The League of Women Voters and DePauw's WGRE sponsored a candidate forum Wednesday night at the Watson Forum of the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media. Candidates Tim Bookwalter (R) and Robert Perry (I) agreed there is a time and place for the death penalty and on the seriousness of drug issues facing the county, particularly methamphetamine and prescription drugs.
However, they disagreed on some more basic issues of the operation of the office, particularly on the issue of plea agreements and drug forfeiture money.
Questioned about what his policy on plea agreements would be, Perry said it was not something about which he would generalize. Estimating that 90 percent of criminal cases in the country are settled out of court, he said each case need to be considered.
"I don't know that you can have a blanket policy that you can't have a plea agreement in a particular kind of case," Perry said.
Bookwalter, who made child molestation and domestic abuse cases a priority throughout the evening, said it would take extreme circumstances in one of these cases not to take it to trial.
"If there's not a reason to drop a charge, you don't do it to get the easy way out," Bookwalter said.
The matter of drug forfeiture money has been a hot issue throughout the race, and each candidate stated his case Wednesday.
Perry contends that Putnam County, along with nearly every other county in the state, breaks the law when the prosecutor has control of money seized in drug busts. He said state law says law enforcement costs are to be deducted and then the money turned over to the common school fund.
The money is currently used for a number of purposes across the county, in particular those that aid in law enforcement causes, such as the purchase of new vehicles in times when county and municipal budgets are short.
"We do some very worthy things, but my problem is it is not in compliance with state law," Perry said.
His issue is that a day could come when the money has to be paid back to the common school fund. He also expressed concern over the estimated $300,000 that has been paid to an outside attorney to oversee the fund.
Bookwalter did not mince words in addressing this issue.
"Yes we paid that lawyer, and he's been worth every penny," Bookwalter said.
He said the outside lawyer is to avoid a conflict of interest, so that the same office prosecuting cases is not handling the money seized in those cases.
He added the state's attorney general has reviewed the matter, and that the funds are being used properly, calling the common school fund "an antiquated law."
"You betcha we do it. I'm proud we do it. We're going to keep doing it," Bookwalter said. "Mr. Perry says all 92 counties are wrong; the attorney general is wrong; judges Headley and Bridges are wrong. No. I think Mr. Perry is wrong."
Asked what the most important issue facing the county in the next four years is, Bookwalter said it remains drugs.
"On a daily basis, it continues to be drugs," he said.
Bookwalter spoke of how meth cases doubled every year from 2003 to 2005, topping out at 78 in the county in 2005. Last year, the number was down to six.
"We've got to be vigilant," Bookwalter said. "We can't let up or the numbers are going to come back."
Perry said the most important issue is "consistent, effective prosecution." He promised no special deals for the accused and to make sure there is adequate evidence before moving forward with a case.
He also agreed with Bookwalter that drugs remain an issue, with prescription drug abuse another danger.
"The area that seems to be on the rise is the area of prescription drugs," Perry said. "We're going to have to be ready."
Both candidates also reiterated their promises to work hard for the citizens of the county.
"If you're going to win cases, you don't have to be the smartest guy in the world, but you have to be the most prepared," Bookwalter said.
"It's doing the right thing, work hard and treat everybody fair," Perry said. "I'm asking the citizens of Putnam County to trust me with that responsibility. I would consider it a high honor to be your prosecutor for the next four years."