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Published: Wednesday, 4/11/2007

Judge brings technology touch with new programs

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A number of changes have occurred in Oregon Municipal Court over the past year since Judge Jeffrey B. Keller was sworn in as the court's third judge.

Many of the changes are outlined in the court's 2006 annual report that was recently released.

Judge Keller said the new programs were prompted by his desire to better manage cases involving domestic violence, alcohol, and other offenses.

He said he's taken a particular interest in domestic violence cases.

Last year's 88 domestic violence charges were the court's highest in five years.

The court has a program in which defendants wear a device that tracks their movement. It is used, for example, in cases in which victims have temporary restraining orders on the defendants.

But data need to be downloaded at the end of the day, meaning there's an inevitable time lag.

The court soon will have global positioning capabilities in which it can track defendants in real time. That will help both Oregon police and victims to be notified immediately if defendants violate restraining orders by entering restricted areas.

Judge Keller sees that as a big step forward in protecting victims. "We're trying to balance [defendants'] rights with protecting the victim's, and that's a tough line to draw, but I feel much safer to have a [real-time tracking system] to see where offenders go every day. It's a great tool," he said.

The court also has hired its own full-time workers to help victims of domestic violence and similar crimes.

Another tool the court uses is a device that defendants wear on ankles to detect alcohol consumption. It monitors skin changes for signs of alcohol, thereby helping the court enforce occupational driving privileges and alcohol restrictions, Judge Keller said.

"It just gives me the peace of mind that if they want to drive, I'll know if they've been drinking," he said.

The judge said he voluntarily wore the device for about a week to get a feel for it. He didn't think it was cumbersome, he said.

Last year's 222 reported incidents involving people charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated surpassed the 153 reports filed in 2005 and 198 reports filed in 2004.

The supervised diversion program was put into effect in May for certain first-time criminal offenders charged with nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, including alcohol, theft, trespassing, or disorderly conduct.

Those who are assigned to the diversion program are held accountable for their crime and re-educated about personal responsibility. The goal is to bring a resolution that is beneficial to the individual and the community.

The program is modeled after one set up for juveniles and "has been very effective," Judge Keller said.

Of the 76 people who were referred to the program from May to December, a little more than half - 39 - completed it. One died and five others didn't complete it. The other 31 were still involved with it.

Oregon Mayor Marge Brown said she is in favor of the diversion program.

"When you read the paper and look at all the crime, anything to get these people to lead a straight life and don't continue the vicious cycle is great," she said.

Former Judge Donald Z. Petroff, who was on the Oregon bench for 24 years before deciding not to run for re-election in 2005, said before giving Judge Keller the oath of office in December, 2005, that he expected him to take the court to the next level as technology became more advanced.

"I'm very proud of the programs that we've initiated and the fact that we've expanded our programs to protect the victims," Judge Keller said. "This is the job that I've always wanted to do, and I just couldn't be more grateful."



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