PORTLAND — After 28 years, Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson is retiring.
Criminal defense attorney Jon Gale, a Democrat, and Cumberland County Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck are seeking to replace Anderson. Sahrbeck is running independently.
Republican Randall Bates, a former Yarmouth Town Councilor, withdrew from the race on Sept. 26.
The district attorney serves a four-year term, overseeing prosecutions in courts in Portland, Bridgton and West Bath.
Election Day is Nov. 6.
“It is a unique race in a lot of ways, there has been a movement in Cumberland County, the state and the nation for criminal justice reform,” said Gale, 51, of 34 Tremont St. in Portland.
A former assistant district attorney in Aroostook and York counties, Gale became a defense attorney in 2004.
His legal experience has convinced Gale of the need for a greater assessment of individual cases and the need for diversionary programs and Restorative Justice for nonviolent offenses.
“Making use of Restorative Justice and moving people away from criminal convictions for relatively minor charges has been my argument for the last 14 years,” he said.
Gale said the assessments on trying a case should not require a new level of staffing.
“Most of the prosecutors in the office have a great deal of experience,” he said. “Determining which cases are appropriate (for diversion), that would start at the outset.”
The key to assessment is the safety of the communities and victims, Gale said.
“People who do pose a danger to society must, in fact, go through the criminal justice system and we need to maximize every tool we have to ensure safety,” he said.
Risk assessments may also determine a revision in bail policies, too.
Gale said he does not support eliminating all cash bail requirements for people facing prosecution, but sees limits to its value.
“I am staunchly opposed to using bail even as we have to this day,” he said. “It wreaks havoc if you have someone struggling with physical and mental health issues sitting in county jail for 30 or 45 days waiting for a dispositional conference.”
Gale said he does not plan changes in the office structure.
“I will listen to the prosecutors and support staff to investigate what changes would create improvements,” he said.
Gale said diversionary programs can also get at the root causes of crime, but more social, mental health and substance use disorder services are needed to make such programs fully effective.
“There are inadequate resources for everybody. With that said, those resources can be used to a greater degree than they are now by folks in the criminal justice system,” he said.
“It should not be a political position; running as an independent allows me to do that,” Sahrbeck said. “It allows me to be myself more and not have to cater to any party or position.’
With prosecutorial experience in Massachusetts and Maine, Sahrbeck said he is best suited to step into the office, but said the job is more than pursuing criminal cases.
“The quintessential thing the DA has to recognize are public safety issues, if treatment is needed and more appropriate, that is what people should get,” he said.
Sahrbeck has been endorsed by Anderson, and he said he has learned a key lesson from her.
“She has taught me about the importance of being dedicated to the position,” he said.
He does not see a need for changes in the office structure.
“I like the system in place with the team model and prosecutors who focus on certain things,” he said.
He does plan to make the office more visible.
“When you are a prosecutor, sometimes the only people you meet are the victims of crimes,” Sahrbeck said. “The big emphasis to change is community involvement. I would be that face in the community.”
Sahrbeck now leads the office Human Trafficking Unit, crimes he says need better recognition in the community and steeper enforcement against people buying sex.
“When it comes to sex trafficking, people are basically prostituting themselves for a trafficker who is using them as a human ATM,” he said.
Viewing those engaging in prostitution as victims, Sahrbeck would like to see those convicted as engaging them get a mandatory minimum three-day sentence and $2,000 fine for a first offense.
Sahrbeck said law enforcement and the public also need a better recognition of the effects on opioid use on the brain while emphasizing prevention to avoid any substance use disorder.
He sees a need to work more with the recovery community, especially as resources are stretched thin.
Sahrbeck does not support changes to the cash bail system, but would like to see the rule for keeping people without bail for 90 days expanded to include “domestic violence offenders, repeat drunken drivers, and those who use guns to commit crimes,” he said.
Residence: Cape Elizabeth
Family: Married, one child
Occupation: Cumberland County Assistant DA
Education: Connecticut College, American University
Experience: First run for elected office, serves on Cape Elizabeth Planning Board
Residence: 34 Tremont St., Portland
Family: Married, two children
Occupation: Defense attorney
Education: Colby College degree in philosophy, University of Maine School of Law
Political experience: First run for elected office