19th District Court Judge Gene Hunt aspires to be “the People’s Judge”
As a casual observer sitting in the 19th District courtroom recently, not a typical place we would find ourselves on a weekday morning, we were struck by how normal and calm the room felt. As we watched 5 people come before Judge Eugene Hunt one by one he showed firm strength, resolve but also tremendous graciousness and interest in truly making things right for the accused before him but also for the community at large. After the session ended, Judge Hunt opened his office to us for a few minutes and he elaborated on his perspective as he operates in the courtroom.
By Rasheed Alnozili & Stephen Coats
The Yemeni American News
‘Second and third’ chances
We asked Judge Gene Hunt on his perspective on second and third chances. He paused for a few seconds and said, “It all depends on the situation. Sometimes 3rd chances are good if it helps people to learn. You get older and you get wiser and you see how your conduct is affecting the development of your life and at some point in time some people get it the first time, some get it the second time, some get it the third time, some get it the tenth time”.
Judge Hunt then said, “As long as you get it, that’s what I want. I do believe in second chances and if I think that I can help somebody with a second chance and I think that the circumstance is controlled enough.”
He continued, “You have to weigh everything but it isn’t like everybody walks in here and walks out of here, that’s not the case. I want to give people a second chance. I want them to get back on their feet.”
When we asked Judge Hunt about his election to the third seat of the district court and how’s he holding up to the promises he made during the election cycle, he said he still believes he’s meeting the promises he made in treating everyone the same and in all fairness. He pledged to help people who come before him in the courthouse and he said that’s what he has been doing.
“I protect the Constitution of the United States. I protect people’s rights that come through here, it doesn’t matter to me anything about your status. You come into court no matter your religion, your race, your sexual orientation, if you’re male or female if you’re old or young; it doesn’t matter to me.” Judge Hunt affirmed.
He later adds, “You come in here and you expect to be treated fairly and with respect and that’s exactly what I do with everyone. I try to help you if I can. I will give you the opportunity to try to help yourself. I’ll put that in place but if you show me that you’re not taking advantage of the break that I’m giving you then I go to step number two. I don’t like step number two but I’m not afraid to go there if I have to.”
Taking the defender’s side?
We told Judge Hunt the perception of him that we’ve gathered in the short time he’s been on the bench. It is worthy to note that then-Attorney Hunt was a defense lawyer for many years, he responded “When you’re a defense lawyer your job is to step yourself into the shoes of your client and do the best that you can do within the bounds of the law for that client as they would do for themselves if they had your experience and your knowledge.”
He adds “Being a judge is different you still try to help people as much as you possibly can but you don’t step yourself into the shoes of the defendant, you step yourself into the shoes of the public. If I can help someone and that helps the public, which goes hand-in-hand, then that’s what I do. If I need to punish someone to help the public then I punish them. It depends on the situation.”
Primary concerns in our community
With regards to the major problems faced by the community, Judge Hunt said “There are two problems that were facing. One’s a little one and one’s a big one. The big one is the opiate addiction that is rampant. When someone gets addicted on opiates what happens is they at first start taking pills. Either through a prescription that they received or they buy the pills off the street. When they’re addicted to it they learn that heroin is cheaper and more readily available, they start doing heroin.”
Judge Hunt said that once someone gets into that lifestyle it is extremely hard to get out of it. He said that he keeps a very tight rein on those who are addicted to opioids or cocaine. He mentioned that he tests them all the time and as opposed to just putting them on probation; he has them report to him once a month or every other month so that he can see their progress on what they’re doing.
For the smaller problem, Judge hunt said it’s the suspended license cases. He said that the young people get tickets and don’t pay the ticket. Once they don’t pay the ticket then they get pulled over next time and it’s a misdemeanor driving on a suspended license. These youth get the tickets for driving on a suspended license and they got to pay pretty hefty fines and costs here.
“ They’ve got to pay the Secretary of State a driver responsibility fee and it just doubles and triples and quadruples things. It gets to the point to where they now make it almost impossible for them to get their license. That’s a real problem. When you don’t pay your tickets, your license gets suspended and you get arrested and put in jail for that. It just astounds me that they let that happen” Judge Hunt adds.
When asked for the last message to the community, Judge Hunt said “I’m doing the best I can. I am being very thoughtful in what I do. This job isn’t about me. It isn’t about my ego at all. It’s about the people that come in front of me, seeing what their problem is and trying to straighten that problem out. That’s how I try to conduct myself every day and I hope I’m doing a good job.”