Candidates pitch to service groups |

Candidates pitch to service groups

by Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Several candidates at a Stateline forum Wednesday said the March 5 election is especially important because there are five key positions in law enforcement up for grabs.

“You have a unique opportunity electing a new sheriff and new judges,” said El Dorado County sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Hennick, a candidate for sheriff. “It’s an opportunity for us as citizens to reshape the judicial system.”

In addition to three judgeships at the West Slope, and the job of sheriff, a district attorney will be elected.

Wednesday’s forum was a luncheon before about 80 people at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe hosted by Soroptimist International of South Lake Tahoe, a women’s service club. Eleven candidates for judge, two for sheriff and none for district attorney spoke at the meeting. Club President Sue Yang said the fact that the candidates for DA were not asked to speak was unintentional.

At the hourlong luncheon, each candidate had three minutes to speak. At the end of the hour, each candidate had an opportunity to answer a question. The question put to the candidates for sheriff was, “How would you handle the sheriff’s administration and budget?”

Hennick said he would rely on the experience he has gained while being in charge of the sheriff’s extradition unit, where he works and manages seven deputies. He said he always aims to provide his deputies with all the tools needed to do the job. In general, he said, that has not happened under the administration of Sheriff Hal Barker.

“I watched the ways in which the funds have been spent and the programs we do not have due to budget constraints,” he said.

El Dorado County Undersheriff Jeff Neves, also a candidate for sheriff, said he already knows what the job takes because he’s done it the last year-and-a-half.

“I’ve been instrumental in the preparation of that budget,” he said. “I finished the budget in the black, reduced overtime and increased the number of deputies on patrol.”

The question asked of the candidates for judge was, “What is your stand on the Three Strikes Law?”

All of the judges said they supported the law. About half of them said the law works, but that judges should use it with some discretion.

Donald Heape, a former El Dorado County prosecutor and California Highway Patrol officer who is running for Office 5, cited a case in which a man was sentenced to life in prison even though his third strike was petty theft. Heape said the sentence was overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals when a judge ruled it as “cruel and unusual punishment.”

What it comes down to, Heape said, is that it should be “exercised for the real bad guys.”

Jennifer Nelson, a deputy district attorney at El Dorado County running to be judge at Office 6, said the law is sometimes used inappropriately, but it is a law that should be “enforced equally for everyone — but you also have to use common sense.”

James Wagoner, an assistant district attorney at El Dorado County who is a candidate for Office 6, described the law as an “effective tool.” “The first thing they (criminals) ask is, ‘Is this a strike?'”

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