of their crimes, that feeling comes in part from knowing crime victims will receive a measure of justice.
There is only one prosecutor seeking the job of Columbia County district attorney this year. He is Paul Czajka. He has served the county admirably for decades. He is poised to continue applying the law with an openness to new ideas and he remains unwavering in his determination to protect the people whose lives depend on the office he holds.
Please vote for Paul Czajka for district attorney.