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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

First District challenge turns ugly

There is a very disturbing judicial campaign going on in the bucolic landscape of the First Judicial District. Dakota County Judge Joe Carter, pictured at right, is being challenged by Rice County prosecutor Nathaniel Reitz, who appears to be basing his campaign on the tragic case of Justin P. Farnsworth, who sexually assaulted a 9-year-old girl in his custody. Farnsworth had a 10-year old rape conviction but was described by officials as a “success story.” Carter, following the advice of experienced court-appointed custody evaluator David Jaehne, awarded custody of the child to Farnsworth with the consent of her mother, who evidently didn’t want her.

Reitz has adopted the dubious campaign tactic of linking from his Web site to a Google page of links to blog postings vilifying Carter. If you read all the way to the end of the muck, you get one link to an AP news story. That story raises the issue of whether a guardian ad litem should have been appointed for the child. It also pointed out that the case is one of many tragedies in the child-protection system.

Reitz’s bio says that he is a prosecutor who takes rape cases seriously, which no doubt is true. It doesn’t say that he is a volunteer guardian ad litem or serves any policy-making function with respect to the child protection system. Minnesota’s child protection system recently failed a federal audit, at least in part because the state is unwilling to devote the resources needed to keep up with cases in a timely manner. In the Farnsworth custody case, there were no allegations of abuse to require the appointment of a guardian ad litem and apparently no family or community members taking an interest. There were likely no funds available to pay a guardian ad litem and it’s a tremendous amount of work to ask a volunteer to contribute.

The state made its policy preferences even more clear this spring when it cut public-defender funding, which resulted in the defenders ceasing to represent parents in CHIPS cases. Since the defenders have previously said that they can’t manage criminal defense and CHIPS cases, their move came as no surprise. The absence of public defenders puts a huge strain on the child- protection system. Reitz would do better to think of some solutions to that problem rather than focus his campaign on crazy blog postings. He says the election is about judgment -- it's time to use some.

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