Baldwin A Gardner attorney will take over as Baldwin's municipal judge starting Wednesday, amid city officials' concerns that too many lawbreakers were getting off the hook.
John Cochran, a defense attorney in Gardner and the city's municipal judge for 19 years, was appointed by Mayor Loren Litteer to replace Baldwin Municipal Judge Halley Kampschroeder, a Lawrence attorney who also maintains a Baldwin office. The Baldwin City Council approved the appointment at its meeting Dec. 23.
The mayor has the option of reappointing a municipal judge each year, something that usually takes place in May, Litteer said.
Litteer said the city prosecutor, police officers, members of the city's public safety committee and other city officials had raised questions regarding an apparently high number of charges dismissed or reduced by Kampschroeder.
"We don't mean to be critical of Mr. Kampschroeder, but we felt we weren't getting impartial rulings from him," Litteer said. "We felt he leaned toward the defense."
BECAUSE OF a communication gap between the municipal judge and city officials, the reasons for the charge dismissals and reductions usually weren't explained at the time they occurred, Litteer said.
"If the police procedures were wrong or if we had gaps in the ordinances, we wanted to know so we could go back and change them," he said.
For example, when citing someone with a violation of the law, police must include a reference to the paragraph from the code that explains the particular violation. A failure to do so could result in reduced charges for the ticketed person.
Reminding officers to include the code references would have rectified the problem, said Litteer.
"It had gotten to the point where some officers were wondering why bother writing tickets," he said. "The morale was suffering."
LITTEER SAID the city doesn't harbor bad feelings toward Kampschroeder, who served as municipal judge for about three years. In fact, prior to Kampschroeder's appointment, people in the community with no legal training took responsibility for pounding the gavel and were unfamiliar with some of the technicalities involved in the legal process, he said. So Kampschroeder's adherence to those procedural regulations seemed unusually strict.
"That could have been one of the problems," Litteer said.
Kampschroeder maintained he feels no animosity toward Baldwin city officials.
"They could pick who they want as a judge," he said. "I did it for 2 or three years and I enjoyed it. It's time for somebody else to do it."
THE CITY'S public safety committee met with Cochran Dec. 12 in Baldwin to discuss municipal court operations, his philosophy of court operations and what factors constitute or justify dismissal of tickets.
"He advised us of avenues we hadn't known of before," Litteer said.
Cochran will be paid $300 a month, and will hold court at 6:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. Additional sessions will be held as needed.