Talk Business & Politics asked candidates in the five contested judicial races in Sebastian County for a 350-word essay on why they are the best person in their respective race. Candidate essays from all five races will be posted this week.
Following are the essays from Josh Bugeja, Sebastian County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jason Hunter, Deputy Public Defender Wendy Sharum, who are candidates in the Fort Smith District Court, Division II race. The essays are posted in alphabetical order.
• Josh Bugeja
As a first generation attorney, I’ve learned firsthand how socio-economic situations directly affect all aspects of life. Roughly 70% of children in Fort Smith public schools are on free/reduced lunch and growing up I was too, even though both of my parents worked full-time. My mom Linda taught at Chaffin for nearly 25 years before she retired and, when I was in elementary school my dad Walt became disabled, making things that much harder. Even though Mom taught full-time, she also sold real estate to make extra money (Dad helped too) and at age 19, I became licensed too. After graduating from the University of Tulsa College of Law, I came back home and opened my own law practice. For nearly three years, I did everything myself from answering the phones to appearing on behalf of clients in court. These life experiences have taught me the importance of humility and hard work, both qualities that are fundamental to being a good attorney and, even more so, to be a great judge.
Being a parent myself, I want our community to be safe and prosperous. Unfortunately, our courts have historically allowed many people to fall through the cracks, continually punishing people for nothing more than being poor. When our court fails to recognize that people can be redeemed after they mess up by committing non-violent offenses or failing to pay fines and court costs, it perpetuates a broken system and taxpayers foot the bill. I believe in justice but I also believe that keeping Defendants working, allowing community service in place of fines or jail, and encouraging alternative sentencing, should all be priorities. For roughly 10 years, I have represented clients in more than 1,000 civil and criminal cases throughout the state of Arkansas and am the only candidate in my race that is licensed in every state and federal court in Arkansas, as well as the United States Supreme Court. Because I understand both civil and criminal law and have applicable life experiences, I am the most qualified candidate in my race.
• Jason Hunter
I am Jason Hunter, and I am asking for your vote to be the next District Court Judge in Division II. I have experience with the issues that face our district courts. As a Prosecutor, my client has remained this community for over the last 17 years. In that time, I have tried thousands of cases in the courtroom working closely with judges, victims, and defense attorneys to do the right thing for Fort Smith. My one guiding principle for the community has been; Do the right thing, which I will continue to strive for if elected as judge.
The position of judge requires a close relationship with law enforcement, which I am privileged to have earned, as evidenced by my endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 39. I also have deep ties in this community. I understand that as a community we have a heart for justice, but when facts dictate it, that we want justice tempered with mercy. This is something that I have tried to instill in my students, at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith, while serving as an adjunct professor. I can further promise you that if elected I will be firm but fair, and everyone will be heard in my courtroom.
I can assure there will be challenges facing whomever you choose as your next district court judge, such as jail overcrowding and budget constraints, just to name a few. I have the knowledge and experience to assist in the transformation of the district court if elected. I have directly tackled the nation-wide drug epidemic as a prosecutor and a member of our county’s Drug Task Force. I know changes are necessary. What years of experience have taught me is that you cannot expect things to change without taking action. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we must be willing to address and tailor solutions through our district court to better serve the concerns and needs of our community. I stand ready and willing to answer that call. I ask only for your vote on March 3, 2020.
• Wendy Sharum
It is the length and depth of my experience that makes me the most qualified candidate. I have been practicing law for 26 years and have handled thousands of cases in district, circuit, and juvenile courts. Practicing as a Sebastian County Public Defender over this many years means that I have gained a vast amount of practical courtroom experience. I am the only candidate in this race who is in district court every week managing a significant case load. I have the insight, perspective, and problem-solving abilities that are essential in a district court judge.
The courts are facing many challenges – the large number of cases, overcrowding of our jails and prisons, incarceration of the mentally ill, drug addiction issues, and many others. There are numerous community groups and organizations working to address these issues and those resources should be used where possible. We must continue to improve the efficiency and functioning of our courts, promote public safety and look for new and innovative solutions to these issues that impact the quality of life in Fort Smith. I am committed to work with others to implement effective solutions and will always strive to make sure that my decisions are rooted in fairness and objectivity.
Involvement in the community is important for anyone seeking public office. I joined the Junior League of Fort Smith in 1996, and I was honored to serve as president in 2006-2007. The Fort Smith Round Table honored me with a community service award in 2014. I am a 2004 graduate of Leadership Fort Smith. Currently, I serve as president of the Bonneville House Association and am a member of the Sebastian County Juvenile Justice Prevention Coalition. My time as a volunteer, coupled with my work experience, has led to a better understanding of our community and its unique issues and needs.
I will continue to have a positive impact on the community as your district court judge, bringing to the bench: knowledge, fairness and a dedication to justice.