Experience vs. fresh approach in DA debate

District Attorney Brett Carter, left, and Matthew Chandler debate during the 2004 District Attorney Candidate Forum Tuesday at the Clovis Community College Town Hall. Rick Cornelison, center, monitored the debate. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ staff writer

In a 90-minute debate of Republicans seeking the position of 9th Judicial District Attorney, incumbent Brett Carter promoted his experience while challenger Matt Chandler spoke of an aggressive new vision for fighting crime.

Although both presented different ideas about the future of the district attorney’s office, they agreed on one item: Something must be done to curb crime in the district, which includes Curry and Roosevelt counties.

“I think what’s a major concern to us is the increase in violent crime,” Carter told an audience of about 150 who turned out at Clovis Community College on Tuesday night. The debate was sponsored by the Clovis Legal Association.

Carter, who has served nearly 17 years as a prosecutor including two as district attorney, said his office is currently handling 11 homicide cases and 14 child sex abuse cases, and noted that the public defender’s office assigns its most experienced attorneys to help those accused of crimes.

“Those who know me know I’m a prosecutor, not a politician,” Carter said. “As a citizen I think you would want to have the most experienced prosecutor prosecuting these cases.”

The 28-year-old Chandler, whose father Caleb Chandler is a former Clovis police chief who’s also served as an elected state legislator and magistrate judge, said Clovis has experienced a massive rise in crime and needs an aggressive prosecutor to fight the trend.

“Statistics will show that 85 to 90 percent of those of you in this room will be victims of crime at some point in your life,” said Chandler, a 1998 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University and Clovis native.

Chandler worked 17 months under Carter before deciding to run for the district attorney’s position and said he had Carter’s trust to handle difficult cases during that period.

“I’ve prosecuted homicide cases; I’ve handled murder cases,” Chandler said.

Both candidates said drug use — especially methamphetamine — is central to the region’s rising crime problem.

Carter said low pay levels cause many new prosecutors to leave after a few years and said the office needs to have an experienced district attorney to guide and mentor young prosecutors.

Chandler cited a commitment to communicate with everyone and an aggressive prosecutorial approach as his main assets.

“Energy is contagious,” Chandler said. “The DA’s office just has to have someone who is positive, energetic, and encouraging.”

Carter and Chandler both said the DA’s office needs to concentrate on prosecuting the worst offenders.

“The majority of the people in our community are not out committing violent crimes,” Carter said. “It’s a small minority who are giving our community a bad name.”

“Statistics show 10 percent of your criminals are committing 70 percent of the crime,” Chandler said. “If they are repeat offenders, you need to show no mercy.”

After the debate, audience members said they were glad to be able to see the candidates go head-to-head.

“I just wanted to hear how Mr. Chandler would explain how 17 months of experience qualifies him to oversee a major operation like the district attorney’s office,” said Carter supporter Dan Lindsey. “I think (Chandler) would be a very good DA once he gets some experience, but what will happen if just one murderer got off? That would be tragic.”

Chandler supporter Shelli Tawney said the DA’s office needs Chandler’s energy to fight crime.

“Even though he doesn’t have as much experience as Brett Carter, he spoke with a lot of passion and dedication to prosecute criminals,” Tawney said. “I think we had a good debate tonight, and all the officers of the Clovis Legal Association did a good job putting it together.”

Carter and Chandler are both running in the June 1 Republican primary. No Democrats have announced their candidacy.

May 4 is the final day for Curry and Roosevelt County residents to register to vote in the primary.