Tasks: Oversees the largest law firm in the state, with more than 300 employees and 100 attorneys. They prosecute more than 30,000 criminal cases each year.
District: Encompasses Bernalillo County
She joined the Public Defender Department in 2003, handling at least 100 cases per year. She became a supervisor in 2006 and left in January so she could run for office. (You can't be a state employee and run for public office.)
She's held this position for three terms. She's worked on consolidating meth cases, truancy prevention and an early plea program for nonviolent first-time offenders.
Romero would like to fix what she sees as major problems with the DA's Office, including inflated and inappropriate charges, too-strict rules for plea offers, and poor investigation. This results in higher bonds and an inability for defendants to get out of our overcrowded jail.
Brandenburg would focus on creating a program for reintegrating former prisoners into society and curbing the high rate of repeat offenders. Her initiatives on those fronts were sidelined due to budget cuts in 2008. Finally, she'd like to work with the community to change the culture that perpetuates DWI.
Treatment vs. Jail Time
Nonviolent drug offenders should not be incarcerated, Romero says. Funding is being used on incarceration and processing these people through the justice system, and it should be spent on treatment instead.
It depends on the nonviolent drug offender, Brandenburg says. Some folks have been using for 30 years and aren't going to change. But we don't have treatment options out here, not even for juveniles.
Lawyers working at the District Attorney's Office don’t have discretion in deciding what's best for their cases because of strict plea policies, Romero says. "What's right in one case is not necessarily right in another case." She'd like to restore that autonomy.
The DA's Office is one of the largest in the country, but it’s understaffed. The job is getting done because people are working overtime, Brandenburg says. She tries to lead by example and work as hard as everyone else.
Grand Jury Process for APD
Officer-involved shooting cases are presented to a investigative grand jury in a private hearing. The jury decides whether the act was justified. No jury found has found criminal wrongdoing in an officer-involved shooting case. Romero says preliminary hearings—that are public and handled by a judge—are the more appropriate way to handle officer-involved shootings. If the shooting is ruled to be legitimate, the officer would be cleared quickly and publicly. If there is evidence supporting criminal charges against an officer, "they should not be treated differently" than civilians. A special prosecutor should be appointed when conflict of interest arises.
In other states, the DA's Office looks at each case and decides on its own whether it's going to pursue charges against officers involved in shootings, Brandenburg says. "I wasn't comfortable with that." Maybe there should be a way to have preliminary hearings without having to charge the officer criminally first, she suggests. Brandenburg doesn't think leveling criminal charges is ethical when officers are acting in the line of duty. Assigning a special prosecutor instead of using the DA's Office—given that the DA works closely with APD and uses officers as witnesses—would cost millions, she says. Plus, a special prosecutor would face the same ethical quandaries.
The Alibi Endorses Jennifer Romero
We like Romero's positions, as well as her holistic understanding of the justice system. Further, her willingness to re-examine how we treat officers involved in shootings—especially when our annual number of shootings is comparable to New York City's—is just what we need to turn the tide.
Kari Brandenburg is a convincing speaker and probably very good in a courtroom: She had us riveted. She knows her office well and can handle the ins and outs of her job. Brandenburg argues that a newcomer would have a hard time accomplishing things right off the bat. But that's the case in most elected positions.