Asked and answered |

Asked and answered

Part 1 of a 2-part question and answer with district attorney candidates

Joshua Roberts

— In a month and a half, voters in the tri-county 14th Judicial District will elect a new District Attorney.

Two candidates, Democrat Tammy Stewart and Republican Elizabeth Oldham, are vying for the position.Oldham is the 14th Judicial District assistant district attorney. Stewart is an assistant Moffat County Attorney.

The Daily Press submitted five questions to each candidate this week. Below are their responses to the first two.

The remaining three questions and the candidates’ responses will be published in the Sept. 27 Saturday Morning Press.

Q: What is the biggest problem facing the District Attorney’s Office in general and the Craig branch specifically? How would you address these issues?

A: Stewart: There are numerous problems facing the current District Attorney’s Office. The problems can all be directly related back to the leadership of the District Attorney’s Office and the resulting and continuing 100 percent attorney turnover rate in the office. The public and law enforcement have lost faith in the District Attorney’s Office due to this instability in prosecution.

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There must be stability in the office for effective community relations and prosecution to occur. We need stable deputy district attorneys who remain in the office for consistency in prosecution. The deputy district attorneys need training in order to prosecute the serious cases, such as child abuse, sex assault and drug distribution. They also need strong leadership and a district attorney who manages the office and the issues effectively.

Drug distribution is a major problem in our jurisdiction and particularly in Moffat County. I intend to have stable and well-trained deputy district attorneys who have the skills necessary to prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law. The public will learn that drug distribution and sales will not be tolerated or plea bargained in Moffat County, resulting in a reduced rate of these crimes.

Oldham: Public confidence in the district attorney’s Office is essential for public safety. Unfortunately, the District Attorney’s offices in Craig and Steamboat Springs have experienced an erosion of public confidence.

I believe the public’s disappointment stems from the mishandling of some cases. There are occasions, however, when public opinion is based upon misinformation.

I intend to repair public confidence by leading a District Attorney’s Office that is accessible, transparent and accountable to the public. By having an open-door policy, holding public forums and creating a citizen advisory board, the public will have input on the performance of the District Attorney’s Office.

Likewise, I would have the opportunity in these forums to explain why the District Attorney’s Office handled a case that was unpopular with the public.

Q: How would you handle prosecutions for suspects charged with drug distribution? How would this differ, if at all, from the prosecution of suspects accused of possessing and using drugs?

A: Oldham: Drug addiction is not a victimless crime. For example, methamphetamine has the capacity to devastate not only the addict, but also families and our community.

Ultimately, my goal in prosecuting people for possessing and using drugs is that they overcome their addiction and become productive members of society. It is my prosecution philosophy that treatment is essential to combat drug addiction, but it is up to the drug addict to comply with treatment. Oftentimes, drug addicts who do not overcome their addiction will commit not only property crimes to fuel their addiction, but also violent crimes. When a drug addict is unsuccessful with treatment and continues to commit crimes, I believe incarceration is necessary to protect the public.

Drug dealers are in an entirely different category. Drug dealers are profiting from an addict’s desperation. As a prosecutor, I have fought to put drug dealers in prison, and as district attorney, the prosecution of drug dealers would take a priority. There are instances where plea offers must be extended, and I believe the public would receive an explanation through my open door policy, public forums and citizen advisory board.

Stewart: There needs to be a strengthened battle against individuals selling, distributing or manufacturing drugs in our community. Law enforcement and prosecution efforts need to jointly increase against the sellers and distributors of drugs. Prosecutors need to be well trained in drug prosecution, and we must require harsh penalties and be prepared to prioritize this crime due to the serious effects drug distribution and manufacturing has at every level to our citizens.

We need to approach the issue differently for first-time user and possessors of controlled substances. We need to expand our drug court program in Moffat County and initiate the drug courts in Routt and Grand counties. Drug courts focus on intensive rehabilitation efforts for drug users and possessors. It prevents the users from going to prison and focuses on keeping them in our community.

The advantage to keeping minor drug offenders in the community is that it keeps individuals out of prison, which costs taxpayers money. It saves prison space for violent offenders. It keeps the offender working in our own community, which adds to the local tax base. It keeps children with parents, which increases the likelihood of rehabilitation and keeps families together. The program has been limited in Moffat County but has been very effective and successful.

At a glance

Name: Elizabeth Oldham

Residence: Grand Lake

Party affiliation: Republican

Position: assistant district attorney, 14th Judicial District

Legal experience: 10 years

Name: Tammy L. Stewart

Residence: Steamboat Springs

Party affiliation: Democrat

Position: assistant Moffat County attorney and owner of Law Office of Tammy L. Stewart in Steamboat Springs.

Legal experience: 19 years