Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

District attorney candidates talk issues

link Staff photos: Tony Bullocks

Andrea Reeb, right, a Republican, and Jennifer Burrill, left, a Democrat, are running for district attorney in the Nov. 4 general election.

Editor’s note: Andrea Reeb is an 18-year prosecutor appointed district attorney when Matt Chandler resigned March 1. Jennifer Burrill is a criminal defense attorney and a former prosecutor in the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office. Reeb, a Republican, and Burrill, a Democrat, are running for district attorney in the Nov. 4 general election.

They answered questions via e-mail. Part two of the Q&A will be published in Wednesday’s paper.

Question: One of you will be the first female elected district attorney in the district’s history. What does that mean to you?

Burrill: While it would be an honor to hold such a title, it should not make a difference which gender holds this office. New Mexico has a number of women in the position of district attorney and we have a number of women on the bench, including our chief justice of the Supreme Court. It is clearly established that committed and smart women can do this job.

Reeb: Over the last seven months, it has been an honor to serve as the district’s first female district attorney. I have worked my entire 18-year career as a prosecutor, and proudly serve alongside men and women in law enforcement.

Being the first female district attorney, as well as the granddaughter of the former District Attorney Dick Rowley means a great deal to me as a prosecutor. I have two daughters. I hope I am a role model for them and other children in our district.

But my strength comes from my determination, not my gender.

Q: What is the district attorney’s most important job?

Burrill: The job of the 9th Judicial District Attorney is to seek justice for the people of Curry and Roosevelt counties. This requires a district attorney who has a strong knowledge of the law, integrity, leadership skills, and the ability to work closely with law enforcement in providing legal guidance throughout the investigation stages.

The most important part of the job is the charging of a crime. Taking away someone’s liberty, one of the fundamental rights humans have, requires a district attorney who understands the significance of losing one’s freedom. With power comes great responsibility. Prosecutors must have solid evidence of the crime before pursuing charges and approving the arrest of suspects.

Reeb: The district attorney’s job is to pursue justice. And as justice demands, we are always holding criminals accountable for their crimes while simultaneously standing beside their victims.

Above all, we follow the law, and it is only by doing so that the district attorney’s office can assist in making the 9th Judicial District a safe place for our residents to live and raise their families.

Q: What is your strength as a trial lawyer?

Burrill: Having served as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, I have a unique advantage in having a complete understanding of the criminal justice system.

I have a strong knowledge of the law and understand the importance of a well-researched case. Serving on the Supreme Court rules of evidence committee for the past six years has given me incredible insight into what information can be considered at trial, which is a key factor in assessing the strength of every case.

The district attorney needs to be confident in the strength of the case from the time the case is filed until the time it goes to trial, to avoid watered-down convictions and anemic plea agreements that don’t satisfy justice for the people she serves.

My fair, tough, and aggressive style was recognized earlier this year when I was named one of the top 100 criminal trial lawyers in the nation.

Reeb: In my 18 years as a trial lawyer, I have tried hundreds of criminal cases to Curry and Roosevelt county juries. I have tried cases at every level, from simple DWIs to extremely complicated matters, such as homicides and crimes against children.

I am very comfortable in the courtroom and very familiar with the rigorous demands associated with presenting a criminal case to a jury.

Q: Your weakness?

Burrill: I have a tendency to be very straight-forward, and that can sometimes be disconcerting to those who are not used to someone who addresses issues head on and is transparent in their approach.

Reeb: My biggest weakness is that I become overly invested in a case I may be trying. I believe good luck favors a prepared mind. I never want my lack of work to be the reason a victim does not see justice in the courtroom.

That being said, I pressure myself to be 100 percent sure that I have done everything possible to present a solid case for every single victim. If that means working all night, it means working all night.

Q: Talk about your relationship with local judges and police officers.

Burrill: Having practiced before all of the current judges, I have a good working relationship with them. In addition, my professional relationship with law enforcement has always been strong.

It’s important to keep communication lines open with all parties in the justice system. The criminal statutes change every year and the courts hand down case law clarifying those laws throughout the year. As district attorney, it is vital to provide ongoing updates to law enforcement, thereby ensuring each officer knows the current law when they are on the streets evaluating situations. Keeping officers educated helps ensure cases that reach the district attorney’s office are strong cases, ready for prosecution. Solid evidence produces solid results.

Reeb: While I only practice in front of criminal judges in our district, I have a very professional relationship with all the judges in all of the courts. I have practiced in front of some of our judges for over a decade.

As the district attorney, I work with the judges and criminal defense attorneys to keep the system moving in an ever-changing environment. We keep open lines of communication on administrative issues in order to move the criminal dockets forward.

In addition, I work with police officers in our communities on a daily basis. As district attorney, I am the chief law-enforcement officer in the district, so it is extremely important to be able to work side by side with all law enforcement personnel.

I am in constant communication with the heads of the different law enforcement entities, and I direct the multi-agency Major Crimes Unit.

Our office assists law enforcement by providing advice and training on a daily basis. We also review criminal cases daily.

I am proud that I have been endorsed by the local Fraternal Order of Police for district attorney, and I intend to honor that endorsement by continuing to work with our officers in the trenches.

Q: From marijuana to assault rifles, views differ from neighbor to neighbor, even among public officials and law officers. Are there any laws with which you disagree? And would you prosecute a case when you think a law is unjust?

Burrill: It is not the position of the district attorney to decide if laws are unjust. Laws are created by our Legislature. Consequently, all crimes submitted by law enforcement should be considered for prosecution. It is important, however, that each case be considered on the individual facts of the situation and how those facts fit the law.

Just like not every conviction warrants sending someone to prison, not every alleged violation of the law warrants prosecution. Some situations are business dealings better handled through civil litigation. Others are better handled by the Children, Youth, and Families Department. Criminal prosecutions should be prioritized with violent crimes against people and crimes against our economy topping the list.

Reeb: As the district attorney, my job is to follow the laws enacted by the people of New Mexico. I have taken an oath to do so in each case. When a person violates the law, I have a duty to prosecute whether I personally agree with the law or not. And that is what I do.

However, I disagree with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling regarding the crime of possession of child pornography. The courts ruled that a person may only be charged with one fourth-degree felony, even if thousands of images of children are found on the suspect’s computer. It is my belief that each image should be a separate charge, because each and every child is re-victimized in each and every photo. And, while I follow this ruling, I am currently leading the other district attorneys in New Mexico in an effort to change it.

Q: Social media provides opportunity for anyone to influence public opinion. Does public opinion influence the way you do your job? Why or why not?

Burrill: Public opinion should not impact the district attorney’s decision to pursue or abandon a criminal case. There is no place for favoritism in the criminal justice system. Each case should be evaluated on the facts and how those facts fit the law, not the status of the accused or their relationship to anyone.

Reeb: I am not only the people’s district attorney, I am a member of their community. I grew up in Clovis, graduated from (Clovis High School), and returned after law school to serve them almost two decades ago. I live here, I work here, I am raising my children here, and on Fridays you will almost always find me cheering on the Wildcats. So, I will always, always, listen to the people here.

The decisions that I make will not always be popular with the entire community. I understand that, and have already experienced it. But, I am committed to hearing, seeing, and knowing every side of every issue. Ultimately, I will follow the law.

— Compiled by Editor David Stevens

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