The viewpoints of Pinal County Attorney candidates Republican Lando Voyles and Democrat incumbent James P. Walsh were thrown into sharp contrast with nearly every question asked in an election forum Saturday.
For Voyles, the role of county attorney is that of an aggressive prosecutor who would focus on fighting crime by aggressively pursuing criminals.
“You need a prosecutor in the county attorney’s office,” Voyles said. “I want to send the violent offenders to prison, I want to stop the drug smugglers that come through our county and I want to support victims’ rights.”
Walsh, who never has been a prosecuting attorney, said while the office’s prosecutorial role is important, key to the job of county attorney is to oversee a large budget and manage a highly staffed office.
“I hire good, strong prosecutors,” Walsh said, pointing to Voyles. “But not all of them, in fact most of them, don’t know how to run an office, don’t know how to manage a budget of this size, that’s not what their skill set is. That’s what my skill set is.”
The two faced off in a candidates’ forum co-hosted by InMaricopa.com and Maricopa Monitor.
Walsh said one of the largest issues facing the county is drugs.
“First of all, I think that we have to make sure that we continue to protect, as we have been able to so somewhat successfully, from the violence that would spill over from crimes coming from cartels that are importing drugs from Mexico,” Walsh said.
Walsh also advocated increased vigilance on prescription drug abuse and creating more programs for kids to help keep them off drugs.
Voyles said the main issue facing the county was violent criminals being released onto the streets.
“That’s the No. 1 problem we have right now,” Voyles said. “We have people … defendants, criminals, who know that Pinal County is a place of refuge. (They) know that if you get busted here you get probation.”
Voyles agreed drug trafficking was an issue and said victims’ rights, especially, needed to be protected.
Another point of contention between the candidates was how to best foster a good working relationship between the county attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office.
Voyles said the attorney’s office should have better communication with the sheriff’s office over cases submitted for prosecution.
“If you go back and you work with them on it, to help them understand why it is you’re turning down a case and why it is you’re furthering the case (for investigation), you have a better working relationship,” Voyles said.
He said the county attorney should train deputies in relevant areas as needed.
Walsh defended himself, maintaining he consistently works closely with the sheriff’s office.
“Many, probably the majority of our cases that are charged and prosecuted come from the sheriff’s office,” Walsh said.
However, Walsh said, “We have our roles to play within the system.”
“The sheriff gathers evidence, we review it, we decide what we charge,” Walsh said.Where to draw a line when deciding whether to prosecute a case and taking into account budget constraints, highlighted the candidates’ differences.
“When you’re looking at dangerous crimes, I’m not going to say we don’t have the money to prosecute a dangerous crime,” Voyles said. “The cases that need to be prosecuted are the cases that have a reasonable likelihood of conviction.”
Voyles said it was a mistake to only prosecute “perfect” cases, and some cases should be pursued even if a conviction was not ironclad, what he called “a happy medium.”
Walsh agreed on the “reasonable likelihood” threshold, but said there was more to consider when making a decision to prosecute.
“The next question is how do you manage a budget to be able to do that?” Walsh said.