By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ staff writer
Both the incoming and outgoing district attorneys said they want to make the next seven months an effective transition period.
Incumbent 9th Judicial District Attorney Brett Carter said he hasn’t yet called his successful challenger, Matt Chandler, but will consult with him as the time comes near for Carter to leave office in January.
“We’ll just keep running the way we have in the past; we will run an efficient office and there’s no reason to change what we’ve been doing,” Carter said. “If something comes up that will affect the office past January, 2005, we will talk with Matt about it.”
Chandler said he wants to cooperate with Carter so he can be prepared when he takes office, but will make some changes.
“Over the last couple of years, the crime rates in our district have reached an all-time high,” Chandler said. “One of the things we will focus on is a very aggressive prosecution style, especially with repeat offenders. Those who have been violent offenders or those who are repeat felony offenders, we are going to prosecute to the full extent of the law.”
Chandler said his new approach will include enforcing existing state statutes for enhanced sentencing of repeat offenders and making all violent offenders serve 85 percent of their time without possibility of parole.
Although Curry County’s recently built jail is often overcrowded and housing inmates elsewhere is costing the county large amounts of money, Chandler said he’s already spoken to jail administrators and has a plan to keep a tough prosecution approach from making problems worse.
“Over the past few years, a lot of people have been convicted of felonies but have plea-bargained to get county time. If you get county time, we have to pay county expenses,” Chandler said. “If you’ve been convicted of a felony, your sentence is going to be carried out in the Department of Corrections.”
Chandler said he also plans to reduce the time inmates sit in jail after their arrest waiting for trial by speeding up the processing of court paperwork.
Taking more cases to trial shouldn’t lead to more acquittals, Chandler said.
“If you have a case where the evidence is clear and both sides agree the criminal defendant is guilty, you can use the tool of plea bargaining to avoid wasting the jury’s time and the state’s money, but if justice will not be served to the victim, you must have the confidence to go to trial,” Chandler said. “If we are very thorough and very meticulous in the way we present our evidence, the jury will 95 percent of the time come back with a conviction, but you have to be very diligent in answering any question a jury might have.”
Chandler and Carter both said they expect the office’s eight other attorneys to remain following the transition.
“I expect they’ll all be kept on because it can take up to a year to fill an attorney slot,” Carter said. “This is the first time in a long time we’ve had every attorney slot filled.”
Chandler confirmed that he’d like to see all the other attorneys remain — even those who endorsed his opponent and publicly said Chandler was exaggerating his experience in advertisements.
“The fact is that I have had the opportunity to work with everyone who is in the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office; we have very good relationships, we have a lot of respect for each other,” Chandler said.
Three of the four signers of the letter, Bryan L. McKay, Brent Capshaw and Michelle Reeves, couldn’t be reached for immediate comment Wednesday afternoon. Fred Van Soelen, the fourth signer, said he had been planning all along to decide after five years in the prosecutor’s office whether he wanted to remain in that role, and the election results wouldn’t be a factor in his decision. Van Soelen said he will reach the five-year mark this month.
For now, Carter said he’ll focus on trying to take a few weeks of vacation and make decisions on his future about a month from now.
“At least one civil firm has asked if I want to go work with them, and in 2008 they will allow me to take a leave of absence and run for district attorney again if that’s what I want,” Carter said. “I’ve been approached by a lot of people today who said they wished they’d gotten out and voted but because I am the incumbent they thought I would win. I’m not saying (Chandler) can’t run the office, but I spent 17 years as a career prosecutor and I’d like to end my career as a prosecutor.”