After a recent candidate forum for contested races in the Aug. 7 Cole County Republican primary, the News Tribune asked the candidates some follow-up questions posed by readers.
Here are the responses to some of those questions from the Republican candidates for Cole County prosecuting attorney. Incumbent Mark Richardson is running against challenger Locke Thompson.
The winner of the Republican primary will face presumed Democratic nominee Deidre Hirner in the November general election.
The candidates' responses are posted in the order they appear on the Aug. 7 ballot.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.
Reader Sue Gibson took note of Richardson saying his office currently doesn't proceed with "lower-level domestic violence cases if the complaining victim makes a good case for dismissal."
"A 'complaining victim' could be motivated by fears of retaliation or financial/emotional dependence," Gibson said. "Can't a dismissal be interpreted as condoning or excusing acts of violence?"
Richardson: The three victim advocates at the Cole County Prosecutor's Office have a combined 68 years of experience in the fields of advocacy and criminal justice. They listen to a victim's concerns and what a victim wants to happen in a case. As the prosecutor, I keep the need of the community for enforcement of domestic abuse laws paramount. Any belief that a victim is being tampered with as a victim or harassed to say something not true is taken very seriously. I want to encourage domestic assault victims as well as sexual assault victims to immediately report crimes so that the police may gather important evidence before it is gone.
Thompson: Understanding the cycle of domestic violence and the dynamic between the offender and the victim is critical to prosecuting these crimes. Before these crimes are even reported, there is often a history of abuse: physical abuse, emotional abuse, isolation, economic control, manipulation of children and others. The prosecutor's office must be careful not to let manipulation of the legal system give abusers even more control over their victims.
Unprosecuted domestic violence offenders often escalate their behavior, and victims that feel they have no advocate fall deeper into this cycle. That leaves evidence-based prosecution, without the cooperation of the victim, as a strategy our county prosecutor must consider.
Reader Bill Farr said the Cole County Prosecuting Attorney's Office was fined $12,100 for violating the Sunshine Law when a citizen asked to see email correspondence between the office and the Mustang Drug Task Force.
"The judge's ruling stated that the office 'intentionally refused to provide records — or even search of any responsive records in the request from a citizen," Farr said. "Why was the request initially denied? How open and transparent should the prosecuting attorney's office be, and in what areas and under what circumstances should access be more restricted?"
Richardson: The Sunshine Law statute specifically prohibits the release of law enforcement records that would endanger "the safety of any victim, witness, undercover officer, or other person." My strong belief is that the release of confidential communications with police officers, deputy sheriffs and federal agents working as part of the drug task force would cause significant danger in violation of that statute. The Sunshine Law case against the office is on appeal, which I hope will result in the removal of the fine.
Thompson: Elected officials have the highest duty to the public to be transparent and open in public matters with which they are tasked. The prosecuting attorney must possess a knowledge of Sunshine Law: what is open and closed record and how to remain compliant. There is no question that my opponent possesses that knowledge, as he actually taught state officials how to respond to sunshine requests. He was just unwilling to comply, and it cost Cole County taxpayers $12,100 plus substantial attorneys fees.