Mattson: More funding needed for drug treatment, help for young lawyers’ student loans

Judge Doug Mattson has some advice for the state Legislature regarding funding of drug treatment and assistance in paying student loan bills for young attorneys just starting out.

Mattson offered his opinions during court hearings on Thursday in district court in Minot.

During one hearing for a man who had pleaded guilty to a second offense of possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia, Mattson noted that drug addicts have been receiving lighter sentences in North Dakota courts thanks to legislative changes.

However, he said the state Legislature hasn’t provided adequate funding for drug treatment to go along with its requirements for presumptive probation in many drug cases.

“It’s been a bit of a con game,” Mattson remarked.

Mattson served in the North Dakota House of Representatives himself from 1978 to 1982. He was the Ward County State’s Attorney between 1990 and 2002 and has served as a district court judge since 2002.

Mattson told the lawyers for the prosecution and defense on Thursday that what he has been seeing in the court system is “kick the can (down the road) justice” because so many people who have received light sentences for drug possession end up coming back before him a second or third time on probation violations or new offenses. Mattson said it seems like the system might be “playing a cruel joke on the defendant” as well as on their families and the public by requiring light sentences without funding the needed treatment.

Mattson said he hopes that the current legislature will put more money towards substance abuse treatment.

Under the terms of the plea deal, the man was sentenced to a year and a day in jail, one day of unsupervised probation, and given credit for 35 days already served. He must also obtain a chemical dependency evaluation.

Mattson told the man that he should consider himself lucky if he is given the opportunity to receive treatment while he is incarcerated and he will never again receive such a “sweetheart deal.”

In another case, Mattson noted that a case had to be delayed because the defendant’s attorney had not received unredacted discovery, listing the identity of the victim.

“This is the motion that the Court deems to be unnecessary,” Mattson remarked.

“The Court may deem it to be unnecessary, but the state doesn’t,” replied Ward County Assistant State’s Attorney Christopher Nelson.

Nelson’s boss, State’s Attorney Roza Larson, has taken the position that a judge must sign an order requiring the state’s attorney’s office to turn over the unredacted discovery each and every time the defense makes the request. This is her interpretation of the state’s new Marsy’s Law, which enshrines victim’s rights in the state constitution.

Mattson said the motion for unredacted discovery is “of questionable value and of questionable need” and that judicial resources are scarce in the North Central District Court. Legislative cuts to the courts mean that the district is short on judges as well as on public defenders and prosecutors.

The motion for unredacted discovery was submitted late by the state’s attorney’s office. Mattson said the shortage of attorneys in the state’s attorney’s office might have had something to do with the late filing of the motion.

Mattson said he would sign the motion requiring that the state’s attorney’s office produce unredacted discovery to the defendant.

The preliminary hearing in the case in question was pushed off for another five weeks.

Mattson also said the state Legislature should consider providing tuition supplementation to help cover student loan costs for young attorneys to help keep positions filled.