TRUCKEE, Calif. — Incumbent Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell and challenger David Alkire traded barbs this week regarding the future of the DA’s role in Truckee.
While Newell is running on his record as the county’s district attorney, citing a decrease in crime and an increase in services, Alkire is questioning that record.
“I intend to restore personal integrity and professionalism to the leadership of the DA’s office,” said Alkire in a Tuesday interview.
One criticism Alkire has is what he calls a “revolving door” of defendants being arrested and released over and over again, allowing them to continue victimizing the people of Nevada County.
“The incumbent is not holding them accountable for their conduct,” Alkire said. “That’s got to end.”
Alkire also criticizes another “revolving door” of deputy DAs in Truckee.
“Truckee residents have been particularly poorly served by the incumbent,” he said.
In a Tuesday interview, Newell pointed to several services implemented in Truckee since he took office in 2006, including a program to help local merchants get restitution on bad checks and establishing a half-time, bilingual victims advocate in the town.
Problems Newell said he sees in Truckee are drunken driving and youth alcohol abuse.
“It’s a concern to me, not so much for the criminal aspect of it, but for the future of the community,” he said.
That’s where he sees the DA office can make a difference — at the youth level through proactive programs.
“We’ll do a good job in trying to rehabilitate adults, but frankly, after 20 or 30 years, by the time we get them into our system, they’ve got a lot of bad habits that you’re not going to break,” Newell said. “… We’ve got to go back to the beginning.”
DIFFERENCE OF OPINION
According to Nevada County, the primary responsibility of the District Attorney’s Office is the prosecution of felony and misdemeanor offenses that are referred by law enforcement agencies.
Alkire said Newell has not gone into court to try a case since becoming DA, even when budget cuts caused staff layoffs in the office.
“I intend to lead from the front, not from behind a desk,” said Alkire, by going into court and trying cases and setting an example for deputy DAs.
But Newell disagrees with Alkire on the duties of a DA.
“Once you become the district attorney, you essentially step out of your courtroom role,” Newell said. “… You become the manager of the biggest law firm in Nevada County, really.”
Key skills needed for the job include being a good administrator and embracing collaboration, he said.
“It can be a challenge for somebody when they come out of the trial realm into that administrative role,” Newell said. “It’s a different world. You have a little less control, and some of the ego and the drive of a trial attorney, it doesn’t suit you well in the board room.”
Alkire touts more than 40 years as a courtroom lawyer. In addition, he has more than 100 jury trials to his credit as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles and Monterey counties. During his career he has prosecuted a broad spectrum of violent and serious felonies, including capital murder, burglary and assaults with firearms.
Recently, the Nevada County Bar Association judged Alkire as the most qualified for the DA position.
The association sent plebescite ballots to all 132 members, with 56 valid ballots returned. The attorneys ranked the candidates as either “Best Qualified” or “Least Qualified,” with Alkire judged as best qualified by 39 members, as opposed to Newell’s 16.
The attorneys were also asked to rank the candidates along a spectrum of no opinion, not qualified, qualified or highly qualified, with Alkire garnering highly qualified or qualified by 46 attorneys, as opposed to Newell’s 36.
After getting his law degree, Newell was a probation officer with Nevada County’s Probation Department for several years before becoming a prosecutor in Sutter County. Later he accepted a position in the Nevada County’s District Attorney’s Office. In 2006, after a career as a trial attorney, he became Nevada County’s DA.
The Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe, retired Truckee Police Department Chief Scott Berry, Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal, retired Nevada County DA Mike Ferguson, Crime Victims United, Crime Victims Action Alliance, and Citizens for Law and Order, among others, have endorsed Newell.
Alkire is endorsed by the Nevada County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the Deputy District Attorney-Deputy Public Defender Public Employee Association, among several former legal personnel and local leaders.
“I intend to lead from the front, not from behind a desk.”