David Sinclair (J.W. Oliver photo)
By J.W. Oliver
Democratic candidate for district attorney David Sinclair, of Bath, believes the office can alleviate the fiscal and social costs of incarceration through alternatives already in use elsewhere around the state.
“I’m running because I know we can do better,” Sinclair said. “We can achieve better social outcomes by pursuing better policies.”
Sinclair opened a law office in Bath in 2010. He practices criminal defense law, as well as civil matters and family law.
Sinclair represents Ward 6 on the Bath City Council. He will complete his second consecutive three-year term in November and does not plan to run again.
“The district attorney cannot hold another elected post, and it’s my intention to be the district attorney starting on Jan. 1, so I’m not standing for election for another term on the council,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair supports the use of restorative justice programs and a program that would allow destitute offenders to work off fines through community service.
The policies of the district attorney’s office have instituted a cycle wherein “first-time offenders become second-time offenders and then third-time offenders, and each time, with each new offense, the severity of the offense is escalated,” Sinclair said.
The district attorney’s office can help end this cycle if it pays more attention to how the system treats first-time offenders, Sinclair said.
Restorative justice focuses on repairing harm to people and relationships rather than on punishing offenders, according to the International Institute for Restorative Practices.
For example, if a young man vandalizes a building, he might repair the damage and work with a mentor and the victim to better understand the effect of his crime.
The average first-time offender will reoffend between 60 and 70 percent of the time, Sinclair said. Graduates of restorative justice programs reoffend just 20 to 30 percent of the time.
“That’s a significant improvement, and it’s that kind of improvement we need to pursue if we are, in the end, going to cut down on the number of crimes the community suffers and the costs we suffer as a result of those crimes.”
The costs Sinclair refers to go beyond tax dollars.
“There are also significant social costs,” Sinclair said. For example, the absence of a parent during a jail sentence affects the children and the other parent.
Sinclair would also like to see the district imitate Penobscot County’s ReFinement program.
Often, courts will levy a fine for a misdemeanor crime and the criminal lacks the money to pay the fine. The criminal falls behind on fine payments, the court issues a warrant, police arrest the offender, and the offender goes back to court.
The system invests “a huge amount of resources” when, often, nothing can be done except to change the fine payment schedule, Sinclair said.
The ReFinement program allows people who cannot pay their fines to perform community service. For every day of work, the individual earns credit toward the fine.
The program saves resources and reinforces the individual’s connection to their community, Sinclair said.
Despite his advocacy for ReFinement and restorative justice, Sinclair acknowledges that some crimes need “firm prosecution.” If the office can reduce petty crime, however, it can apply more resources to serious crimes, he said.
Sinclair said he would differ from the present administration in his hesitance to negotiate plea deals.
“There are certain types of cases where we have seen a great likelihood of resolution of the case through a plea deal … I would have a very low likelihood of offering plea deals, particularly in domestic violence circumstances,” he said.
Sinclair, 45, was born at Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta and grew up in Maine.
“My mom was a single mom who raised four children,” Sinclair said. “I learned a great deal from her about the importance of work ethic and of always finding the positive in any situation, and finding ways to improve any situation.”
He graduated from Cony High School in Augusta and Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., where he was a computer science major and a sociology minor.
He worked in the technology sector for more than a decade before earning his law degree at the University of Maine School at Law in Portland.
He bought a camp on Little River in East Boothbay in 1999 and moved permanently to Bath some years later.
Sinclair mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for Maine Senate District 19 in a special election in 2013.
Eloise Vitelli, of Arrowsic, won the nomination behind key endorsements from her predecessor, Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, and House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham. She went on to win the election.
Sinclair sits on the board of the Bath Area Food Bank and serves as an alternate on the Lincoln and Sagadahoc Multicounty Jail Authority, which oversees Two Bridges Regional Jail.
He faces an entrenched opponent in five-term incumbent District Attorney Geoff Rushlau.
“Incumbents are more likely to win, all else being equal, but we’re not in a situation where all else is equal,” Sinclair said. “It’s clear that we need some change.”
Rushlau has had an opponent in three of the last five elections, and those three races were “fairly close,” Sinclair said. “I don’t at all see it as an unclimbable hill.”
“I have great respect for the incumbent, Mr. Rushlau,” Sinclair said. “I think the entire district ought to be appreciative of his service, and I have absolutely nothing negative to say about him. I just have a different set of policies to pursue that I think will yield better results.”
“We need some fresh ideas in this district, and we need someone with the energy and passion to pursue those ideas,” Sinclair said.
Outside the office, he likes to spend time with his wife, Lauren, their infant son, Beckett, and their two dogs, at home or at their East Boothbay camp. He and his wife are beekeepers, and he also likes to kayak.