Candidates on the issues

Q&A: District Attorney Candidate Jonathan Liberman

Mon, 09/24/2018 - 8:45am

Jonathan Liberman, R- West Bath: I grew up in Bath and I currently live in West Bath with my wife and our two children.  My wife owns and operates a construction company in Edgecomb.  I began prosecuting cases while I was still at Maine Law, where I was a student prosecutor with the Cumberland County DA's Office.  I successfully tried my first case to a jury and successfully argued my first case to the Maine Supreme Court before I graduated law school. 

After law school I began working as an Assistant District Attorney (ADA) at the Knox County DA's Office.  After some time passed I continued work as an ADA in Lincoln and Sagadahoc Counties.  In 2016, former District Attorney (DA) Geoffrey Rushlau appointed me as his Deputy District Attorney, which is a second-in-command post for Prosecutorial District 6 (Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo Counties).  In 2017, I was appointed by Governor LePage as the DA for District 6 when former DA Rushlau was nominated as a District Court judge.  In that time frame, I've tried all manner of cases to juries, including motor vehicle offenses, impaired driving, sexual assaults, domestic violence, burglary, and vehicular manslaughter.  

2) The Office of Attorney General says that you meet monthly in Augusta to discuss issues of mutual concern. What are those concerns this autumn in Maine, particularly in District 6.

There are a wide range of topics that we discuss at these meetings.  It can include whether or not the Maine Prosecutors Association (MPA) will take a position on legislation.  Typically, we stay out of legislative matters unless it involves proposed amendments to the criminal code, the rules of evidence or rules of court.  We also discuss any important areas that should be covered in the annual prosecutors training conference.  This year we will have training focused on securing electronic and computer evidence, and we'll also have training focused on drug offenses, domestic violence, etc.  

 

 Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for District Attorney, Maine Senate and Legislature, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the state. The candidates have responded with their individual written answers.

What police training and continuing legal education would you want local and county law enforcement to receive?

Local and county law enforcement receive thorough training on a wide range of topics, and I occasionally am asked by departments to assist in their training.  For example, I will be leading a 4th Amendment search and seizure training for the Bath Police Department in a few weeks.  I believe that our law enforcement officers in Midcoast Maine are doing an excellent job of keeping our community safe.  I believe that they are well trained in a wide range of areas, and I hesitate to just focus on one area that I think is important.  Police receive regular training on dealing with mentally ill subjects, drug interdiction, drafting and executing search warrants, report writing, interviewing suspects, evidence handling, investigation of impaired driving, etc.  The most important thing to remember about continuing legal education is the word "continuing," meaning that you are never finished with your training and there is always more to learn.  

 

What is your overarching prosecutorial philosophy?  

I think a prosecutor has to have a strong commitment to the rule of law and public safety, while also holding oneself to the highest ethical standards.  My DA's Offices are committed to being accessible to law enforcement and working as a team to keep our communities safe.  

 

What would the priorities of your office be if elected and what specific actions would you take first to implement them?

  1. Continued emphasis on thorough prosecution for the most serious offenses.  I believe that a DA should be hands-on, and I plan to continue to be directly involved in our most serious cases so that I can offer guidance and assistance to my prosecutors.  This direct involvement can include assisting with the review of search warrants and subpoenas, preparing for pretrial hearings, advising ADA's on their trial strategy and preparation or even litigating those hearings and representing the State's case at trial.  The core responsibility of any DA's Office is to effectively prosecute crime.  
  2. Drug Court.  I have been advocating for a drug court in Midcoast Maine since taking over as the DA for District 6.  I expect to participate in a working group with representatives from the judiciary, probation, law enforcement, mental health and drug treatment communities to develop the drug court application.  I'm optimistic that this application will be approved and that a drug court will be established in either Knox or Lincoln counties within 1 or 2 years, and that this court will serve drug addicted defendants throughout the Midcoast.  This court is not meant for violent offenders or sex offenders.  Drug court is meant for defendants who wouldn't be in the court system if not for their addiction.  
  3. Continued use of our new Child Advocacy Center (CAC).  CAC's offer a multidisciplinary approach to the investigation and treatment of child sexual abuse.  With my assistance as the DA, the first CAC was developed in Midcoast Maine within the last year.  CAC's are not only focused on effectively investigating abuse, they're also focused on promptly linking the child victim to services.  Not only do I want to ensure that these horrific crimes are effectively prosecuted, I also want to know that the child is getting the help he or she needs.  In my opinion, CAC's are a win-win and I'm so proud to have assisted in this regard.
  4. Privacy Protection for Victims and Witnesses.  I've instructed all of my prosecutors to minimize any publicity concerning victims of child sexual abuse.  My prosecutors no longer list a child's name on charging documents, such as complaints or indictments.  My prosecutors will file "motions to impound" any sensitive documents in child sexual abuse cases that have been filed in court.  My prosecutors move for protective discovery orders so that sensitive recordings or materials are not unnecessarily copied or provided to people who aren't involved in the case.  I've instructed my prosecutors to oppose any "fishing expeditions" where a defense attorney is seeking irrelevant confidential medical or mental health information about a victim or witness.  As District Attorney I care about the privacy rights of all citizens, and I do not believe the court process should be used to re-traumatize a victim of a crime.  

