link Staff photos: Tony Bullocks
Andrea Reeb, right, a Republican, and Jennifer Burrill, 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 one of the Q&A was published in Sunday’s paper.
Opportunity for response was provided at the editor’s discretion:
Q: Security cameras are everywhere these days and video is often used by prosecutors and defense attorneys to prove/disprove cases. But what are the downsides to video evidence?
Burrill: When video is available, it can help us better understand the situation by providing specific details and ensuring that witness testimony is not flawed or biased. It is critical that we take the necessary steps to preserve video evidence in alleged crimes so that law enforcement, prosecutors and, ultimately, juries, can get a more comprehensive and detailed picture of the crime.
Currently, this is not always done, leaving prosecutors and even juries at a disadvantage when evaluating the strength of cases.
Reeb: Video evidence of criminal action is extremely beneficial to prosecutors when proving a case in the courtroom. However, video should always be supplemented and corroborated by other evidence, especially testimony.
Videos show important pieces of evidence that juries need to consider, but they don’t always tell the whole story. Often, jurors and community members will see a video and believe they have the entire picture. But, it’s not until they have the opportunity to see what’s occurring through the officer’s eyes, and to know what his training requires, that the picture truly becomes clear.
It’s not uncommon for jurors to come up to us after a trial and say, “It wasn’t until he explained it on the stand that I realized…”
Our attorneys are committed to painting the entire picture for juries at the appropriate time, the day of trial.
Reeb’s response to Burrill: I would respond with the statement that whenever possible video is used in court. Of course, occasionally by mistake or accident, a camera malfunctions or may not record. Sometimes evidence may get lost.
These are normal people, and things do happen at times. Saying that, it is my understanding that officers have recording devices on their clothing and in there cars. Of course, this may depend on the finances of each law enforcement agency and what those agencies can afford.
Whenever a video is available to our prosecutors, it will be and has been used in court. Our office is not responsible for storing evidence. That is the responsibility of each law enforcement agency. But it is our responsibility to give the jury every piece of evidence that has been made available to us. We do this at every trial.
Q: Talk about the budget for the district attorney’s office. Is it enough? Is there waste? What do you know about managing budgets or lobbying lawmakers for more money?
Burrill: We’re all concerned about our tax dollars, so maximizing resources is key to running the district attorney’s office. There are approximately 39 full-time employees and the annual budget is nearly $2.6 million. The current funding would be sufficient if cases were more effectively evaluated before they were filed, thereby reducing the number of cases in the system and ensuring stronger prosecutions.
Reducing the number of cases handled by the district attorney’s office would not result in a reduction of staff, but rather would allow more time and attention be devoted to the remaining cases, ensuring they are fully prepared for trial.
Having said that, a larger budget would allow for additional staff in the Portales office to meet the growing needs of Roosevelt County, and expand the Victim Advocate Program, allowing increased access to community resources.
As to handling budgets, for the past seven years I have owned my law practice and am experienced in balancing a criminal caseload while managing a staff and a budget.
Having real-world experience before becoming a lawyer, building my business from the ground up, and serving on the school board that oversees a multi-million dollar budget, has prepared me to effectively run the district attorney’s office.
Much of the waste in the current budget comes from prosecutors having to backtrack, sometimes more than a year after a case is filed, in an attempt to tie up loose ends with more investigation. As you can imagine, evidence and witnesses are not as readily available months and years after the alleged crime has occurred. This results in additional hours, and taxpayer dollars, for both investigators and prosecutors in the district attorney’s office.
Strong cases with complete investigations from the time of inception can more easily proceed through the courts. Fewer delays would also reduce the backlog in the criminal courts, effectively reducing court expenses as well as those of the district attorney’s office.
Additionally, I think we need to be gravely concerned with the spate of ethical and constitutional violations by prosecutors that have been leveled at our district attorney’s office. These issues vary from intimidating witnesses to tampering with grand jury proceedings, to conflicts resulting from the current DA being married to a sitting judge.
These are costly not only in taxpayer dollars, but also to protecting personal liberty. They also shake our confidence in the district attorney’s office.
When it comes to working with the Legislature, my experience is extensive, beginning with clerking for a congressman while in law school, to lobbying on Capitol Hill for criminal and judicial initiatives.
