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FORUM: Veronica Galvan and David Gehrke meet in first elected judge election
Posted By Scott Schaefer On October 21, 2013 @ 10:44 pm In Business,Crime,Featured Stories,Headlines,Life,Politics | 5 Comments
by Jack Mayne 
Veronica Galvan has been Des Moines Municipal Court Judge since 2007 when she was appointed from a pool of 42 applicants but this year for the first time the job is fulltime and elective.
Her opponent is David Gehrke, a 35-year Des Moines and Normandy Park resident and trial lawyer who specializes in criminal defense and personal injury cases.
The court handles misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses in both Des Moines and Normandy Park.
Both Galvan and Gehrke sat down with this write on Oct. 18 to talk about their first foray into elective office.
You can listen to audio of the full discussion here:
Why they want to be judge
David Gehrke said he his background is excellent to be a municipal judge.
“I want to represent the citizens of Des Moines and, being a trial attorney, not unlike being a judge, you don’t just sit on a bench, you don’t just go to court, you have to run a business. There is the administrative part of that and I have 35 years of running my own business,” Gehrke said. “I have nine employees and a lot of those skills will transfer right over to administering a court.
“I think I can do a good job and through my years of being a trial attorney, I have had great success in turning a lot of people’s lives around.
“I want to be the judge there, I think I can do a good job for the community. I am connected to the community.”
Judge Veronica Galvan was born in Bremerton and raised in the Yakima Valley where her parents were farm workers and her father “picked fruit for a living.” She is first in her family to go to college and then to law school and to run for office.
Galvan said that when the city chose her as judge in 2007, “you couldn’t even get an interview unless you had five years of judicial experience.” She had been a Seattle administrative law judge for five years previous to her selection as municipal judge.
When the national and state recession hit Des Moines, Galvan said she explained to city officials that they could get state money if the position were an elected one.
“The state assistance is between $25,000 and $35,000 a year,” she said, so the city made the judicial job fulltime and elective.
She wants to continue the judgeship because “I am not done yet.”
Broadening the vision
Gehrke was asked what he thought he could do better than Galvan.
“I was going to say she is out of touch with some of the systems (but) that is too harsh, so I am not going to phrase it quite that way, but that is the first word that comes to mind” adding Galvan has been a judge been in one court “with tunnel vision.”
“By being a trial attorney, I have worked with … Veterans Court, with the Drug Court, the Mental Health Court and have coordinated with them getting people from that smaller court into that county-wide system.”
He said there is new state legislation that allows municipal courts to interact with that later system rather than doing nothing at the local level.
“You don’t just dump them somewhere, you put them someplace where they are set up to treat them,” Gehrke said.
‘We already do that’
Judge Galvan said Gehrke “apparently does not know what happens in our court, because we do that, we do work with King County.” All the things he said “we should do, we already do.”
“Apparently what Mr. Gehrke doesn’t know is that I (was a pro-tem judge serving in many courts) for many years … and the view from the bench is not the same as the view from the advocate,” Galvan said. “I know because I have done both.”
Galvan said there are differences in the skills and views between a judge and a defense attorney.
“Watching somebody be a judge and actually being a judge are two different things,” Judge Galvan said, adding, “every surgeon is a doctor but not every doctor is a surgeon. Each profession has a speciality that requires certain skills. A judge has a specialty. They are a neutral party, they are people who decide.”
A prosecutor and a defense attorney are advocating for a certain side, but “when you are a judge, your goal is to ensure that justice is served that the law is followed and that a person’s civil liberties are protected, while at the same time balancing community safety.
“I have been doing that for 12 years.”
Gehrke said he agrees the systems are in place at Des Moines Municipal Court, but “they are grossly under-utilized.” He said sometimes the judge “has to be a leader” and to suggest ways to deal with problems of court defendants.
State’s only bilingual court
Galvan said she is runs the only fully bilingual court in the state, “something for which we have gotten recognition for.”
But Gehrke said “yes and no” to bilingual operation of a court.
“If you have a bilingual court, you are excluding people that don’t understand that language. No one is going to appeal that if it is a traffic ticket … but there will some issues coming down from the State Supreme Court and there already are some issues that have been reversed because a judge has closed the court.”
Judge Galvan countered with “the court is open, anyone can come in and listen to what is going on. If a person comes into the court and does not speak English, you are not required to provide an interpreter to them. The court is open and people have to see justice done. There are people who speak English that don’t understand what is going on. … It is all open. Open court means accessible, it means you are there.”
Galvan said some people come into court “for whom the concepts of our legal system are foreign – not just the language, but the concept.
“For example, a jury – it’s a very American or English concept,” Galvan said. “It does not exist in many Latin American countries.
“How do you explain to somebody, for example from … Somalia, who hasn’t had a rule of law, no rule of law, no system whatsoever – how do you explain how our system works? It takes creativity, it takes knowledge, it takes skill, it takes patience and it does take understanding.”
Galvan added it is not just a problem to explain to foreign speakers, “even people who have gone through our own education system sometimes don’t understand that there are three branches of government.”
Gehrke said there were great cultural differences.
“In some cultures, if you don’t pay off the police when you first get stopped you are going to get hauled into court and something as petty as stealing an apple from the store might result in losing a limb, being killed,” he said. “That happens in some countries. That is why people want to leave those countries.
“Then they get hauled into court here and they are terrified. You tell them no, no, no, it is not going to happen but they have seen it happen. They have lost relatives to those types of lawless systems. You have to be aware of that and comfort them, educate them … .
Both candidates were asked if the court budget was adequate and both said it was what it was.
Gehrke said he has been around the city for years and never had anyone connected to the municipal court ever say they had enough money.
“My opponent has made it enough and, if I am elected, I will make it enough,” he said. “You can’t deficit spend, you can’t cut (services). You make it be enough.”
He said his 35 years in running a business, his law firm, has taught him how to find the parts to cut and how to manage in lean times.
Galvan suggested there was a big difference between running a business and running a branch of government.
“What you have to do as a judge is you have to be creative,” she said. “You have to look at the fine print and say where do I impact with the budget and how can I work collaboratively with the other branches of government to assure that we are all doing our part to make sure this is working.”
She said most judges wouldn’t write grant applications or search for other resources, but she does.
“I am out there every day trying to ensure that Des Moines gets the most that it can from those types of programs,” she said.
Galvan said people were so impressed with her abilities to find additional money that she said she was asked to teach municipal court budgeting to students at the state Judicial College. Her actions, she said, have resulted in supporters for her election.
Additionally, Galvan said each city manager must be aware of actions or changes they make that could have repercussions on other departments in the city.
Here are photos of this meeting by Michael Brunk  (click images to see larger versions):
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