A key issue in the battle to become Carson City’s next district attorney is a high staff turnover rate in the office.
“Over the past few years, I’ve just been kind of watching what’s happening in the DA’s office and it struck me Carson City could be better served,” Jason Woodbury said in an interview this week.
He said since 2007 the 21-person office has had 39 people leave.
“Some turnover is inevitable but this alarming rate means something is wrong,” Woodbury said. “The truth is Carson City has lost a lot of good people because the District Attorney’s office has not been a healthy place to work in recent years.”
He pointed to what he termed “bickering” between the DA’s staff and the state Public Defender’s office saying that would come to an end if he’s elected.
Assistant DA Mark Krueger, who is seeking the post being vacated by Neil Rombardo, said Woodbury is completely misreading the reason for the turnover in the DA’s office.
He said 10 of the 39 people left when the office closed down the child support unit. He said two lawyers went on to become judges including Justice of the Peace Tom Armstrong and one — Gerald Gardner — to become chief of staff to Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Several others went to Washoe and Douglas counties or the Attorney General’s office for higher pay and broader opportunities. A half dozen more moved out of the area, he said.
“Most of them left for better and different opportunities,” Krueger said, adding nearly all of that happened before he was hired two years ago.
Krueger said Woodbury seems to be running against Rombardo, not him.
Asked about that, Woodbury said Krueger has been assistant DA for a couple of years now, “long enough to give you an idea what an office under his leadership would look like.”
“Neil’s the DA but I think Krueger owns as much of the issues at this point,” he said.
In good part, the friction between the State Public Defender’s Office and the DA’s office is the fact Rombardo recommended essentially firing the state PDs and having the county set up its own public defenders staff.
Woodbury said Rombardo shouldn’t be offering an opinion about that.
“I think it’s completely inappropriate for the DA to take a position on how defense services are provided to indigent people in Carson City,” he said. “He’ll get asked a legal question in a meeting and he’ll start giving policy advice.”
Rombardo said he brought the issue to the Board of Supervisors because his office, like the rest of Carson City’s departments, was being asked to cut the budget 10 percent, and “I looked at the Public Defender and they were asking for a budget increase.”
Rombardo said a consultant confirmed his belief Carson City was paying a disproportionate share of the state PD’s budget and could save hundreds of thousands of dollars by getting rid of the state PD. The state PD office is funded by the counties that use the service.
The Board of Supervisors rejected the idea but it didn’t make for good relations between Rombardo’s staff and the Public Defender’s staff. Those relations are bad enough members of the PD staff have volunteered in Woodbury’s campaign, even manning his booth at events.
Both men have about the same amount of legal experience although Woodbury’s is mostly in the private sector and Krueger’s as a public lawyer.
Krueger has practiced law 15 years beginning as law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Bill Maupin, then as clerk for District Judges Mike Fondi and Bill Maddox. He was in the Attorney General’s office from 2001-2008 mostly handling civil litigation, then assistant DA in Lyon County for six years before coming to Carson as assistant two years ago.
He said he has extensive criminal experience — 40 jury trials including some of Carson City’s biggest in the past two years — a half dozen years of civil experience at the AG’s office and, through Lyon County, experience in handling the budget of a DA’s office.
“When I went into being the Assistant DA in Lyon County, I saw what you can do for the community to help protect it,” he said. “What it means to get justice. It means something to victims, means something to witnesses. At the end of the day when we get a resolution for them, they feel comforted.”
He said the DA has to be willing to prosecute cases and not let them slide through the cracks. He said David Stone, convicted last week of raping a 12-year-old boy, was first brought to the DA’s attention in 2006 before Rombardo was in the office when a mother complained her son was a victim.
“Had this office in 2006 just filed charges on the first victim that came forward and reported it, we wouldn’t have had four other known victims,” he said.
Krueger said he’s proud of the office’s victims and witness services program, which he said he has helped expand since arriving in Carson City.
“What I feel I’ve been able to accomplish in the last two years is bringing the whole office together as a team and really making it so that we try cases as a team, make decisions about prosecutions and how to help people as a team,” he said.
He said the office has “become a really happy place to work — people are excited about their jobs.”
Krueger said part of that is the training he has implemented — including having a team prosecute cases.
Krueger said he also has worked with sheriff’s investigators particularly to improve their interview skills.
He said he wants to further develop the business protection program to help the community stop embezzlement and other such crimes from happening in the first place.
Krueger said there will be changes if he’s elected: “I think the structure is good for the most part. But as the economy changes, your needs for your clients change. The needs of the supervisors, the city manager, department heads. You have to be flexible in the needs for your clients.”
Woodbury has practiced 16 years, beginning with the Carson DA’s office from 1999-2003. Since then, he has been primarily in business litigation.
He said he sees things in the office, “that need to be improved.”
“I want to talk to the folks there and find out what is in that office that’s making good people leave,” he said.
As for the office’s civil duties, he said: “When the supervisors ask a legal question or need legal guidance they should get it.
“We need to do a better job of giving the Board of Supervisors legal guidance and leave the policy decisions to them.”
He said he think’s its important the DA be someone with private practice experience.
“I think the judgment you get from representing big business, small business and individuals out in private practice is incredibly valuable in making the decisions you have to make as district attorney.”
He said despite his relatively brief tenure with the DA’s office, he has experience handling criminal cases including child sex cases and a murder case as well as cases before the Nevada Supreme Court.
“I don’t have any burning desire to be in politics,” Woodbury said. “If the DA’s office was running smoothly and things were going along well and I thought they were serving the community well, I wouldn’t run. But that’s not the case.”
He said everyone needs to follow a professional code: “When they’re just bickering because they don’t like the person on the other side or don’t respect the person on the other side, we’re just wasting effort on things that don’t have any place in a professional office.”
“In conjunction with retaining good people in the office, I think you’re going to see significant improvement in the work quality within the office,” Woodbury said.
He said the current office “has got good people.”
He also said Neil was “a good change” following a long tenure as DA by Noel Waters. But he said he thinks electing him would be another good change.
“I think he has done a number of admirable things with the office,” Woodbury said citing the victims and witness services program. “I think the office needs improvement but I will say I’m not going to change things just for the sake of changing them because there are good things that have happened.”
Early voting begins Saturday. The district attorney’s office is a nonpartisan office. The winner will serve a 4-year term.