Most recently, I lobbied at the Roundhouse during the last legislative session as part of the Clovis school board. Through my activities in the community I have developed significant relationships with legislators on both sides of the aisle, which will be beneficial when addressing both proposed changes to the criminal statutes and budget issues.
Reeb: My chief financial officer and I work closely with the budget analysts at both the Department of Finance State Budget Division and the Legislative Finance Committee in order to help establish our appropriation request from fiscal year to fiscal year.
Ninety-two percent of our total budget in fiscal year 2014 was used for personnel services and employee benefits. In 2015, we project to use 95 percent of our budget for the same purposes.
We have and always will find a way to operate efficiently and successfully within the appropriation amounts allotted to us by our lawmakers.
“Lobbying” for more money is not the solution.
Reeb’s response to Burrill: Based on my opponent’s answers, it is clear to me that she does not understand how the district attorney’s office uses our budget. Again, as I previously stated, 95 percent of our budget is spent on personnel services and benefits. That leaves 5 percent of our budget to be used for day-to-day operations.
In response to the “ethical and constitutional violations,” it is difficult to listen to these attacks on my prosecutors. Even though these accusations have been previously dealt with, I will again say three of the four sitting district court judges are married to practicing attorneys in Curry County. Their dockets are arranged in such a manner as to avoid any conflicts. Judge Stephen Quinn and Judge Fred Van Soelen both are married to practicing family law attorneys. Therefore, their dockets are arranged to not handle family law matters that may involve their spouses. This is no different from the arrangement made for my husband’s docket to only handle civil matters. My opponent has no basis to say any conflict exists.
What is more concerning is why my opponent left this line of work to defend criminals after only prosecuting for three years. Now, almost a decade later and without the support of any local law enforcement, she wants to be the chief law enforcement officer in our district.
Over the past decade, the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has been continuously praised by legislators as the most “effective and efficient” prosecutor’s office in the state. In addition, the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has received more awards and recognition for prosecutors and support staff than any other district. My plan is to continue to improve on the outstanding tradition we have developed over the past decade by setting new initiatives to keep our citizens safe from the very people my opponent continuously defends.
Q: Fifty words to promote yourself: What makes you most qualified to be district attorney?
Burrill: Effective trial experience, the advantage of understanding both defense and prosecution viewpoints, and a strong foundation of integrity and ethics makes me uniquely qualified. Expect transparency and new procedures to unclog weak cases from our courts, watered-down prosecutions and anemic pleas, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars and delivering justice effectively.
Reeb: Dedication. For nearly two decades I have devoted my life to making our district safer. I have spent my career removing sex offenders and child abusers from our streets, while my opponent spends her days attempting to free them.
Burrill’s response to Reeb: Because personal liberty is so sacred, the forefathers made sure there were checks and balances in place before a person’s freedom could be taken away. Our adversarial system gives everyone the right to a fair defense challenging prosecution by the state, in an effort to prevent government overreaching.
As a defense attorney, I have the privilege of protecting the rights of victims, witnesses, and defendants involved in the criminal justice system. When I was in the district attorney’s office, my role was one of protecting the community by prosecuting criminals and safeguarding victims’ rights. I am proud of my work protecting the rights of individuals on both sides of the criminal justice system.
Under the U.S. and New Mexico constitutions it is the responsibility of both prosecution and defense attorneys to ensure everyone gets a fair trial. Unfortunately, we have seen evidence in case after case of prosecutors in our district tampering with secret grand jury proceedings such as state vs. DeLeon. More concerning is state vs. Gutierrez, which was overturned. (http://www.nmcompcomm.us/nmcases/nmsc/slips/SC33,296.pdf)
This is not justice and is very dangerous.
These kinds of practices do not make our community safer. They place everyone in jeopardy of being wrongfully accused and in many situations fail to protect victims when the cases are overturned due to a prosecutor’s failure to follow the law.
How can our community be safer when criminal offenders walk free because the district attorney’s office didn’t follow the law?
Not only is this dangerous, but it is also very costly. The state spends hundreds of thousands of dollars prosecuting cases and appealing them, only to have the convictions thrown out by the higher courts. It is time that we get back to a criminal justice system that respects and follows the same laws it is entrusted to uphold.
— Compiled by Editor David Stevens