Originally published in Castine Patriot, October 18, 2018 and Island Ad-Vantages, October 18, 2018 and The Weekly Packet, October 18, 2018
Election 2018: District Attorney
by Rich Hewitt
Includes Hancock and Washington counties.
Matt Foster, Republican, incumbent
Like the rest of the state, Hancock and Washington counties are plagued by the opiate crisis and drug abuse in general. That’s why Matt Foster says he will continue to vigorously prosecute drug traffickers if he’s elected to another term as District Attorney for those two counties.
Foster is the Republican incumbent and is seeking his second term in the post. Although the state Attorney General’s office recently removed a shared drug prosecutor from Hancock County, leaving him to handle cases in both Washington and Hancock counties, Foster says he plans to continue his office’s focus on prosecuting drug crimes
State funding has been allocated to hire two new assistant district attorneys and Foster says one of those assistants will be a dedicated drug crimes prosecutor.
“We’re committed to prosecuting drug crimes to the fullest,” he says. “And we will continue to work on domestic violence and sexual abuse crimes. We take those cases very seriously.”
Foster says one of the things that surprised him during his first term was the amount of politics involved in dealing with the Attorney General’s office.
“That’s not something I was aware of,” he says.
He learned the hard way. The county had received a grant to hire a dedicated OUI prosecutor. While the governor and the attorney general argued, the financial note was never signed and the county lost the grant funds.
“We were not able to hire that person,” he says. “It was over $100,000 in grant money that should have come to the county.”
One of Foster’s priorities for his next term will be to develop training programs with law enforcement agencies in an effort to better coordinate the prosecutions of cases.
“I’d like to develop training programs so we could get law enforcement up to speed with how we’d like to have cases investigated and presented to our office,” he says.
One of the challenges Foster will face if reelected will be the upgrade of the management software in the DA’s office. The state is updating its computer software and moving to an electronic filing system, he explains, and the local district attorney offices around the state will have to adapt their systems so they are compatible with the state’s system.
“We’ll have to upgrade the DA software in order to comply with the requirements of the court system, so there can be seamless interaction with them, so we can exchange information and transactions fully with the court,” he says.
Foster acknowledges that he got a slow start in his first term as district attorney, but says they’ve accomplished quite a lot since then including eliminating a backlog of old cases.
“We got caught up with a lot of cases and work that was left over from the last administration,” he says.
It took about a year to clear those 100 cases, and Foster says they have now streamlined the process to move cases through the system more quickly and efficiently.
“I’ve spent a lot of time getting familiar with all the facets of this job and we’ve put together a team of people who are getting the work done in an effective and just way,” he says. “I’d hate to see the county have to press the restart button and start all over again.”
Steven Juskewitch, independent
Steven Juskewitch makes no bones about why he’s running for the post of district attorney.
Stated simply, he says, “I can do a better job.”
Juskewitch is the Independent candidate seeking the district attorney post for Washington and Hancock counties.
He says there is currently a lack of prosecutorial experience in the DA’s office that has resulted in poor decisions about which cases to prosecute and how they are prosecuted, a low conviction rate and questionable plea bargain deals presented to the court. Without that experience, he says, “the office isn’t doing the kind of work I think it ought to be doing.”
Juskewitch says he has the necessary experience to step into the DA position, noting that he prosecuted major felony cases in Cumberland County and served as a deputy district attorney in District 7. In addition, he has worked as a defense attorney in private practice, giving him a broad view of the issues involved in prosecution and an understanding of the responsibilities facing a district attorney.
“I have the right experience,’’ he says. “This isn’t about politics. It’s about justice done in a timely and professional manner.’’
Juskewitch says he’s concerned about the opioid crisis in Maine, which in 2017 was responsible for 418 drug overdose deaths statewide. He says he would focus the DA’s office efforts on prosecuting drug crimes. He said he would like to see the state fund a position dedicated to prosecuting drug crimes.
“Even if they don’t do it, I will take one of the six prosecutor positions [in the district] and make that position solely responsible for prosecuting drug crimes,” he says, adding that he would provide that assistant DA with specific training to build successful prosecutions.
In a related issue, Juskewitch says he would work to strengthen the DA’s position when negotiating plea bargains and stresses that any plea deals should be done in a way that deters repeat offenses and does not minimize the gravity of the crime or its impact on the victim.
He cites a slogan he uses in his printed campaign materials: “We should plea negotiate from experience and strength, not plea bargain from weakness.”
Asked about his priorities if elected, Juskewitch refers to printed material that lays out five specific steps to reduce crime in the two counties, including:
Coordinate police investigations and training programs with prosecution programs;
Fully integrate drug courts with all resources available to families;
Focus on early intervention with family support and counseling services;
Use drug rehabilitation programs which recognize and treat mental, emotional, and addiction issues, and
Deter crime with timely consequences and firm sentences which recognize the injuries caused to crime victims.