Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson would like to continue serving as the county’s top prosecutor. Wolfson, who was appointed to the post in January 2012, is kicking off his campaign at 11:45 a.m. today at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Before taking over as district attorney, Wolfson worked as a federal prosecutor and as a criminal defense attorney. He also served as a Las Vegas city councilman.
The election is Nov. 4, 2014, with the winner elected to a four-year term.
The Sun sat down with Wolfson to talk about some of the changes he’s made, what he’s learned along the way and what the public can expect if he’s elected. Here’s a sampling of that discussion, edited for clarity and brevity:
What achievement are you most proud of?
When I took office, the coroner’s inquest process (into officer-involved shooting deaths) was stalled. Before we had a new process, there were 20 cases backlogged. I started issuing written decisions to the public so the families of the decedents could find out what happened.
If I hadn’t done that, there would have been no way of getting that information out.
The Stanley Gibson officer-involved shooting case is getting a lot of attention in the media lately. You made a decision to have a grand jury review that case instead of just filing charges. Why bring that case and not the other controversial shooting cases to a grand jury?
The ultimate decision whether to bring a criminal charge is mine. I don’t want to shift that burden to a grand jury. The Gibson case was atypical. It was such a controversial, high-profile matter that I felt it was important for transparency and openness to have that one case heard by a body of our citizens to give them a chance to review the matter and make a call.
But that was only a body of 17 citizens operating in secret. Wouldn’t filing charges and having a preliminary hearing have given the public a chance to witness the process?
They would have witnessed it — but a judge would have made a probable-cause decision. I made the call based on what I felt was best under the law.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned on the job?
It’s that running this office of 700 employees and 165 lawyers is like steering a cruise ship. You can’t make a right turn real fast. You have to do it a step at a time. I have dedicated people. I knew we had a great office and that’s why I sought to lead it.
What do you think makes you the right person for the job?
Experience. Balance. I’ve done both sides. I’m a listener. I pride myself on listening because I’m the one who makes the ultimate decision on so many big things. I do not like “yes people” around me. I want people to tell me when they disagree with me or when they think I’m wrong, and they do.
When you took office, you promised to reduce expensive death-penalty cases. You’ve made good on that promise. How was that transition?
I brought a new mindset to the process. We put almost nobody to death in the state of Nevada. We do not have the means to carry out that punishment. I believe personally that this punishment should only be for the worst of the worst.
We still have some really, really bad people that do really, really bad things. Some of these people have criminal histories. Some of these people are just dangerous. As long as it is on the books, the death penalty is still the law of the land. It should be used in certain select cases and that’s what we do.
Why should the public pick you?
One can only do their best and I make my best effort. I believe that I’m honest and that my judgment is sound. I am not mistake-free. That’s what I’d like people to know: That I’m not perfect and I call them as I see them. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do the best I can.
Going off of that idea, would you say the case of the people who were arrested for writing in sidewalk chalk is an example of your ability to reassess and re-evaluate?
Certainly. When it came to my attention, my first review was that these persons had committed a crime. But within a short time, I decided this was not a case our office should continue to prosecute. I take responsibility, my office prosecuted initially, but we didn’t have all the information and once we did, we made the right call.