BIRNBAUM IS RIGHT CHOICE FOR DA
Voters don't have an especially easy choice to make in the race for Union County district attorney. Incumbent Martin Birnbaum and challenger Janie Burcart both have particular strengths. But in the final analysis, The Observer's editorial board has concluded that Birnbaum has done an admirable job since becoming DA and deserves a full term.
Birnbaum had his hands full when he took over the office a year and a half ago from longtime DA Russ West, who was elected to the bench. Birnbaum inherited an office that was wracked with dissension and facing budget pressures. He reorganized, reduced staff and implemented programs that work on behalf of Union County while ensuring that justice continued to be served. The reality that budget pressures at the county level could force the closure of the jail has not gone unnoticed.
Birnbaum was the driving force in the implementation of Justice Court in Union County, a move that removes traffic offenses from an already clogged circuit court docket and keeps fines in the county to help cover local expenses, like running local law enforcement and a jail. He wants to build on the concept of the county's drug court and start a merchants court that would allow minor crimes like shoplifting to be dealt with in a local court. His progressive approach to dealing with minor offenses bodes well for holding people more accountable while affording them an opportunity to right their wrongs and learn something in the process.
At the same time, Birnbaum stresses the importance of pursuing serious offenses. But his goal is to be more than just tough on crime. He wants his office and local law enforcement to be "smart on crime.'' Yet he has drawn criticism from local police for insisting that cases be investigated thoroughly beyond a reasonable doubt so that conviction will not be in doubt. He sees his role as helping to make sure that happens. A DA's job, Birnbaum stresses, is to "seek justice.''
Birnbaum has done a good job in his first year and a half in office. He's faced challenges and criticism head on while keeping the interests of the county and its citizens foremost in his mind. He deserves a full term.
Editorials in this column are the opinion of The Observer's editorial board. The board is comprised of Ron Horton, publisher; Ted Kramer, editor; Jeff Petersen, news editor; and Pierre LaBossierre, wire editor. Letters from readers, signed columns on this page and cartoons represent the opinions of the writer/artist and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial board.