In­cum­bent faces for­mer pros­e­cu­tor

Can­di­dates have dif­fer­ent back­grounds, take dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to of­fice

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Amy Laval­ley Amy Laval­ley is a free­lancer.

The two chal­lengers for Porter County Pros­e­cu­tor bring dif­fer­ent back­grounds and ap­proaches to the of­fice.

In­cum­bent Brian Gensel, a Repub­li­can, is seek­ing his fourth term in of­fice. Gensel, 57, of Union Town­ship, has worked in the of­fice for 30 years. Gary Ger­mann, a Demo­crat, started his le­gal ca­reer in the of­fice be­fore serv­ing as pros­e­cu­tor from 1978 to 1982. Ger­mann, 70, of Val­paraiso, has worked in pri­vate prac­tice as a de­fense at­tor­ney since then.

The pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice has been work­ing hard to make sure that peo­ple who don’t be­long in jail are not kept there, Gensel said. De­fen­dants charged with non­vi­o­lent of­fenses that are not drug-re­lated, such as driv­ing while sus­pended, should not be kept in jail un­nec­es­sar­ily.

“Ev­ery­body gets in­volved quickly to make sure these peo­ple don’t lose jobs and aren’t prej­u­diced be­cause they can’t post bond,” he said, adding some­one with a drug ad­dic­tion prob­lem is likely to re­main in jail for the ser­vices and treat­ment pro­vided there.

The big­gest changes in what the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice sees now com­pared to when Ger­mann last held the post are the heroin and opi­oid epi­demic in the county, and the in­crease in vi­o­lent crimes, he said.

Ger­mann’s ap­proach in drug cases is to go af­ter the peo­ple at the top, the deal­ers, and not just the ca­sual users.

“I think we have to pro­vide some treat­ment and al­ter­na­tives to those who are ad­dicted, be­cause it could be any of our kids,” he said.

Ger­mann would ex­pand the use of the vet­er­ans court and drug court pro­grams, not­ing the pros­e­cu­tor as­signs par­tic­i­pants to those pro­grams and they should have higher par­tic­i­pa­tion rates than they do now.

Gensel noted the high level of ex­pe­ri­ence by the deputy pros­e­cu­tors in his of­fice and his work with lo­cal law en­force­ment, com­mu­nity cor­rec­tions, and other en­ti­ties.

“With the suc­cess we’ve had on these se­ri­ous cases, peo­ple trust us and that we know what we’re do­ing,” he said.

Ger­mann would like to see a higher suc­cess rate for the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice for the most se­ri­ous crimes tried in the county.

“If you go to trial, it’s im­por­tant to win that case be­cause that es­tab­lishes your strength to de­fense at­tor­neys,” he said, adding plea agree­ments should be de­ter­mined with care. “For me, it’s di­vided up be­tween be­ing tough on the vi­o­lent of­fender and tak­ing an in­di­vid­ual look at the non­vi­o­lent of­fender with the idea of help­ing peo­ple re­cover.”

In March 2017, the county’s un­der­cover drug unit was shifted from the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice, where it had been based since 1994, to the sher­iff ’s de­part­ment.

The change, Gensel came, was the re­sult of a “shift in phi­los­o­phy” and Sher­iff David Reynolds’ de­vel­op­ment of the Heroin Over­dose Re­sponse Team.

“It made sense,” Gensel sad, adding his of­fice still works with the unit and re­cently se­cured an $8,000 grant for the unit.

The unit is a good fit for the sher­iff ’s de­part­ment, Ger­mann said, be­cause of who the sher­iff is.

“They are hit­ting all sorts of home runs for us but the pros­e­cu­tor still has to be in­volved in that, be­cause the pros­e­cu­tor is the chief law en­force­ment of­fi­cer in the county,” he said.

Go­ing for­ward, Gensel said he wants to make sure the younger deputy pros­e­cu­tors in his of­fice get the ex­pe­ri­ence they need to de­velop their skills, and con­tinue to be sen­si­tive to how his of­fice deals with each de­fen­dant.

“Peo­ple come to Porter County be­cause it’s a safe county, and it’s a safe county be­cause of the part­ner­ship be­tween the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice and law en­force­ment,” he said.

Ger­mann said he would bring a hands-on ap­proach to the of­fice, with deputies go­ing on ride-along with lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments to gain both a re­la­tion­ship with them and a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what they do, and be­ing present with po­lice dur­ing high­pro­file cases.

“We’re their lawyers,” he said. “We should be there.”



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