Ben McLaughlin - Questionnaire


What do you see as a judge's role in making Humboldt County a more just community? (200 words)

There are two relevant contexts: (1) Criminal Law and (2) Civil Law. Regarding the latter, it is essential that a judge treat the parties respectfully, with dignity and give them equal time. These principles are equally important to all litigants, but especially so for pro pers — unrepresented parties — who cannot afford counsel and who have an absolute right to access the judicial process.

In the criminal context, respect, dignity, etc. also apply. People accused of crimes do not forfeit their constitutionally guaranteed rights. In criminal cases, however, there are often victims of crime, such as in cases involving domestic or sexual violence. Victims and survivors must be heard by the court. Victims and survivors must feel as though their rights and safety are considered and appropriately prioritized.

The last component of the justice equation — aside from safeguarding a defendant's and victim's rights — is sentencing. Certain crimes — gun violence, sexual violence, homicide — require a prison term. In other cases, justice may require a probationer to repay a business owner, remove graffiti, serve custodial time or get his/her/their act together through mental health and addiction counseling; or all of the above. 

Prioritize mental health and wellness courts.

Much of crime in Humboldt County can be seen as cyclical, as drug and alcohol-related offenses make up the bulk of arrests locally, and a growing body of data indicates childhood trauma significantly increases the chances of someone being incarcerated later in life. How do you plan to use the power of a Humboldt County Superior Court judgeship to break some of these cycles? (200 words)

This is where the rubber meets the road, isn't it? Ameliorating the ills of generational trauma within the Indigenous communities and childhood trauma more broadly would help resolve the chronic issues within Humboldt.

In cases involving sexual and physical violence, a judge can impose a term of incarceration commensurate with the crime, which may help a victim feel more secure and better able to do what is necessary to heal. A judge can also order an offender to pay for the victim's therapy.

When offenders are addicted or ill or commit criminal acts because of generational or physical trauma, the model being developed by the Yurok Tribe is informative. The Yurok's approach to overall wellness is thoughtful and considers a person's individual and cultural histories. Applying this approach across the board would pay dividends, I think.

For folks who cannot or should not receive probation, I've proposed the expansion of programs, such as Uplift Eureka, that help felons transition back into the community, by providing a sponsor to assist with job training and employment. The dignity of a job — and hopefully health insurance — can also help break the cycle of trauma. 

Expand Drug Court eligibility to include low-level dealers!

In recent years, many have described the workload facing local judges as daunting, saying they carry excessive caseloads that demand working nights and weekends while occupying a position that can be inherently socially isolating. With all that in mind, why do you want this job and how do you plan to find work-life balance? (200 words)

My sincere hope is that the job will be intellectually stimulating and professionally challenging. That isn't to say that I don't enjoy my work as a deputy public defender; nor is it to say that I didn't enjoy my time as a prosecutor. I take equal pride in what I accomplished in both capacities. I've done more than 100 trials — everything from homicide to rape to human trafficking — and feel like I've accomplished a lot. As a judge, I would look forward to learning new things and a new perspective. 

A healthy work-life balance is singularly important. I've spent a lot of time developing personal boundaries, so I can spend time on myself and with my family and friends. I'm no stranger to working weekends during trial and handling heavy caseloads. I come in as early as I must in order to get work done during the workday, because it's important to me to see my family and share a laugh during the evening.

That said, I understand what the job entails. If I'm assigned a trial, I will work as long as and whenever necessary to ensure that the business of the court is handled as efficiently as possible.

Now, a brief questionnaire to help voters get to know you a bit better:

Age? 51

City of residence? McKinleyville

Where did you grow up? Palo Alto

How long have you lived in Humboldt County? 15 years

Can you please provide a brief education history? 

Palo Alto High School (Go Vikes!), Vanderbilt University (history major, with an emphasis on Latin American history, 1994), Santa Clara University School of Law (1999).

Can you please provide a brief work history? 

I feel like I've been a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker. 

After high school, I enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves. In between then and my professional career, I've done everything from driving a forklift in a receiving dock to compacting hazardous waste to working retail at Macy's (shout out to folks who work retail; it's a tough gig). 

Following law school, I worked in civil litigation. However, for the past 17-years, I've worked primarily as a prosecutor and public defender. I found working in the criminal justice system to be the most professionally rewarding pursuit. 

What is your current occupation? 

Deputy Public Defender

What do you consider the three most important endorsements you have received to date in your campaign? 

It's cliché, but true, to say that they're all equally important. Picking three necessarily diminishes the others.

I will say that I am proud of the professional endorsements I've gained from the folks I work with every day, including law enforcement and the public defense bar. I am absolutely honored by the Tribal endorsements as well. The endorsement that makes me smile most often is from the attendant at the Shell station, at Central Avenue and School Road, who shouts, "Ben for judge!" when I stop to buy my morning Redbull.

Now, a few questions to give voters a taste of your personality:

What is your favorite movie? Impossible without a genre but will go with Aliens. 

What is your favorite book? "Seabiscuit"

What magazine do you read most regularly? ESPN Fantasy Football draft edition

If your campaign had a theme song, what would it be? "Danger Zone" (only funny if you like watching Archer).

Who is your favorite fictional judge? Judge Smails from Caddyshack.

Who is your favorite real-life judge? Judge Kelly Louise Neel.

Dogs or cats? Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, all day!

What is your favorite hobby? Watching my daughter grab rebounds.

What would your superpower be and how would you use it? Omnipresence. You really wouldn't have to use it, right? I mean, you're already everywhere all at once. Maybe I'd be a psychic to the stars. The possibilities are endless, really.

If you could sum up your candidacy in a single haiku, what would it be?

Ben rides with Lao Tzu
They talk of justice, and laugh
Always a riddle!


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