Forum Thoughts

Forum Thoughts

(Answers to questions posed in the League of Women Voters Forum 5/23/2022)
  1. Why are you running?

I am running for County Attorney because I am called to be a prosecutor, and I want to prosecute cases in an environment focused on just outcomes, constant improvement, and mutual support.  I take satisfaction from holding defendants accountable for their choices and upholding the rights of crime victims.  I have high standards for criminal prosecution and I’d like to challenge—and be challenged by—other talented prosecutors. 

I have worked in high-speed trial environments, I have led a team of prosecutors in a remote part of Afghanistan, and I have cultivated skills that will allow me to bring the office to a new level of responsiveness and success in the administration of justice.  Dubuque is where I grew up, and I want to preserve its status as a safe and healthy place to raise a family.  The County Attorney should be focused on defending the Constitution’s guarantees of justice, tranquility, and the blessings of liberty.

I am running to replace the incumbent, who lacks courage in prosecution and avoids taking responsibility for the failures of the office.  I am running to change that, and to usher in a new era of accountability for criminal defendants led by the Dubuque County Attorney’s Office. 

  1. Why should people care about the County Attorney’s Office?

When you or a family member are the victim of a crime, it will make a big difference if the County Attorney’s Office is responsive and efficient about pursuing justice.  It is important that other County departments are getting quality, timely legal advice that promotes the efficient administration of government generally.  

  1. How will you work together with other government offices?

The County Attorney should be a resource for other County offices when they have legal questions or otherwise need counsel.  Having a dedicated civil law attorney in the office makes sense to provide specialized expertise, consistency in advice, and avoiding situations where the chief prosecutor is trying a murder case and unavailable to answer civil questions. 

The relationship between the County Attorney’s Office and law enforcement should be a close one, and also one of mutual constructive criticism.  Maintaining good communication between prosecutors and law enforcement has always been a priority of mine personally, and when I lead the office we will have firm policies about keeping law enforcement in the loop on prosecutions. 

  1. How would you incorporate restorative justice programs?

Restorative justice means defendants taking responsibility for their actions and working to make victims whole.  The process also involves making defendants whole—removing the stigma associated with their past actions and remediating the defective judgment which led to the crime in the first place.  Restorative justice does not mean letting people off the hook if they behave for a year or two on probation.

At the root of holding defendants accountable is the knowledge that the prosecutor is capable of obtaining convictions at criminal trials.  With competent trial practice assured, defendants have little incentive to try to play games with plea bargains and technicalities. 

Mental health courts or juvenile diversion programs are not “restorative” justice, but rather a way to avoid filling jails with defendants who might be able to correct their conduct with appropriate intervention.  Those programs are important and deserve support by the County Attorney’s Office, but the foundation for successful diversion programs is still a strong competence in proving criminal cases beyond a reasonable doubt.  Diversion programs work if the alternative is a conviction and the possibility of harsh punishment; if the alternative is dismissal or informal probation, those programs will fail. 

  1. Should candidates for County Attorney have a party affiliation?

No.  Keeping county offices partisan benefits political parties to the detriment of citizens.  Democracy would be better served by voters educating themselves on the qualifications of each candidate rather than mood-affiliating with a team.  The “Vote Blue no matter who” attitude is a recipe for electing party hacks, not for good governance.

Some candidates lament that the offices should be non-partisan, but what can we do?  As a first step, we can show some courage and run without party affiliation! 

  1. How would you attract and retain talent in the office?

People do not leave good jobs, they leave bad bosses.  Working as a prosecutor for Dubuque County is a good job—it pays (relatively) well, with good benefits, and for those of a prosecutorial bent it brings a lot of satisfaction to see cases through.  At its best, being a member of a collaborative prosecutorial team is its own recruitment and reward.  It is a job I would never willingly walk away from.  Step one in attracting and retaining talent is electing a leader who understands that.

Treasurer candidate Michael Clasen said it well—leaders have to lead from the front.  I am not surprised that a Marine understands that! 

  1. How would you address possible racial discrimination in criminal justice?

The oath of the County Attorney is to the Constitution, and that means ensuring that everyone is treated equally under the law.  Identifying unequal treatment should absolutely be a priority.  The current County Attorney has made no effort to determine if there actually is any measurable disparity in treatment of defendants (or victims) based on their race or ethnic background. 

Instead of doing that work, the incumbent has publicly bragged that he has hired a black prosecutor—a cynical pronouncement meant to bolster his standing at the expense of diminishing the non-racial qualifications of that attorney.  The willingness to use someone as a trophy for her race should cause discomfort amongst those seeking equal justice. 

  1. What is the most important matter facing the office?

First and foremost, the office has to be appropriately staffed and directed so as not to be overwhelmed by cases.  When the office is unable to provide even minimal coverage for hearings, justice fails and antisocial criminals become emboldened. 

When I am County Attorney, we will quickly get a handle on the most important cases that need to be prepared for trial and we will have attorneys dedicated to trying those cases.  Every day we will be working towards getting ahead of cases so that we can properly plot out the trial calendar and resolve cases that are appropriate for plea agreements.  Ensuring victims, witnesses, and defendants are certain about when their case is coming up for trial will go a long way to improving delivery of justice. 

With time, we will get to the point where we can be more proactive about investigations involving gangs, sexual predators, and career criminals.  Vigorous prosecution has its own deterrent effect. 

  1. What will you do in office to promote democracy?

The jury trial is the best democratic form of administering justice—Sam Wooden is right about that—and ensuring that the rights of victims and defendants are adhered to in the trial process is the proper goal of the County Attorney.  

  1. What other issues are important that have not been discussed?

There are many:  Why are so many gun crimes disposed of with probation and suspended sentences?  What are the biggest problems in victim services?  Are domestic abuse crimes overprosecuted?  What about drug prosecutions, and marijuana in particular?  What can we improve about juvenile justice, particularly for violent teenagers?  How many prosecutors and support staff should there be in the office, given the number of cases?  How do you support law enforcement in smaller communities?  What are some nuts-and-bolt changes you'd like to see in the front office?  Are there changes in state criminal law that you support?

Instead, the “important issue” C.J. May and Scott Nelson agreed on was “outside money.”  Sam Wooden is completely justified in accepting contributions from people across the country—their donations mean they vouch for him, support him, and think positively of his character.  Sam has friends and family who support him—perhaps the better question is, why don’t May and Nelson? 

  1. Closing

The chief prosecutor for Dubuque County ought to be a proven prosecutor who can lead a team in the administration of justice.  I will do so with a focus on equal justice, vigorous investigation and prosecution of crimes, and the knowledge that being prepared for jury trials is the best way to guarantee appropriate outcomes. 

The people still in the County Attorney’s Office have been through a lot of adversity in the last few years, and those who remain will be the core of a great new beginning in 2023.  Dubuque County voters will have the chance in November to improve public safety and criminal justice for years to come.  Vote for the candidate who is willing to stand up for truth, who has faced and overcome adversity, and who will always fight for justice.  Vote Kirkendall.

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