Candidates for judge share views at forum

Andrea Rose news@echo-pilot.com

The two people running for judge in the Court of Common Pleas for the 39th Judicial District, which serves Franklin and Fulton counties, were featured at a candidate panel held Thursday evening in Chambersburg.

Ian Brink and Mary Beth Shank took turns over two hours responding to questions asked by panel moderator Virginia Harriger.

Major civil and criminal cases are heard in the court, where judges are elected to 10-year terms.

The candidates, who are seeking to fill the seat of the retiring Judge Carol Van Horn, were asked questions provided in advance on topics such as incarceration, bail reform, court reform, substance abuse and mental health.

The candidates came with prepared thoughts on each question and took turns sharing their responses in the panel-style forum, which was not intended to be a debate of issues, but rather an information session.

Both Brink and Shank were careful that their responses were general enough that they not indicate how they would rule on any particular case as they are legally prohibited from doing so.

One of the key issues was the war on drugs.

"I think the war on drugs is focused on punishment and that's only half the story," Shank said. "We want to treat people so they can return to the community and be productive citizens, not end up back in jail."

Brink agreed, adding the sooner the intervention the better.

"The (drug) supply is going to continue to come in. We need to look at education and treatment ... affecting the demand side, making people not want drugs to begin with. You have to get to kids when they are young to make an impression on them."

Brink is chief deputy district attorney for Franklin County and previously served as public defender. He assisted with the creation of the county's Good Wolf Treatment Court and serves as the district attorney's liaison for the Get Back Up initiative.

"I understand through dealing with thousands of individuals at the jail and charged with crime, the needs they have and sometimes the irrational wants they have," Brink said. "Every day you go to court, it's a learning process. I promise everybody who comes into my courtroom that I will treat everybody fairly and decide the case based on the facts presented and the law."

Shank is a principal at Salzmann Hughes law firm and has served as county solicitor since 2010. She has also served as president of the Franklin County Bar Association and Chambersburg Borough councilwoman.

"My background is in civil and orphan's court. I haven't had a seat at the table for the creation and implementation of (some of those) programs," Shank said. "I think a judge is in the best position to make decisions based on the facts in front of them and I will be open-minded, fair and respectful and give thoughtful consideration within the confinements of what the law dictates."

The event was sponsored by Franklin Together Re-Entry Coalition.

"One of our goals is to educate the public about the criminal justice system," explained Kim Eaton of Franklin Together.

The organization also helps individuals transition from the corrections system back into the community by developing collaborative community and professional partnerships reduce recidivism and encourage them to become contributing members of the community.

Both candidates have cross-filed and their names will appear on the Republican and Democratic ballots for the primary election on Tuesday, May 21. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.