Candidate Questionnaire: Pat McNamara | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Candidate Questionnaire: Pat McNamara

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Photo courtesy Pat McNamara

Fast Facts About Pat McNamara

Age: 62

Title of Specific District/Position Campaigning for: Hinds County Circuit Court Judge, Sub-District 1

Educational Background: Ole Miss, Mississippi College School of Law

Professional Background: Vietnam Era Veteran of the United States Navy (Fleet and Seabees), Law Enforcement Officer (Patrol, Detective, Narcotics}, Defense Attorney, Jackson Municipal Court Prosecutor, Special Assistant Attorney General Prosecutor (Capital Crimes, Medicaid Fraud, Violence Against Women, Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking), Hinds County Assistant District Attorney.

Place of Residence: Belhaven

Spouse/children: Daughter and Son. Police Officer and Environmental Engineer

Please list any endorsements you have received to date: N/A

If you have run for this judicial seat before, please state when. (If you are an incumbent, please cite years in current position): N/A

The Jackson Free Press reached out to all judicial candidates who are running on the Nov. 6 ballot to represent jurisdictions throughout the Jackson Metro Area, regardless of whether they had a challenger or not. Each candidate received the same questionnaire. We've published their responses in full below, with minimal edits for editorial/reader clarity only. The JFP did not copyedit or line-edit candidate responses. The views expressed by candidates do not necessarily reflect the views of the JFP.

Why do you want to serve Hinds County right now?

Crime is the number one problem in Jackson. I am the only candidate who has made crime the top priority to be addressed by the Court once in office. The Department of Justice shows Jackson to be the 7th deadliest city in the United States with a violent crime rate more than 200% higher than the State average and 120% higher than the national average. More specifically, we are able to witness the aftermath of crime in our city through the media on a continual basis.

Circuit Court Judges are the leaders of the Criminal Justice System here in Hinds County; however, they have not embraced that role. I have absolute confidence in my experience, knowledge and leadership abilities to decrease Jackson's crime rate by fighting to prevent crime before it ever occurs, timely bringing those accused to trial and ensuring victims and their survivors are given the dignity and respect they are due.

While crime is our number one problem, the treatment of our victims runs a close second. Too many are lost in the bureaucratic and judicial maze that is in place to assist them through the court process. The networks to help them are, at times, both underutilized and overwhelmed. I possess the familiarity with the victims' rights system to bring about changes needed to give victims their dignity and the rights afforded under the law.

Provide one or two examples of your legal and/or judicial experience when you have made an impact in Hinds County, and describe the result.

As a Hinds County Assistant District Attorney, in addition to my other duties, I was chosen to move my main office to JPD Headquarters and act as liaison between the D.A.'s Office and JPD. The result has been positive by increasing the communication and cooperation between the two. In my capacity as liaison with JPD, I am available for consultation regarding crime scenes. This increased communication strategy has led to better, stronger cases being developed and presented to the Grand Juries and trial courts.

During my career as a law enforcement officer, Special Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney I have often led and/or taught at training sessions designed to teach citizens, law enforcement, social workers, nurses, pharmacists, lawyers and even judges practical aspects of crime related investigation, arrest and trial. Many of those took place in Jackson and involved entities from the Metro area. It was my great pleasure to be involved in presenting a class on the proper techniques to be used in interviewing sexual assault survivors to every sworn officer of the Jackson Police Department over a week's time.

Do you think there is anything that can be done in a judicial capacity to alleviate or reduce crime in your jurisdiction?

Without a doubt judges are in positions to alleviate and reduce crime in their jurisdiction.

The most basic action available to a judge to alleviate and reduce crime is to actually have trials in our courtrooms. Far too often there are cases ready to be heard but no trial has been scheduled by the Judge. The backlog of cases in Hinds County will only get worse if Judges do not take responsibility to move their dockets and hold trials for cases that are ready to be heard.

Another important action to be taken is prioritizing the cases to be tried. Habitual violent offenders should be fast tracked to the head of the docket. This is by no means an attempt to railroad a defendant through the system; however, as stated above, there are cases ready to go that just are not being scheduled for trial. Justice and due process can be timely served by having jury trials, presided over by an unbiased, experienced and knowledgeable Judge; a convicted defendant is one less career criminal terrorizing our community.

In addition to habitual offender cases, violent crimes by non-habitual offenders must also be moved to the top of the trial docket. Cases involving murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault, kidnapping, carjacking, home invasion, rape, sexual assault, abuse of the elderly and children should not languish as they do now.

Non-violent crimes by non-habitual offenders provide the Judge with an opportunity to implement alternative sentencing options. House arrest, probation, electronic monitoring, drug court, pre-trial intervention and mental health programs are available for individuals who are willing to take responsibility for their actions and their futures. There are programs to aid and assist people, but if the individual is not willing to make an honest effort to participate and succeed, they will be right back in the system. It is the responsibility of the Judge to make certain that the defendant clearly understands the program, the expectations and the consequences of failure. It is in this area that our Courts' backlog of cases can be resolved to a great degree. If someone qualifies for an alternative sentencing program, there is no need for a trial, conditioned on successful completion of the program. Many older cases fall into this category and will be combed through to find eligible candidates for these programs. Those who desire trials will also be elevated on the docket as a priority based on the severity and age of the case.

