WALKER -- Judge Michael J. Haas offered these perspectives on the following issues involving courts and the people who come before the courts:
Question: Does discipline or rehabilitation work better?
Haas: There is a place for both. Some people need to be taken out of society for their own and the public's safety.
Minnesota historically has been a rehabilitation-oriented state and had less recidivism because of that. States like Michigan, where punitive was emphasized, have poorer recidivism records than Minnesota.
Today, Minnesota seems not to be able to find as much money for rehabilitation, and recidivism has increased. Uniform sentencing guidelines tie judges' hands today, limiting flexibility to address individual persons' needs and potentials. Uniformity causes mistakes.
Judges imposing the wrong sentence can cause something awful.
Question: What did work in rehabilitation?
Haas: Ordering people into the military. People grew up there. They thanked me for that kind of sentence. One-on-one probation with agents who have enough time to give personal attention works.
Today, probation agents have too many probationers to give adequate personal attention. Probation agents who had enough time helped the whole family. Probation is about the cheapest service for offenders. So much has become so expensive.
Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. Offering equal economic opportunities, education and job availability would help. You cannot give something to someone unless it is coupled with a way to earn it. Earning gives self-respect.
Question: Is criminal or civil law more interesting?
Haas: Criminal law is often very sad for the criminal as well as the victims. It's not pleasant to send people to prison, but judges cannot become emotionally involved. They need to carry an intellectual understanding. The last thing people need is more emotion from a judge.
Civil cases are kind of fun. Judges look for solutions, something everyone can live with, so people can go on with their lives.
In commitment cases where people can no longer live outside an institution, it is not as difficult for judges to place people in institutions today, because the facilities no longer are drab brown and cream. They are pleasant, clean places.
There has been much progress to treat mentally ill people, enabling many more to stay in their own homes today. How awful to live with the schizophrenic's "reality" of voices no one else hears. Medications can help so much today.
Question: What makes a good attorney?
Haas: An attorney who can see the real legal issues. One who prepares well and represents his/her client well. It's lots of fun to watch young attorneys improve with experience.
Question: Does affluence affect crime and the number of lawsuits?
Haas: The more things people have, the more problems we'll have. How ATV's are used is an issue to day. There are other people who want ATV's and take them from those who have them.
Today, we have a whole lot more laws, probably five times as many. This also affects the volume of court activity.
Question: Are people more aware of laws and rights today?
Haas: People didn't used to take driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs seriously. Today, people are much more aware of the affect those have on driving.
People are more aware of their rights as citizens and the legal services available to them. Often, however, advertising making people more aware of rights fail to stress individual responsibilities as much.
People don't talk enough about morality. Morality does not necessarily have to equate to religion. The clouding of these issues has limited the importance of morality as an issue separate from religion.
Question: Comment on today's youth.
Haas: Judges see repeat names, while others they never see again. I like to go to schools to see the other kids who don't come to court. People have to remember there are a lot of good things kids do. Kids have had similar problems in every generation.
It's hard to understand the extent to which drugs permeate our society today. I don't know people who are happier using drugs than when they were not.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.