Victor Pontious, Jr., is a Republican judge at the Washington Court House Municipal Court running for re-election to a seventh term in the May primary election.
Pontious has been working as a judge in Fayette County for 23 years, serving judicial terms in the municipal court and in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas.
The Record-Herald interviewed Pontious recently about his re-election campaign. He discussed his work as judge to help place defendants with drug-related crimes into treatment and how he currently works to keep the courtroom fair and balanced according to the law.
Republican Susan Wollscheid is running against in the May primary.
“There are some things out there that I think we need to get corrected,” said Pontious. “I would say misstatements. I’ll let you decide whether you think they are misstatements or not.”
Pontious believes strongly that one of those things is the issue of court efficiency.
“One of the things my opponent has said is that the court is not efficient. I think what that means is that I’ve heard that [Wollscheid] has told others that there’s a backlog at the court and cases are not getting resolved. That is not the case at all,” said Pontious. “I want to tell you that in 2016 there were 5,188 cases filed in municipal court at Washington Court House: 1,152 of those were criminal, 3,310 were traffic, 726 were civil. Now the court, and all courts in Ohio, are required to file monthly reports on the status of those cases and those reports indicate how long the case has been pending. We went through those, and in December of last year, there were only two cases that were pending beyond the time guideline.”
Pontious said he looked up the two cases that were reported to be pending beyond their timeline. One was a case filed by the city against a person and the city did not have a good address for the person so the city could not notify him of the complaint. The second case was a felony case where the defendant had mental issues and that case was never brought to the court by the prosecution to work on because the man was seeking medical treatment.
“The whole thing is, you want to be fair in handling the case, and that’s really an important part of what judges are supposed to do, in my view,” said Pontious.
In the issue of public defense attorneys being assigned to a case and not being informed about the case, Pontious said the court is required to notify the attorneys.
“On the procedure for appointing an attorney, when a person applies for an attorney, by a sort of rotation we appoint the attorney, and send the paperwork to the attorney. The attorney is then supposed to contact the client, the defendant. They don’t have to wait until the court date. As soon as they find out they can call them and try to arrange to meet them. If [the public defense attorney] doesn’t have that data, all they have to do is come to the clerk’s office and find the address and phone number of the person, because it’s all in the file. So no, I don’t think that happens,” said Pontious.
Pontious said the paperwork is sent out to the public defense attorney and the scheduling of the hearings is based on the schedule of the attorneys.
The client may elect to retain their right to a speedy trial or they may waive that right, which means they can have more time to prepare. If the defense attorney needs more time to prepare, Pontious said he works with the attorney to postpone hearings and delay trials in order to give the attorneys and clients more time.
“The right to counsel is really important. You don’t want to interfere with the attorney’s ability to defend their client so I let the attorneys be the attorneys,” said Pontious.
“Not enough treatment options, I’ve heard that, and that’s a part of the issue [raised by Wollscheid]. Again, I think there’s some misrepresentation about what’s going on and I wanted to try to explain to you what we’re doing here,” said Pontious.
First, said Pontious, drug abuse is the thing everybody is looking at right now because it is an issue.
“It’s an issue throughout our culture, throughout our state, throughout our county certainly. But I wanted you to sort of get a picture of the person. It’s like an iceberg. Above the water is the substance abuse, the drug addiction. Below the water is all of the other stuff that contributes to that, all of the other factors in that person’s life. The drug abuse is a part of it, and it’s kind of a culmination of it, but you have to deal with all of these other things, too, and we are trying to do that with pretty advanced therapy. We’re using Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS). It’s based on some research from the University of Cincinnati and it’s evidence-based, which means there’s evidence that if you do this program, it will have an effect on a person’s behavior,” said Pontious.
The assessment and therapy is known as cognitive behavioral therapy, said Pontious, and he said they have been working for a number of years on implementing this program.
“It’s great, I’m telling you,” he said. “In 2015, a lady from the Ohio Department of Corrections came and did an audit of our probation…she said, ‘I would like to share some of the other things you do with some of the other courts I’m working with.’ I said, well, sure. Then she said, ‘I’m going to tell my supervisor and see if we can’t get you some more money.’ And we thought, well, right, you’ll get us more money. And you know? In a few days, the guy called from the department of correction and he said, ‘How much money do you need?’ I said, well, we can use another probation officer.”
Pontious said the court received $67,000 and used the funds to hire another probation officer and purchased materials for the assessment and therapy. Part of the assessment and therapy is creative journaling. Pontious provided an example of a journal that a person would receive in the program. It offered space for people to write out their thoughts and answer questions about their personal lives.
“I think the journaling will make a difference in their lives and I think the programs we are doing will make a difference in their lives,” said Pontious.