Further, it is my intention to expand the alternative programs with a Veteran's Court. This court would deal with non-violent, non-habitual defendants who answered the call to serve our Nation in the Armed Forces. As a Veteran, I am familiar with the unique problems many of my fellow vets suffer. Jackson is home to the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery Medical Center, VFW/American Legion Posts and other service related resources. A Veteran's Court program is important for our community as it will rely heavily on Veterans to mentor and counsel eligible defendants. Initial discussions have already taken place and additional information is being gathered to make this a reality for Hinds County.

Circuit Court Judges are the leaders of the Criminal Justice System and that requires actually leading! If a Judge wants to do nothing more than put on a robe and preside over the occasional trial, everybody loses. As everyone knows, the best way to reduce crime is to stop a criminal act before it ever happens. Far too often individuals are charged with crimes that could have been avoided: the homeless person who breaks into a building for shelter; the thief who was simply hungry; and the addict who steals to support their habit. There are many organizations, churches, individuals and agencies that work daily to help people in these situations. The Judge must know and work with these organizations, the community, law enforcement and other first responders to find and identify those most at risk of falling into the Criminal Justice System due to their circumstances.

The Judge must network with, recruit, advertise, support, enhance, assist and be a loud voice for those helpful organizations in being a visible resource for referral. There is no guarantee the individual in question will be accepting of help or opportunities; however, the more the Judge champions and raises public awareness of what is going on and why, success can become the rule rather than the exception.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections and jails have to be included as a resource and asset as well. A reality of the Criminal Justice System is that people will go to prison and that the vast majority will someday be released and returned to our community into the same associations and criminal environment. Throughout my law enforcement and legal career, I have watched individuals return from incarceration with no additional marketable skills, education, social skills or good judgement making skills.

People have to be included in the formula for preventing crime before it happens. Detention facilities must be aided and championed the same as discussed above for entities working to prevent crime, to work harder toward making opportunities available for those individuals that want to turn their lives around and contribute to the community.

Lastly, and never least, the victims of crime and their survivors must be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. By law, victims are afforded many rights; unfortunately, victim's rights laws are not always followed. I will adhere to the letter of the Crime Victim's Bill of Rights and afford every victim the opportunity to exercise their rights. If we treat our victims as they should be, they will start to come forward more willingly and with less fear of the system that has failed them in the past. Obviously, this will have an impact on the crime in our community.

In the past year or so, what has been the most consequential/at-risk issue facing the area you wish to serve and what do you plan to do about it?

CRIME and its effect on every aspect of our city.

What I plan to do about it is contained in my answers throughout this questionnaire.

What are the characteristics of a good judge, and how do your characteristics compare?

A judge must be in command and in control of every aspect of the courtroom. This includes command and control of the Law and Rules of Court, the facts of the case, all persons present in the courtroom, and of themselves.

A deep knowledge and understanding of the legislative law and case law set by the United States and Mississippi Supreme Courts is required or the system will fail. Justice is best served where the Judge lets only the relevant facts determine the outcome of a case without improper influence of any sort.

The most important attribute a judge must possess is self-control. An ongoing self-evaluation of the Judge's integrity, bias, fairness and abilities has to take place. If a Judge cannot serve at the highest standard on a daily basis, the system is compromised and justice has no chance to be served.

Lastly, as discussed above, a Judge must be a leader, in the courtroom and in the community. The Judge holds a position of power that can either help bring the community together, striving for greatness, or someone who just settles for the status quo. If we don't have a Judge who is willing to take up the leadership role, positive change is going to be hard to find.

Throughout these questions I have discussed my experience, knowledge and leadership abilities. I will use these to not be a "good" Judge but to strive for excellence inside and outside the courtroom.

What sets you apart in this race?

Experience, knowledge and leadership abilities.

Everyone in this race has touted their experience in being able to sit on the bench and work toward unclogging the trial docket; I have that experience. I am able to make a difference in the culture of crime and violence that has infected our city like a cancer. Babies are being shot. Men, women and children are being murdered and assaulted in the streets, in their homes and at their work places. These victims and their loved ones want action to prevent being victimized again and for others to not have to suffer as they have.

As the only candidate with military service, law enforcement experience, 25 years courtroom experience and an intimate knowledge of the Hinds County Court system, I possess the unique skills that must be used to get this insanity under control. I know the problems. I know ALL of Jackson. I can make a difference.

No other candidate has addressed the problem in any meaningful way. I am the only candidate to make the prevention of crime, the rights of victims and bringing criminals to justice the top priorities of the Court.

If you are unsuccessful in your race, how specifically will you continue working on behalf of your district?

I will continue to fight the good fight for Justice as I have done for the majority of my 62 years.

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