By David Arkin: CNJ correspondent
Four prosecutors in the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office claim former colleague Matt Chandler is misrepresenting his record in hopes of being elected on June 1.
Chandler said information he’s supplied in fliers and in media advertisements is accurate. He called the prosecutors’ comments “disappointing.”
“For this to come out at this point is petty,” Chandler said. “It’s a distraction to the true issues which come down to public safety. These are just desperate measures that they are using.”
Deputy District Attorney Bryan L. McKay, Assistant District Attorney Fred Van Soelen, Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw and Assistant District Attorney Michelle Reeves sent a letter to the Clovis News Journal last week complaining that Chandler is misinforming voters.
Chandler worked in the district attorney’s office for 17 months before he was fired by District Attorney Brett Carter earlier this year after announcing his plans to run for election.
Chandler and Carter are Republicans and the only district attorney candidates on the ballot.
Carter, 42, has been a prosecutor for 17 years and has trumpeted his experience as a key reason voters should return him to office. Carter said he did not sign the letter to the newspaper, but he agreed with its focus.
“I think there is a lot of misinformation out there that the voters are receiving,” Carter said. “The voters need the facts before they make decisions and there is no way that in the 17 months that Matt worked in this office that he prosecuted 1,000 cases.”
Chandler said he has documentation to prove his claims. On Friday, he carried three appointment books to the newspaper office and said he used those books to count the number of cases in which he’s been involved.
Chandler said records he compiled show he worked 1,747 cases during his stint in the district attorney’s office.
McKay said Chandler has never tried a death penalty case, first- or second-degree murder case or a voluntary manslaughter case. The only homicide case Chandler has worked was when he assisted a senior attorney on a vehicular homicide trial, McKay said.
Chandler said he’s “handled every type of felony case on the books.” As an example, he said he was “instrumental” in indicting Fernando Garcia on first-degree murder following an incident at a dog fight last year.
“Subsequently, he (Garcia) was found not guilty during trial two weeks ago,” Chandler said.
Reeves said that just because a prosecutor is assigned a case doesn’t mean the job has been completed.
“When the public hears that someone has had 1,000 cases they think that all of those cases had been tried,” she said.
Reeves said she didn’t know how many cases Chandler was assigned, but said when she worked in the public defender’s office, where case loads were heavier than in the district attorney’s office, she didn’t handle close to 1,000 cases in one year.
McKay said it was impossible for Chandler to have handled 1,000 cases during his 17 months with the district attorney’s office.
“It’s important that the public know this information he’s putting out is misleading…,” he said.
Capshaw said Chandler’s advertisements promoting his experience eventually began to frustrate his former co-workers, which inspired the letter to the newspaper.
“I’m just a prosecutor,” Capshaw said. “I don’t want to have anything to do with politics. And then all of a sudden with this election your job is right in the middle of politics. Watching this election process I got to a point where I heard Matt saying things that weren’t true and said that’s enough.”
McKay said the four prosecutors who signed the letter are supporting Carter because of his experience.
“I will have six years of experience in August and tried over 70 jury trials,” McKay said. “I need someone who can answer my questions as my boss, not someone who has tried 17 jury trials. That’s the whole point of this, is having someone who has experience.”
Chandler, 28, has maintained he has the experience needed to lead the district attorney’s office. Besides work as a Clovis prosecutor, Chandler’s had experience in civil law in Albuquerque and in the district attorney’s office in Tulsa, Okla.
Reeves said Clovis-area prosecutors don’t spend a lot of time talking about the election because of their workload. But she said there is concern about the future of the office.
“Depending on how the election turns out, it could have a big difference on our lives,” she said. “I have been through this before where an administration changes and it can be tough. No one here is dwelling on it, but it’s on our minds.”
If Chandler wins the election, Capshaw said his future in the office would be cloudy.
“I don’t know if I would still be here if Matt won,” Capshaw said. “Who knows, maybe Matt wouldn’t keep me. This has just not been fun for this office. I just didn’t foresee any of this.”
Despite all the talk, Chandler said he wants to stay positive.
“I will not resort to getting into the mud with the DA,” he said. “I promise to keep my campaign focused on the issues that matter.”
• • •
Prosecutors in the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office wrote this letter to the editor last week:
To the editor,
We are writing this letter to you in hopes of clearing some of the misperceptions or erroneous advertisements that have been printed or mailed in regards to Matt Chandler’s experience.
As the prosecutors in the Clovis district attorney’s office, we are familiar with the facts, and want the public to understand the truth.
Matt Chandler has NEVER tried death penalty cases, first-degree murder cases, second-degree murder cases … He has NEVER tried a voluntary manslaughter case.
The only “homicide” case Mr. Chandler has, he assisted a senior attorney on a vehicular homicide trial. Mr. Chandler has never tried any sexual assault cases involving a child.
The claim has also been made that Mr. Chandler has prosecuted thousands of cases. That is impossible. He would have had assigned to him significantly less that 1,000 cases in the 17 months he was a prosecutor, and there would not have been time to “prosecute” that many cases in such a short time.
Of those cases he has prosecuted, over 98 percent were settled by plea agreements.
Furthermore, his claim to have the “highest jury trial conviction rate in the district attorney’s office from 2002 through 2004” is not factually correct. At least one other attorney in the district attorney’s office had a higher percentage of convictions during that time period.
As attorneys who work in the DA’s office, (who) go to court every day for this community, we believe that the true facts should be revealed and have felt compelled to write this letter to inform the voters of the truth.
Bryan L. McKay
Fred Van Soelen