The Republican candidates for the office of 22nd Judicial District Attorney faced off in the political seasons first public forum Monday night, debating experience versus vision and the qualities necessary for a successful DA.
Present at the forum were Russell Wasley, who currently holds the office of DA, and Will Furse, a local defense attorney. Each candidate was asked to give a brief introductory statement before facing questions from roughly 100 area residents gathered at the Montezuma County Annex.
Furse opened the evening with a discussion of an increase in crime in Montezuma County and his belief that reduction and prevention of crime are necessary components of the DAs vision.
I believe crime reduction through responsible and effective prosecution is the DAs job, Furse said. The statistics do not speak well about how we are addressing the problem of crime in this community and how to reduce it. I believe that is because the DAs office lacks two essential elements. First, a strategy, and second, a sense of community and teamwork.
Furse advocated a proactive stance on the part of the DAs office to reduce crime, specifically through deterrence created by harsh sentences and a no plea-bargain policy.
People who commit crimes here should fear the consequences, he said. The discretion should be taken from judges and habitual and repeat offenders should not get the privilege of a plea bargain.
Furse said rehabilitation is the second prong of his crime reduction vision. Key to this goal is a desire to work with young offenders and foster an environment of rehabilitation.
I want to create pro-social, deliberate sentences for our young people so they are not institutionalized and branded felons at a young age, Furse said. I want to help youths avoid that scarlet letter, which often simply fulfills a life of crime if it is used.
Wasley introduced himself to the assembly by extolling his successes as the regions district attorney.
I am your DA right now, Wasley said. You elected me in 2010 after the unfortunate and untimely death of Jim Wilson and I am finishing out the unexpired portion of his term. I want you to know that I am running on a platform of strict prosecution, nothing new. I believe in deterrence and I believe deterrence works. Each and every time we get a jury verdict that sends a message to the defendant involved, it also sends a message to the community at large. This is done one case at a time and one jury at a time.
Wasley spent time walking the audience through his history of cases in the 22nd Judicial District, noting the experience he brings to the job and the necessity of experience on the job.
The bottom line is that experience counts, and I have it, he said. You cant be effective without experience doing murder trials. To do this job, it has to be something that is not new to you, and this is critical.
When asked to expound on his greatest professional achievement, Wasley pointed to his work during an the Ignacio Rael murder trial in Montezuma County in 2008.
I would have to say my greatest achievement was partnering with Jim (Wilson) on the Rael murder case, Wasley said. It was a difficult case and there were some problems with the evidence and the case came down to one spot of blood on the sock of the defendant. That was largely the case. It a very, very rewarding experience trying that case and leaving it up to the jury.
In response to the same question, Furse noted his efforts to aid the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in reworking their court system.
A year ago I helped the Ute Mountain Utes revamp their court system, he said. I contracted with the tribe and renovated the criminal justice system. It was a system that left defendants languishing in jail too long without a hearing or public defender, despite a legal mandate. Now those individuals are getting their rights given back to them.
Throughout the evening, the two candidates sparred over a number of issues. Wasley often pointed out Furses relative lack of experience as a prosecutor while Furse noted the benefits of vision over experience.
My young friend doesnt have the prosecutorial experience necessary to handle the cases that come up, Wasley said. Experience counts.
There is no doubt that Im younger than Mr. Wasley, Furse responded. I do not have the years of experience, but I ask that you look at the quality of the candidate. I dont have the same experience but I have a different vision and different point of view.
The 2012 primary election in Montezuma County is being conducted by mail-in ballot. Ballots are due to go out from the county clerks office by Friday, June 8.
For more information, contact the clerks office at 565-3728.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]