The Republican primary contest for the Gila County Attorney’s post pits a veteran prosecutor against a challenger who maintains that the incumbent has been “soft on crime.” offered too many easy plea deals for drug dealers and violent offenders and let relationships deteriorate between prosecutors and police departments throughout the county.
Incumbent Daisy Flores is proud of her 10-year record as Gila County’s attorney, citing some 40,000 cases prosecuted under her watch, including 40 homicide cases she personally handled. But she says her work is far from finished. While the county has seen a recent drop in drug-related cases, domestic violence has spiked.
“Some may assume that our biggest problem is drugs, but we saw a 16 percent decrease countywide in drug offenses last year and in the second quarter of this year, a decrease of 30 percent,” she said. “Countywide, in a two-year period, we had more than 1,200 domestic violence-related arrests and in 2011 alone, the Payson shelter had 1,170 hotline calls.”
Opponent Bradley Beauchamp, a lawyer, teacher and coach, did not return calls seeking comment for this article. However, in an ad placed in the Roundup, he said “the last 10 years in Gila County have seen a steady deterioration in the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the County Attorney’s Office. As county attorney I will work vigilantly to restore an effective partnership with law enforcement, rather than using them as scapegoats.”
He also said that “the Gila County Attorney’s Office has come to have a reputation of being soft on crime, letting violent offenders and drug dealers go uncharged or walk with lenient plea offer. I pledge that such a reputation and those policies would cease under my stewardship.”
However, Flores maintains she has vigorously prosecuted criminals throughout her decade in the office.
Beyond prosecution, said Flores, education is key to slowing this growing trend, she said.
Later this year, Flores will introduce a new domestic violence curriculum to county schools in conjunction with local law enforcement.
The curriculum grew from the Gila County Domestic Violence Roundtable, a group Flores founded earlier this year.
Flores says it takes a community effort to fight domestic violence, starting in the classroom, through shelters and up to county offices.
“We have just begun and we have lots of work ahead of us.”
But Flores can’t implement any program before she defeats Beauchamp in the August Republican primary for county attorney. No one is running on the Democratic ticket.
Beauchamp’s ad in the Roundup said “there are many reasons that I am running for this office,e but perhaps the event that tipped the scales was the tragic murder of Scott Johnson. The greater tragedy, however, is that Scott Johnson’s story was not an anomaly. There are many other victims and victim’s families that have not been given justice or closure during these last 10 years.”
Johnson was stabbed to death in 2010. Although a suspect was initially arrested, he was later released. To date, no one has been charged with the murder.
However, Flores prides herself on tackling issues head-on, much like she did as a competitive fencer. She doesn’t shy away from questions about the election, public criticism, staffing, plea deals her office made or the budget.
In fact, Flores reports her fiscal conservatism has saved the office an average of $350,000 in each of the last three years. All the while, she has managed a staff of more than 50.
“I am proud of the work my office and I have done for the last decade and I intend to keep working hard for my county,” she said. “This job is for someone who is experienced, committed and fiscally responsible. The county attorney position is not for someone who has never prosecuted a case, never advised an elected county official, nor managed an office.”
Flores said voters are hiring an attorney that not only prosecutes crimes, but protects the assets of the county in civil court and manages a $4 million budget.
As county attorney, Flores said she continually evaluates what her office is doing well and how they can improve.
In the last year, Flores required all supervisory staff participate in a leadership development program.
She is also hiring a new prosecutor for the Payson office to help with the increased workload in northern Gila County.
The office’s team includes 12 attorneys, making it the largest law firm in the county.
To find the right prosecutors, Flores has a panel of attorneys and staff members interview each candidate along with her. She looks for attorneys with strong academic backgrounds, upstanding character and a desire to litigate cases through to trial.
Every new prosecutor trains for six months to a year and then co-chairs a trial.
This due diligence is critical to avoid case acquittals. It is difficult when a judge throws out a case because a prosecutor makes a mistake at trial.
To address this, five years ago, Flores revised how pre-trial work is handled.
“I require all prosecutors follow a detailed pre-trial preparation process and I personally meet with the prosecution team six weeks before trial to ensure all are ready for trial.”
Still, Flores is not immune to criticism.
Talking about a case, however, often calms victim and family concerns.
“Many times, victims, family and friends of defendants and the public in general will often resolve their concerns after speaking with me or my staff,” she said. “There are times that the prosecutor cannot bow to the will of the victim or criticisms of the public, our job is to see that justice is done and sometimes that means someone will be unhappy with us.”
Still, Flores admits there are cases she could have handled differently.
“Any attorney worth their salt recognizes there are cases that could have been resolved in a different manner or that reached a better outcome for their client.”
One area that often faces criticism is plea deals. Some may feel a deal is too lenient, while others say it is too harsh.
Critics include Beauchamp, whose printed ad focused on plea bargains agreed to by Flores’ office. “Unlike my opponent, who refuses to even acknowledge that there are problems with crime in Gila County, I plan to face our mounting troubles head on,” wrote Beauchamp.
However, Flores says usually plea agreements justly resolve criminal cases.
There are only rare exceptions when a plea agreement should have been crafted differently.
In 96 percent of cases across the United States, the court accepts plea agreements.
A plea guarantees the certainty of a conviction, restitution to the victim and limited appellate rights for the accused. “This is why it is a plea bargain – the defendant bargains with the state and there are benefits to both sides,” she said.
The county has room to house 172 inmates.
Last year, total bookings were 3,814 – the highest per capita in Arizona.
“The math is simple – we have more people arrested than we have space,” she said.
To staunch the flow, non-violent offenders are normally released and summoned to court – a decision Flores supports.
Those that that pose the greatest risk to the community are kept in custody (those accused of murder, serious aggravated assault, repeat offenders and drug dealers).
“I knew from reports and earlier visits to the jail how challenging it is to be a detention officer in an outdated and overcrowded jail,” she said.
On Aug. 13, Flores participated in the Spend the Night in Jail in Globe and said she garnered an even greater appreciation for jail staff.