Susan Wollscheid is a Republican running for the Washington Court House Municipal Court judge position in the May primary election.
Wollscheid has been working as an attorney since 2010. She is a public defense attorney for the state of Ohio and represents clients in both the Washington Court House Municipal Court and the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas.
Wollscheid recently sat down with the Record-Herald to discuss her reasons for running for the judge position against incumbent judge Victor Pontious, Jr.
“The prime factor in my decision to run for judge is that our county is in some desperate need of change,” said Wollscheid.
She said improving the way the court is managed and providing people who are in the court system more consistency in sentencing is a priority in creating change. She expressed concern about the county’s drug and opioid epidemic and said she would like to see more options for people who are going through the court system with drug-related offenses.
“A lot of people might be concerned, as a defense attorney, will I be too lenient as a judge? No,” said Wollscheid, “I’m a firm believer in tough love.”
“It’s my intention to be there during court hours and the reason that I want to make sure that I’m there during court hours is because there are times when the prosecutors and defense attorneys will come up with an agreement and rather than to make them wait to do another court hearing, that case will go ahead and be heard,” said Wollscheid.
She said as judge she will work on the court’s schedule issues, too, to ensure the court is communicating with other courts, notifying public defense attorneys when they are assigned to a case, and working with attorneys within their availability and time limits. Wollscheid is the only Ohio public defense attorney who is from Washington C.H. The other public defense attorneys who represent defendants in the Washington Court House Municipal Court are from out of town.
This poses a problem, said Wollscheid, because the municipal court is not notifying attorneys when they are assigned to a case. Sometimes the attorneys don’t find out that they’ve been assigned to a case until they come by to check their mailbox, and sometimes the first hearing date has already been assigned and passed, she said.
Consistency in sentencing
“My job right now is all about my client,” said Wollscheid, who works with clients in both courts who are facing criminal felony and misdemeanor charges. “I’m worried about them and their best interests and the best that I can do for them. But I have no problem switching gears and working as judge. That position requires to look at the facts of the case and apply the law to it and then make sure the proper recommended sentence is within the sentencing guidelines.”
Wollscheid said she believes there should be more consistency in the sentencings.
“Some people get a fine and court costs and only a few days [in jail] hanging over their head. When another person, who has the same offense, could be put on probation or ordered into treatment, gets a bigger fine and more days over their head, it’s not necessarily based on the appropriate factors to be considered,” said Wollscheid.
Wollscheid said that typically if it’s a first-time offender, they get less time suspended, smaller fines, no probation. But if it’s a repeat offender, said Wollschied, then it would require the higher number of days in jail, and not necessarily mean that those days should be suspended, either.
“Some offenders have 180 days or more [in jail] hanging over their heads without having served any time. You can’t keep just giving them a pass and adding more days suspended. If you’re going to have them keep coming in, they’re going to need to serve some of those days,” said Wollscheid.
Additionally, Wollscheid said people need to have their probation violation hearings sooner and in a more timely manner than what is currently happening in order to make sure that people are actually violating the terms of their probation.
“Otherwise you’re punishing them before you’ve proved they’ve done anything wrong,” said Wollscheid.
She said she has had clients who have sat in jail for days before going before the judge to prove that they’ve violated the terms of their probation.
Wollscheid said she would like to see the options for drug treatment expanded in the city to prepare people to go out and a lead a law abiding life.
“That’s what probation is supposed to be doing. I understand there are very limited options at this time, especially locally, so we need to investigate what we can do outside of Fayette County. Our probation department needs to network with these other facilities and treatment centers to give more options in rehabilitating these offenders,” said Wollscheid.
For example, Wollscheid said that people will have a theft offense and will be sentenced with a couple of days in jail, probation, and be ordered to pay a fine and court costs.
“They’re still in need, they’re still addicted. They’re going to go back to where they were before they were sentenced,” said Wollscheid.
Employment is tied into the drug problem, said Wollscheid.
“Maybe probation should have some sort of re-entry into the workforce requirement. Some element to it helping these people to get employment,” said Wollscheid. “If they never get employment, they’re never paying a penny of the costs or the fines. I think if we work with these people to get a job, they’ll be more inclined to come in and make payments.”
She said it would require making a more comprehensive plan but she said she thinks the change is possible.
Wollscheid, who volunteered working for attorney David Bender before going to law school, said the opportunities for people to volunteer in the community can be expanded, as well. She would like to get connected with all of the charitable organizations in the area and see what services could be provided by people who are required to work community service hours as a part of their sentencing.
“Within the limits of the law, of course, because we would have to make sure there’s nothing in the law that would prevent them from doing that kind of charitable service,” said Wollscheid. “If it’s a church-based thing, would we be able to sentence them to do that? We have to confirm that that is something that we can do. I would like to know what the community needs are. It’s a community service and they’re supposed to be working to pay their debt to society. What does society need?”
Wollscheid intends to contact organizations in the county and see what services they need and whether those services can be incorporated into the court sentencing for community service. Currently, she said too many people are having their court-ordered community service hours waived.
The May primary election is May 2. Wollscheid is hosting an open house meet and greet at her law office in downtown Washington Court House next Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. She would like to meet and talk with anyone who might be interested in talking to her more about her election platform.
“I would definitely like to see the community come out and vote May 2. I think I can help provide the change the community is desperately in need of,” said Wollscheid.