The County Attorney, as chief prosecutor for Dubuque County, must be chiefly concerned with competency in the prosecutorial function. That competency is the basis for the community’s trust in the criminal justice system.
Having worked as a prosecutor in the County Attorney's Office for four years, I have first-hand knowledge of what can be improved. Here are ten things I will do to shore up the foundation of prosecution in criminal cases:
- Inspire a dedication to seeking truth. Truth, not convictions, should always be the first priority of prosecutors. The mission every day is to seek out truth and justice.
- Implement standard operating procedures for the daily administrative tasks of the office, and ensure staff are properly trained and comfortable with those processes. We should never miss a deadline for filing charging documents, we should never miss a court hearing, and no one person should be a single point of failure for scheduling. An office manager should coordinate support staff and ensure attention to detail on every casefile.
- Ensure that plea negotiations are useful and efficient. Every defendant has a right to a speedy trial, and victims are interested in efficiency too. Too often, justice delayed is justice denied. An appropriate plea bargain holds the defendant accountable and restores the victim, and we should be able to determine quickly whether a case will be resolved with a plea or should go to trial.
- Plan the trial calendar. By having standards in plea bargaining and case scheduling, we can know weeks or months in advance what case is likely to go to trial. Victims, law enforcement, and other witnesses should have plenty of advance notice of trial dates and confidence that hearings and trials will go forward as scheduled. Defendants, too, benefit from more certainty in scheduling.
- Keep in contact. Victims and witnesses should know when a case is initiated, when a plea bargain has been offered, and when a case is scheduled to go into depositions or trial. Victims should never have to wonder about who they can talk about their case, and calls or emails should be returned promptly.
- Work closely with law enforcement. Finding the truth means being intimately familiar with the facts of a case, and the only way to do that is to know the law enforcement officers who bring those cases to court. Too often, law enforcement is left to wonder what will happen to their cases after they are submitted to the County Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors should be expected to meet in person with the officers whose cases we prosecute, in addition to attending regular training sessions.
- Train everyone. Attorneys mentor other attorneys and support staff. Support staff learn exactly what goes on in court and attend hearings. We have many opportunities to learn from other county attorney offices, victim services agencies, and law enforcement—we will always take advantage of those opportunities.
- Prioritize professionalism in the office. Everyone who deals with the County Attorney’s Office should be able to see the professionalism of the office in the execution of its duties. And the professionals in the office should be confident that they have the freedom and responsibility to exercise judgment on their cases. I will support professional staff making professional judgments.
- Manage case assignments. Overloading prosecutors with too many cases leads to long delays in case resolution, encourages bad plea agreements, and risks violating the ethical duty to treat each case with the appropriate respect. As County Attorney, I will assign cases based on the strengths of our prosecutors, and always assign second-chair attorneys for more serious cases.
- Make good hires. We have the data available to see how many cases are coming through the office, and we should be able to make an informed decision on how many attorneys are required to effectively prosecute those cases. Many good attorneys would love to work in the Dubuque County Attorney’s Office given better leadership and teamwork. We will bring back the internship program to continue to reach the law students who are the future of Dubuque’s legal community.
All of this should be uncontroversial, but following through on any of the above items means putting in the work and having discipline about leading the office. It also means electing a County Attorney who is concerned with setting up the office for years to come, not just riding out one term in office.
I’m looking forward to the challenge!