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Prosecutor hopefuls debate experience, priorities

October 13, 2018

La PORTE – The race for La Porte County prosecutor is among the most closely watched this election season, possibly because the two candidates seem to disagree on almost everything.

Both got a chance to tell voters why they were the best choice at the La Porte Political Action Committee’s Candidates Forum on Thursday.

Democrat John Lake said it’s all about the qualifications.

“I’ve had a success rate of over 99 percent. The last trial I lost where I was first chair was in 1995. I’m here because I believe that prosecuting attorney should be the trial attorney for the county. They should be out there mentoring and leading the office, that’s what I intend to do.

“I intend to go back to the days where the prosecutor was the one in court trying the most serious cases.”

His opponent, Republican Christina Espar, said she can bring more to the office.

“I believe that I can bring to this office, and my opponent cannot, a bold, new and innovative approach. That would include an unprecedented collaboration with law enforcement, because without collaboration, without tapping into the resources of our community, we will not be able to move forward.”

Espar said she “will bring more resources and more talent to the juvenile court, because I believe children are our future and putting resources and efforts into the diversion of further criminals by stopping the juvenile delinquents in their tracks is how we can make a true difference in our future.”

She also said she would bring attention to domestic violence.

“It is a cycle that victimizes not only members of that relationship, but also children, communities and their families. I will bring to this office a specialized victim advocate who will focus on these types of cases and give them the necessary attention they need throughout the process. These are specialized victims, and they deserve specialized attention.”

After opening statements, the candidates took questions from the audience, including how many jury trials they’ve handled, and how that’s prepared them for the office.

The answers varied, as did the perspectives on the importance of handling jury trials over other trials.

“I’ve tried well over a hundred cases,” Lake said. “It’s a very important issue for a prosecutor to know how to try a case, because until you’ve tried a case you really don’t even know how to cross-examine. You’re worrying about procedure when you’re trying a jury case. You’re worrying about how to get evidence in and everything else. I have that kind of experience.”

Espar said all trials are important.

“I have personally not handled any jury trials, because jury trials do not exist in juvenile court and that is where I have worked for my entire career.” Espar said. “It’s a very simple answer as to why, and that is because we must protect the identities of our minors. Those cases are confidential from the public, so we don’t have jury trials.

“We do have trials, however, and I’ve tried a number of them ... from misdemeanors to serious felonies. I believe that trial practices are a necessary component of our system, and while I don’t have experience in the jury side of it, I do have experience in the procedure, in the law, in the burden and in the crimes themselves.”

The candidates also differed on the question of employment of deputy prosecutors – whether they should be full-time or part-time.

“I have not, actually, taken a hard-line approach,” Lake said. “I said I am going to have both full-time people and part-time people. I think it’s important because the turnover that we have had in the last three-and-a-half years has been over 100 percent.

“The police complain about it,” he said. “I’m going to bring back people who are experienced prosecutors to be on staff, who are local attorneys. They are not going to have divided loyalties.”

Espar thinks full-time is the way to go.

“I can’t stress enough that I fully believe that a full-time dedicated staff is necessary. I started my career as a part-time prosecutor with a civil practice, and I can tell you that whether or not you mean to do it, you do have divided loyalties.

“You are torn between a civil practice, with paying clients that have retained you, personally, and have paid you a lot of money; and a government role that gives you a set paycheck every week with benefits. Whether or not it’s intentional, it happens. Your priority doesn’t fall with the regular pay check and benefits. ... I don’t believe that the people of La Porte County need to question where the loyalty of their prosecutor is.”

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