DA candidates square off

BAR HARBOR — The Democrat and Republican candidates for Hancock and Washington county District Attorney squared off in a debate at the YWCA of Mount Desert Island here Monday evening.

Moderated by former state senator Jill Goldthwait, the discussion touched on alternative sentencing methods, drug court and attitudes towards recreational marijuana use. Democrat Bill Entwisle is a current assistant district attorney with 11 years experience. Republican Matt Foster is a defense attorney based in Ellsworth.

In his opening remarks, Entwisle, who noted any complaints about how the DA’s office is being run now should be addressed to his boss, said he was running on a platform of “standing up for victims and fighting for public safety.”

“Prosecution is the best deterrent to domestic violence,” he said. “Of course there is always more that we can do.”

Foster drew a distinction between “pervasive, chronic domestic abuse,” which should have the highest priority, and less serious criminal cases that do not involve violence. “It is important not to have a loss of focus. We need to look at every single case as a different case.”

He supported efforts to help first-time offenders avoid incarceration. Avenues can include drug court and restorative justice efforts.

“It should be our first priority in every case. There needs to be hope for rehabilitation,” he said.

The key, Foster said, is that alternative sentencing doesn’t work if it still results in first-time violators having criminal conviction records, which can make it difficult for them to find work and can lead to substance abuse.

Entwisle said that he supports giving the current restorative justice program a larger role. The key, he said, is having victims participate to help offenders understand the damage they have done. “That system can work, but it has many challenges,” he said.

He stopped short of saying that all non-violent offenders should be directed away from jail. While someone caught shoplifting or writing a bad check might not benefit from being locked up, someone selling large quantities of drugs should be, he noted.

Even when a court orders restitution, it often is not made he said. “We [the state] never go away as a creditor,” he said. “Collecting it can be very difficult. You can’t get blood from a turnip,” he said.

In expressing his support for drug court, Foster called it “a win-win situation for the state.” He noted offenders must complete rigorous educational and work requirements as well as treatment for drug dependency. If they fail to do as told, they go to prison. “It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said.

One way to help reduce crime is to be proactive in efforts to keep young people off drugs, Foster said. He would devote time to outreach programs in schools and to educate parents. “It is so easy for kids involved in drugs to get tangled up in the criminal justice system.”

Entwisle said that substance abuse is often at the root of many violations of law. “It plays a huge role,” he said. He pledged to work with other law enforcement agencies and community groups to educate and inform.

Foster explained that he has been disappointed with the present DA’s casual attitude toward alternative programs. He noted the Hancock County Drug Court could handle 30 people, and only ten are enrolled. The numbers are even lower in Washington County. He also complained that the DA’s office was disorganized, and that lawyers and clients spent too much time waiting because assistant DAs were not familiar with each others’ cases.

Entwisle, who noted that the office prosecuted more than 3,000 cases last year, again reiterated that currently he was not in command, and that some changes would be made under his administration. Keeping a scorecard on trial results is misleading, he stressed. “Our strongest cases don’t even go to court,” he said.

Both candidates support laws designed to keep marijuana out of the hands of underage youth. Adult recreational use is far less a priority, they said.

Entwisle said that there is still the problem of establishing a standard of intoxication when it comes to determining if someone has too much TCH in their system to drive.

Citing other, more pressing criminal priorities involving victims, Foster said, “there is little incentive to stop recreational use by adults.”

In closing remarks, Entwisle said that he was proud of the work he and his colleagues have done in the DA’s office. “I have the fresh eyes, real experience, good judgment and ability to provide clear direction going forward,” he said.

Foster pledged to be an “active manager” of the department. He said in the last four years since longtime DA Michael Povich retired, “things have gotten worse.” He said he would keep up to date on all pending cases and would work to improve the efficiency of everyone in the department.

The debate was organized by the AAUW Hancock County, the League of Women Voters Downeast, the Mount Desert Islander and the YWCA MDI.

An additional candidate forum is scheduled to be held at the Ellsworth City Hall Auditorium on Monday, Oct. 20, for District Attorney, House Districts 132 (Beth Allen and Richard Malaby), House District 136 (Fred Ehrlenbach and Louis Luchini) and Senate District 7 (Ted Koffman and Brian Langley). Those events will begin at 6 p.m.

Despite efforts to schedule a debate for District 36, which includes Southwest Harbor and Tremont, Republican Frank Stanley, who is challenging Democrat Walter Kumegia, declined to be available.

Earl Brechlin

Earl Brechlin

Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander editor Earl Brechlin first discovered Mount Desert Island 35 years ago and never left. The author of seven guide and casual history books, he is a Registered Maine Guide and has served as president of the Maine and New England Press Associations. He and his wife live in Bar Harbor.
Earl Brechlin

Latest posts by Earl Brechlin (see all)