Prosecutors typically make for strong political candidates because they don’t have a legislative record to defend and can boast of sending criminals to prison.
But Democratic strategists think they’ve found a weakness in the prosecutorial armor.
In New Mexico, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish has zeroed in on the conviction rate of her Republican rival, Doña Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez.
In a campaign mailer, Martinez said she “has a 91 percent conviction rate and the lowest plea bargain rate in the state for felony DWIs among the major judicial districts.”
But the Denish camp, citing the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, said Martinez’s “homicide conviction rate is the lowest in New Mexico.”
Martinez has defended her record.
“Denish really doesn’t know what she is talking about when it comes to my conviction record or my ability to have a very strong and tough stance in the prosecution of cases in my office,” Martinez recently told the Alamogordo Daily News. “Denish is doing it to avoid discussing the issues that are important to New Mexicans.”
In Wisconsin, Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy also boasts having a 90 percent conviction rate and has made it central to his campaign for the House seat being vacated by the retiring Rep. David Obey (D).
“I’m proud of my record as a prosecutor,” Duffy said when launching his campaign last year. “I’m proud of my jury-trial success rate, which stands at over 90 percent.”
Democrats say that he used his office to compile that statistic, which, if true, could be an ethics violation.
Duffy’s campaign said the claim is “ridiculous.”
“We did everything by the book here,” said Matt Seaholm, a spokesman for Duffy.
“Reports that Sean Duffy was using the district attorney’s office for personal political purposes and his abrupt resignation when asked about it [raise] serious doubts about [his] credibility,” Gabby Adler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said in a statement.
Duffy announced on June 4 that he was resigning after eight years in office to concentrate on his House campaign.
“He wants to make sure the folks in Ashland County have a full-time district attorney who’s focused on that job,” Seaholm noted. “It wasn’t planned.”
Duffy is one of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s top prospects, having reached the apex of its Young Guns candidate-training program. He’s expected to win the GOP primary Sept. 14 and face state Sen. Julie Lassa (D) in the general.
Duffy won convictions in 63 out of 68 jury and court trials, according to statistics provided to The Hill by his campaign.
Duffy’s campaign said he went back with his staff to double-check the 90 percent statistic.
“He and his office went back through, going back to look at all of his trials that he had to get to that number,” Seaholm said. “Of the ones that he filed and tried, that was the number that he came up with. He looked at all of the trials that were accessible to him — it ended up being 63 of 68 — that was all of the jury and court trials that he did.”
The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board said it hasn’t been asked to investigate any allegations on the possible political activity conducted through Duffy’s office.
“At this point it’s really more of a campaign issue than an ethics matter,” said Reid Magney, a spokesman for the board. “If somebody were to file a complaint with us about that, we would have to address that. If a public-records requester has an issue with compliance, he or she should contact the Wisconsin attorney general’s office.”
So far, no complaints have been filed.
A Republican strategist noted it was odd for Democrats to be leveling this charge against Duffy, because Lassa has also been accused of using her public office for political purposes. In a 2003 court case, a former intern for Lassa said she helped produce campaign literature while working in Lassa’s legislative office, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.