By David Arkin: PNT Correspondent
Brett Carter says experience counts.
He’s counting on that experience to carry him to a victory on June 1 over challenger Matt Chandler for the Ninth Judicial District Attorneys position.
But it could be tough. Chandler, the 28-year-old Eastern New Mexico University graduate, is running an intense campaign in a race that is the talk of the town. Drama surrounds the DA race, mostly because Carter fired Chandler earlier this year because Chandler wouldn’t back down from his campaign plans.
Carter, though, doesn’t seem too concerned about Chandler’s campaign or losing his position. He thinks that voters want someone with a lot of experience serving as their district attorney.
For 17 years, Carter has been a prosecutor. Serving as district attorney is a position he says he’s always wanted.
“This is the job I’ve always dreamed about,” he said. “I’m not using this position as a political steppingstone. I have been dedicated to public service.”
Carter was appointed by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson in 2002 and was elected a few months later.
He said one of his proudest moments in the Ninth Judicial office came in 1997 when the New Mexico District Attorneys Association named him the Prosecutor of the Year.
During that same year the New Mexico Supreme Court appointed him to the Children Court Rules Committee, a group he still serves on.
“To be recognized by the state Supreme Court and to be chosen to serve on that committee was an honor,” he said.
It seems that Carter has more to brag about than just awards he has won. He said he concentrated on getting the Ninth Judicial office more “modernized.”
“We used to keep file cards of old cases on hand and if you wanted to check on someone you had to flip through all of these cards,” he said. “As soon as I came on we computerized that system. Now attorneys can spend more time in the courtroom.”
Carter has initiated several programs, including the Curry and Roosevelt County Truancy Initiative.
“We realized that in order to keep the juvenile crime down we needed to keep our children in school,” he said. “The more successful they are in school, the less likely they are to become juvenile or adult offenders.”
He said he also:
• Implemented a Worthless Check and Pre-prosecution and Diversion Program for Roosevelt County,
• Drafted House Bill 1005, relating to the enforcement of the Compulsory School Attendance Law, introduced in the 1997 Legislature session.
• Co-Authored Senate Bill 537, which enacted the Gang Enforcement and Prevention Act, introduced in the 1997 Legislature session.
Carter brags that the most violent offenders in the area are receiving some of the stiffest penalties. Chandler on the other hand says that the DA office has too many plea negotiations. He also said that the DA office needed to be more pro-active in dealing with crime.
“The violent offenders are the ones receiving the stiffest penalties,” Carter said. “We’re really trying to be tough on our violent crimes and trying to put those people who commit those crimes away for the maximum sentence.”
Carter said an example of that is when he got Pedro Joaquin Amaro of Clovis, life in prison plus a 31-yeas sentence this year for the killing of a Clovis resident.
He also said he got Richard Swopes of St. Vrain convicted for molesting several of his children and sentenced to serve 41 years in the Department of Corrections.
But the point that Carter thumps on more than anything else is that he has experience — much more than his opponent.
“I have tried every type of case,” Carter said. “I can use my experience to train young attorneys. I am the only candidate in this race who has a prosecutor within my office who is openly supporting my re-election. A lot of the prosecutors in the office have five or six years of experience, unlike my opponent, who has one year and four months of experience in the office. Many in the office feel that if they have a question for a trial they won’t have anyone to go to if (Chandler) is elected.”
Chandler contends that he does have the experience to lead the office. He says he has covered every type of case also. But Carter said those who are heading to court want to have a prosecutor with a lot of experience.
“If you are a defendant who is being charged with first or second-degree murder, you want to hire the most experienced attorney,” he said. “The same goes in the public defender’s office — they want to put their most experienced person forward for their biggest cases.”
Carter said the DA for the Ninth Judicial District needs about five to six years of experience.
“Not only are you the chief prosecutor, but you have to mentor and supervise the other attorneys and 22 other support personnel,” he said. “You are in charge of a $2 million budget. You are responsible for going before the Legislature to keep that funding.”
Clovis Mayor David Lansford said Carter’s experience should be a factor in the election.
“He is a good candidate and a good DA because he has a tremendous amount of experience,” Lansford said. “On a personal end, he is honest, has integrity and is extremely proficient in carrying out the duties of his office. There is no reason why this community should not consider him to be the DA again.”
One thing Chandler has said that the DA office does not do a good job of is communicating with the public and that includes creating an open-door policy. Carter says that’s not so. His door is always open, he said.
“Each one of our attorneys has 300-325 cases open at any given time,” he said. “So we are always meeting with victims and police officers. When people come in our office they can always get pointed in the right direction so their problems can get addressed.”
He pointed out that his office has a good working relationship with other officials in the area.
“If you look around at the various officials here, we have great relationships with them,” he said. “We meet frequently with those in the city, police and schools to discuss what is coming up.”