Saturday, January 16, 2016

What's up with Laramie County's DA?

When Jeremiah Sandburg ran for Laramie County District Attorney, there were concerns. Laramie County was fortunate to have been served by a long string of experienced prosecutors. But many raised concerns that Sandburg lacked the necessary experience. Nonetheless, he defeated incumbent Scott Homar, a much more experienced prosecutor, by a scant 249 votes in the 2014 GOP primary. No Democrat filed. Sandburg took office by default.

Sandburg had been a member of the Wyoming Bar for only six years. Although he had brief stints with the Goshen and Platte County attorney’s offices, it seemed to some that the Laramie County DA’s Office required more. Not only was his brief time as a lawyer of concern, so was his lack of knowledge about Laramie County. But, the voters spoke. The relatively inexperienced candidate who called for more transparency in that office won the job.

Two recent cases have resurfaced those earlier concerns and raise troubling concerns about both whether the DA has sufficient experience and whether he is as concerned about transparency as an officeholder as he was as a candidate.

Thoughtful people believe animal abuse is an egregious offense. The legislature thought it so much so that they made it a felony punishable by two years in prison. The law says “a person commits aggravated animal cruelty if he or she owns, possesses, keeps or trains fowl or dogs with the intent to allow the dog or fowl to engage in an exhibition of fighting with another dog or fowl, causes or allows any dog or fowl to fight with another dog or fowl for gain or knowingly permits or promotes those acts.”

A lengthy law enforcement investigation supported a criminal complaint charging Louisa Carlos with “knowingly being present where roosters were engaged in an exhibition of fighting with other roosters for amusement or gain.” Cockfighting is an atrocious act at odds with the values of any civilized community. It may be acceptable in limited parts of the third world but not here, which is why the legislature specifically included this form of animal abuse among those deserving a felony conviction.

There appeared to be more than sufficient evidence support a felony conviction. That didn’t happen. First, a “clerical error” in the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office resulted in the crime being misclassified as a misdemeanor. Upon discovering the error, the charge was amended to a felony consistent with state law. But then, instead of trying the felony charge, the Laramie County DA plea-bargained the case. The alleged animal abuser was, alas, charged with a mere misdemeanor.

The second case calling the DA’s experience and judgment into question was recently reported under the front page headline: “$250K theft nets misdemeanor.” On Halloween day, we learned a local woman had been charged with a felony, accused of embezzling a quarter of a million dollars from her employers who happened to be her uncle and brother.

Now the alleged embezzler has received a feint slap on the wrist from Sandburg. The District Attorney valued the theft of more than 250,000 dollars as worthy of no more than a misdemeanor. After admitting to the crime, the defendant received six months probation and unsupervised at that.

Sandburg is proud that he forced the defendant to make restitution. His philosophy is “no harm, no foul.” The embezzler took a great amount of money out of the till but only when caught and charged did she put it back. All was mostly forgiven. Restitution is important but it isn’t a substitute for punishing the crime.

When she applies to be the bookkeeper for another employer somewhere down the line and the job application asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony,” she can say honestly  “No.” Potential employers will never know the extent of how misleading that answer will be.

Next year Jeremiah Sandburg may submit a job application for reelection as DA. Voters should take notice of how many felons he returned to the community without fair and just punishment.

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