After being appointed to the Custer County prosecuting attorney position in 2016, Justin Oleson said his affinity for county residents drove him to run for the office this year.
"They're my kind of people," Oleson said of Custer County residents. While he admires their independent spirit, Oleson admitted trying to educate people about the legal needs of the county can be challenging.
Since declaring his candidacy, Oleson said he has heard many complaints that the county doesn't punish drug offenses harshly enough. Oleson said the issue isn't just people selling and using drugs in the county, but the fact the sheriff and his deputies don't have a place to put offenders once they catch them.
The real issue is Custer County's undersized, inadequate jail, according to Oleson. Oleson said he spent the last four years working with county commissioners to find an acceptable replacement for the jail, which is the county's original holding facility built more than 100 years ago. If elected, Oleson said he will continue his dialogue with county commissioners to find a way to build a secure, updated jail.
Beyond this, Oleson said residents will get more of the same from him if he's elected. Part of that, he said, is to continue looking individually at each criminal and civil case that gets handed to him.
An example Oleson used was if a deputy came to him and said they cited someone for not following Eastern Idaho Public Health's face-covering mandate, he would analyze the circumstances. If the person in question knowingly had the coronavirus and was still not wearing a mask, Oleson said in that circumstance he would prosecute the offender based on the citation.
"I treat every criminal case fact-specific," Oleson said.
For the most part, Oleson said enforcing any of the health district's mandates would be impractical in Custer County. He told county commissioners and Sheriff Stu Lumpkin that in March when they decided issuing warnings would be the extent of enforcement when it comes to virus mandates.
This falls in line with Oleson's belief that some criminal offenses require lighter punishments than others. He said sometimes people make bad choices, like when teenagers break into their neighbor's home for alcohol, and they shouldn't be punished too harshly. In that instance, Oleson said it is more preferable to see those teenagers return to their neighbor's home, apologize and pay for any damages.
Simple solutions like this make up the majority of being Custer County's attorney, Oleson said, and finding these solutions is a matter of experience. Because he brought more than 15 years of experience when he was appointed to the post, Oleson said realized the prosecutor's office could trim some expenses. Even though the office is staffed by just Oleson and a paralegal, he believes that's enough to handle the county's legal matters.
Although his opponent Jason Mackrill has said a county attorney should live full-time in the county they represent, Oleson disagrees. Oleson splits his time between his homes in Custer and Bingham counties, but he declared his Challis house as his primary residence before the May primary election. He's committed to the people of Custer County, Oleson said, and is willing to make himself available 24/7.
Incumbent Oleson is running for a four-year term as county attorney in the Nov. 3 general election. His name is the only name on the ballot, after he won the Republican primary election. Jason Mackrill is running as a write-in candidate, declaring as a Republican. Mackrill lost in the primary election to Oleson.
People can register at the polls on Election Day by bringing a photo identification card and proof of address. Early voting is already open. People can vote early in person at the Custer County Courthouse. Voters who requested ballots be mailed to them can vote at home and return their ballots by mail or by dropping them off at the courthouse. Early ballots must be at the county clerk's office by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.
Custer County polling locations remain the same for the Nov. 3 general election. Residents in the Challis precinct vote at the Challis Middle School, Round Valley precinct 1 and 2 residents vote at the Challis Legion Hall, Stanley precinct voters will go to the Stanley Community Center and Mackay and Leslie precinct residents will vote in the South Custer Rural Fire Hall in Mackay. Voters who live in the Clayton, Sunol and Battleground precincts always vote by mail.