BY SCOTT FUQUA
Candidate for District Attorney
First Judicial District
I read Ms. Padgett-Macias’ letter with some interest, and not just because I was its principal subject. It was interesting to me because it omits what I and many others consider to be the most important abilities a District Attorney must have – the ability to manage and the ability to lead.
Ms. Padgett-Macias is wrong to assert that I have no criminal law experience. In my eight years at the Attorney General’s Office, I argued over 40 cases to the New Mexico Supreme Court, and several of those cases dealt with both substantive and procedural criminal law issues.
I have, though, never been a prosecutor. Until about a year and a half ago, neither had Ms. Carmack-Altwies, who spent her career as a criminal defense attorney. And learning that never having been a prosecutor disqualifies one for the office of District Attorney would come as big surprise to several District Attorneys all over the country, including Larry Krasner, elected to be Philadelphia’s District Attorney two years ago. He’s successfully enacted sweeping reforms in part precisely because he is not a career prosecutor and brings a fresh perspective to the job.
The example Ms. Padgett-Macias chooses to illustrate my alleged ignorance of criminal law is illuminating, though not at all for the reason she suggests. The comments with which she takes issue – concerning the seizure of vehicles owned by repeat DWI offenders – were made in an online forum hosted by the Santa Fe County Federation of Democratic Women. As Ms. Padgett-Macias acknowledges, the City of Santa Fe has, in fact, seized the vehicles of repeat DWI offenders. I never suggested that any such program exists in Los Alamos County (or Rio Arriba County).
What’s most puzzling about Ms. Padgett-Macias’ comments is her apparent disagreement with the assertion that a repeat DWI offender – the number used for illustration purposes was seven offenses – is struggling with alcoholism. I know, and knew at the time of my comments, that the State imposes a mandatory minimum sentence for repeat DWI offenses. But I also know that incarceration has utterly failed to address the problem. The empirical evidence is simply irrefutable – if incarceration solved the problem, we wouldn’t have repeat DWI offenders of this magnitude. Without treatment, nothing changes. The refusal to recognize as much amounts to willful blindness to the root cause of what Ms. Padgett-Macias correctly identifies as a scourge of this District. While Ms. Carmack-Altwies has seemed in our limited interactions to agree that repeat DWI offenders will continue to be repeat offenders without treatment, Ms. Padgett-Macias’ letter now leaves me unsure. If we want to keep a person with seven DWIs from getting an eighth, we’re fooling ourselves if we think putting him or her in jail will accomplish that goal. Decades of experience tell us that it won’t, and it is too bad that Ms. Padgett-Macias and her chosen candidate don’t see that. Treating repeat DWIs “with the utmost seriousness and determination,” to use Ms. Padgett-Macias’ phrase, requires making our best attempt to prevent additional DWIs by the offender. That, in turn, requires treatment. Without it, it doesn’t matter how long the term of incarceration is.
But the bigger issue with Ms. Padgett-Macias’ letter is that it ignores entirely the most important experience the elected District Attorney must have – the ability to lead and manage the office. Ms. Carmack-Altwies has spent the last approximately year and a half managing four attorneys in one division in the office. During that time, at least one attorney under her supervision was sanctioned for failing to disclose evidence to a defendant within the time required by law.
For four years I supervised approximately 18 attorneys and staff members in the Litigation Division of the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. The division handled the Attorney General’s litigation across the entire state and achieved great results for the state and its citizens. I learned quickly that my job as a manager was to make sure that the attorneys and staff in my division knew what the litigation and policy priorities of the office were, to make sure that they had the resources they needed to do their jobs, and to then get out of the way and let them do those jobs. On this point, Ms. Carmack-Altwies seemingly disagrees, telling the audience in a candidate forum hosted by the Los Alamos chapter of the League of Women Voters that the role of the District Attorney is, essentially, to tell the other attorneys in the office how to do their jobs. That kind of micromanagement is singularly ineffective.
The office needs leadership, and specifically the kind I provided at the Attorney General’s Office. It is leadership I look forward to having the opportunity to provide at the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office as well.