In the race for Walla Walla County District Court’s part-time judgeship, public defense attorney Nicholas Holce is running against private practice attorney Jared Hawkins. Incumbent Judge John O. Knowlton is not seeking another term.

District courts handle misdemeanors, traffic infractions, civil and small claims cases.

The court has two elected judges: one full-time, the other part-time. The part-time judge handles a smaller caseload and fills in when the other judge is not available.

Holce is a public defender and a former Walla Walla County deputy prosecutor. He told the U-B when he announced his run that he would continue his role as public defender in Superior Court cases if elected.

Hawkins owns Hawkins Law in Walla Walla. He also serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves, currently assigned to Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and provides legal services for the reserves.

What is your top priority if elected, and how would you ensure you can accomplish it?

I plan to pursue proactive treatment programs in the District Court system that will focus on reducing repeat offenses by tackling the underlying issues. I have spoken to city and county officials, law enforcement officers, and attorneys about creating programs, and there is buy-in across the board. I plan to pursue a study to determine what program or programs will best serve the community, whether that includes a veterans court, mental health court, drug court, DUI court, or some combination of those. These programs focus on intensive treatment that addresses the root cause of why individuals keep reoffending. As a public defense attorney, I am aware of the struggles associated with addiction, mental health, unemployment, and homelessness, and I know how those issues can directly play into individuals accumulating criminal charge after criminal charge.

As a deputy prosecutor, I helped create the Juvenile Therapeutic Court (JTC) in 2016, and I handled the JTC cases for several years. In creating that program, I worked with court staff and Judge (M. Scott) Wolfram to put the program together from the ground up. However, now there are programs like the Adult Recovery Court in Walla Walla Superior Court and the Veterans Court and Mental Health Court in the Tri-Cities as well, so I will not have to re-invent the wheel to get similar programs started in our district court.

I will pursue existing grants to help pay for the programs, so the community will not be responsible for the full cost.

What is the biggest problem you see with the justice system in Walla Walla, and how would you help fix it?

The district court has the ability to significantly improve access to justice by increasing the flow of information and services to victims of crime, witnesses, and criminal defendants alike.

People who go through our criminal justice system in district court are by and large Walla Walla residents. The victims and witnesses of the crimes are often family, friends, or neighbors who would prefer to see the defendant get help.

Treatment courts are just one avenue, but they provide an excellent illustration. A drug court, for example, would require defendants with addiction to agree to tackle that addiction head-on in a program that can take up to two years. During that time, the defendants may have to attend inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient, and various group or individual sessions. They have to appear in court regularly and show progress at each hearing. If there are issues, the court can immediately impose additional requirements. People who graduate from the program will have significant sober time under their belts, and they will have also received access to other services, including assistance with finding employment or housing. Behind the scenes, treatment providers, court staff, attorneys, and law enforcement meet regularly to discuss what is working, what needs improvement, and how to help everyone in the process move forward. In so doing, victims and witnesses are also kept up to date and feel the system is working not only to hold the defendant accountable but is also reducing the likelihood of future offenses.

Why are you a better fit for judge than your opponent?

Our part time judge handles the College Place criminal docket and occasionally covers criminal dockets for Walla Walla County and Walla Walla City. I am intimately familiar with all of the issues that come up during a criminal docket because I served as a deputy prosecuting attorney from 2013 to 2020, and I now serve as a public defense attorney. During my time as a prosecutor, I appeared multiple times a week for district, juvenile, and superior court. As a public defender, I am in superior court daily, and I regularly appear in district court as well.

Our district court judge will have to rule on evidentiary motions, which requires extensive knowledge and experience involving Washington State criminal laws and court rules. I routinely handled motions involving warrants, traffic stops, and other evidentiary issues since I started my career, and all of those cases involved Washington law. I have appeared and argued motions in front of every judge in Walla Walla County, both in district and superior court.

Our district court judge must preside over trials, during which the judge must rule on issues on the fly. I have handled jury and bench trial cases involving DUI, poaching, assault, theft, eluding, and other serious violent offenses, during which I have regularly had to argue objections.

Experience and knowledge are essential for a judge to be successful. I will be able to start on day one with nearly a decade of directly relevant experience from appearing on both sides.

Jeremy Burnham can be reached at jeremyburnham@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

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