 

What is your leadership background and style?

I am a hands-on leader.  I wouldn't ask an employee to do something that I haven't done myself.  I have worked as a student prosecutor, an assistant district attorney, a deputy district attorney, and now a district attorney.  When I advise a prosecutor how to litigate a motion, or question a witness, or present a closing argument, that person knows that I'm basing this on my own experience from years as a trial prosecutor.  

 

What has prepared you to handle personnel issues across 4 offices and a large Prosecutorial District?

I know these 4 DA's Offices from the bottom all the way to the top.  I've worked in 3 out of these 4 counties as an assistant district attorney (ADA).  An ADA is a supervisor of all county office staff working in that particular DA's office.  I was appointed to a leadership role as a deputy district attorney, where part of my responsibilities were to assist the DA in personnel decisions.  As Deputy DA, I also had supervisory responsibilities of all of the ADA's working in District 6.  Now, as the DA, I continue to manage all DA personnel in Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo Counties.  It means I have to stay organized and do a lot of driving; however, I'm fortunate to have a very good crew working under me.  It helps that I've put in my time as a prosecutor and worked my way up.  People respect that because they know you have the right experience to lead the office.  I'm the only candidate in this race that has any experience as a prosecutor or any experience running a DA's Office.  

 

How specifically are you going to address the opiate epidemic in Maine?  Do you believe that incarceration and/or probation are the answer to drug offenders?

I don't think there is a single person working in the criminal justice system who believes incarceration is the answer to addiction.  Incarceration is a last resort when dealing with a drug addicted defendant.  We regularly put our drug related cases into jail diversion programs that emphasize treatment in the community rather than sitting in jail.  We regularly put drug addicted defendants on deferred dispositions so that they can avoid jail time if they satisfy drug treatment conditions. 

We work closely with probation officers and do our best to prioritize treatment over jail.  However, sometimes the safety of the public would be jeopardized by letting someone out of jail.  In my opinion, if someone's addiction has gotten so out of control that he is breaking into homes, that person should not be out on the street.  That person should sit behind bars and should only be released after serving his sentence and after he is placed on probation with strict supervisory conditions and treatment conditions so that someone else isn't victimized.  As mentioned earlier, I'm advocating for a drug court in Midcoast Maine so that severely addicted non-violent offenders can be closely supervised and succeed in their recovery. 

 

You are running as a candidate for a major political party.  Do you believe that politics should play a role in prosecutorial decision-making or policy positions?

Politics should play absolutely no role in prosecutorial decision-making.  I don't even know which party most of my prosecutors belong to, and I don't care.  A good prosecutor is someone who is experienced, who believes in public safety and the rule of law, and holds oneself to the highest ethical standards.  

 

How many cases are you personally going to try in a year?

I don't have an exact number.  Most cases are personally handled by the ADA's; however, I do think it's important that the DA is involved in the most serious cases.  For example, when a trucker was driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and killed two people in Washington (Knox County), I tried this case with my Deputy DA, Jeff Baroody. 

I'm proud to report that we were successful at trial and this defendant received the longest vehicular manslaughter sentence in Maine's history.  I believe we were successful because both Jeff and I have extensive trial experience with serious cases.  I am the only candidate in this race who has tried multiple serious cases to a jury.  I plan on continuing to be directly involved in the most serious cases in my district.  Even if I'm not the lead prosecutor trying the case in court, I will be involved behind the scenes in an advisory role.  Perhaps the most important job for a DA is to effectively advise the ADA's and lead them toward successful prosecution of serious offenses.