One of the most important decisions that Pima County’s voters will be making on the primary ballot this year is who will be the next Pima County Attorney. That person will face the greatest challenge to the status quo in law enforcement for, literally, generations. It is critical that voters make the right decision.
As a former prosecutor myself (as well as my more limited experience as a criminal defense attorney), I believe I have insight on this choice that I could be useful to share: I don’t think the office should be held by a career prosecutor. We’ve had 44 years of the Pima County Attorney’s Office (PCAO) led by career prosecutors, and it’s led to a dysfunctional culture. It’s time for a real change. As a result of that central insight, I will be voting for Laura Conover. I would like to tell you why.
First, if you have the time (and you should take the time) you should watch the debate between the three candidates and make an informed choice for yourself:
Let me start by highlighting a critical and compelling fact: Mosher is endorsed by Barbara LaWall and Chuck Huckleberry. Basically, if you think the PCAO is doing great and needs to keep doing what it’s doing with some maybe some new initiatives and reforms, Mosher is your guy. He is a prosecutor’s prosecutor and he’ll lead the office that way. But that’s also exactly why I won’t be voting for Mosher, or Diebolt, who has a similar background and focus.
Experienced prosecutors tend to lose sight of the wider goals of their prosecuting agency in the day to day pressure and focus of obtaining convictions. The result of that myopia is a neglect of actual leadership in public advocacy and policy innovation to achieve greater public safety in favor of grinding the courtroom stats to justify reelection. The result is also an inability to objectively re-evaluate the mission, budgets, and programs of the agency, and an unwillingness to make major changes.
If you want to really change the culture and priorities of the PCOA with a fresh perspective and innovative approaches to achieving public safety, then you need someone who is not down in the groove of the criminal division’s work. You need someone with a wider view of the role of the PCAO in our community that goes well beyond obtaining criminal convictions.
I have learned first-hand how myopic and adversarial the culture of PCAO has become over the past decades through my professional relationships with attorneys in Pima County on both sides of the courtroom. Mark Diebolt himself once commented to me when I was a new attorney interviewing to become a prosecutor, just a few years out of law school, that I would never be considered for a job with PCAO because I had criminal defense experience. That comment has never left me over the years. His comment exemplifies to me just how narrow-minded the leadership of the office had become, and remains.
Note very carefully the closing statements of the candidates at the end of the interview above. Mosher says, at about 1:23:00, that he’s running to be “lead prosecutor”; “you don’t want to elect someone as your lead prosecutor who has never prosecuted a case.”. That’s why I won’t be voting for him. He fundamentally cannot comprehend that the County Attorney is NOT the lead prosecutor. The head of the criminal division, selected by the County Attorney, is the “lead prosecutor” in Pima County. That comment is why Mosher is wrong for the job in this time, unless you want to continue the current culture that has thrived in the PCAO for the last 40 years.
The County Attorney should be the Attorney General of Pima County: a criminal justice expert who works in conjunction with the police and sheriff agencies to control crime and set incarceration policy, yes; but also, a legal advisor to the county government through the civil division; an advocate and guardian of our environmental resources; and a key advocate for a holistic program of public safety in our community, working with the Governor and state legislature to set priorities and policy for the state.
That’s who the County Attorney SHOULD be. Not the “lead prosecutor” for Pima County.
That role of Attorney General of Pima County is the role that Laura Conover understands and wants to play, the job she has the best experience for, and the job that only she seems to understand she’s actually running for. Mosher does not. Diebolt does not. Mosher and Diebolt are a continuation of the dysfunctional culture of “lead prosecutor”. That’s why I’ll be voting for Conover.
Perhaps she might hire Mosher to be her “lead prosecutor”, that’s up to her. I have no doubt he would be a capable and energetic one. But I don’t WANT the Pima County Attorney to be the “lead prosecutor” anymore, and neither should you.