Our view: Orput's ideas intriguingWashington County Attorney Pete Orput has laid out bold proposals well worth exploring.
Pete Orput ran an aggressive campaign for Washington County attorney last fall. He was rewarded with a comfortable victory – he replaced Doug Johnson, who retired – but early indications suggest he has not adopted a similarly comfortable approach to the job. Instead, he has laid out bold proposals well worth exploring.
Take his idea for a new veterans’ court. He is concerned that the traditional court system does not address the unique needs of psychologically wounded military veterans who, while struggling with reintegration, turn to alcohol or drugs and commit crimes. What if they were surrounded by a judge, prosecutor and public defender who all happen to be fellow veterans? Would they have a better chance at recovery? It’s an interesting concept.
Orput also has youth in his focus, specifically those who frequently are truant. He proposes to expand a “peer court” program started at East Ridge High School and allow that youth court, not the juvenile court system, to dole out consequences for truancy. Orput said the peer court program has been successful with low-level offenders, so maybe it should be broadened. It’s an idea with merit.
The newly elected prosecutor already has gained attention – with some of his colleagues – for a decision to no longer criminally charge juvenile prostitutes, instead treating them as victims. Juvenile prostitution exists in Washington County but is not a widespread problem, yet the prosecutors’ decision could have a big impact in the lives of those victims.
One of Orput’s first moves has been to realign how cases are assigned in his office. Prosecutors had been assigned to communities within the county, but the caseloads varied due in part to stark population differences among cities. Orput now wants prosecutors to be generalists no longer assigned to a particular city. We see pros and cons to each approach, but hope Orput’s decision assists overburdened prosecutors as well as the public.
Orput is just settling in so the jury still is out on whether his proposals are viable, but he has presented a strong opening statement. We hope the eventual verdict improves the lives and safety of county residents, makes good use of taxpayers’ money and contributes to a more effective court system.