William Furse, an area defense lawyer, is the Republican front-runner for District Attorney for the 22nd Judicial District, which includes Montezuma and Dolores counties.
Because there is no Democratic challenger, the DA election will be decided during the Republican primary on June 26. Only registered Republicans can vote in this election.
Furse defeated incumbent DA Russell Wasley for the party’s preferred candidate during the Feb. 24 Republican General Assembly, garnering 57 percent of the votes and earning the top spot on the ballot. He will likely face Wasley, who had a pending petition to get onto the ballot; at press time it could not be confirmed whether Wasley had enough valid signatures to qualify.
Furse, 33, has a law degree from John Marshall Law School in Chicago, and has practiced law in Colorado for seven years working as a private attorney and a public defender, including for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
He is campaigning on a platform of more collaboration between the DA’s office and law enforcement, stiff prison sentences for violent criminals, an improved juvenile court and a renewed focus on rehabilitation programs for drug addicts.
Furse told the Free Press it is paramount for the DA’s office to communicate effectively with local cops most familiar with specific crimes being prosecuted. He said keeping closer ties with officers from the Cortez Police Department, Dolores and Montezuma County sheriffs, local marshals, the Colorado State Patrol, federal law enforcement and the Ute Mountain Ute police in Towaoc benefits public safety.
“Right now there is not a close working relationship between the DA and law enforcement, and one of my first priorities will be to re-build that relationship,” Furse said.
“When the DA does not work closely with officers to prepare for trial, motion hearings and general litigation, then you are neglecting a huge part of the process.
“During court hearings I see officers frustrated because they have not had the opportunity to prepare with the DA or because they are there unnecessarily; they seem excluded from the equation. This needs to change. Law enforcement has gathered the information necessary to prosecute cases and a DA cannot be effective if he does not maintain a working relationship with them.”
District attorneys prosecute cases involving a variety of criminal acts — from the most violent offenses, such as murder and assault, to DUIs, burglaries, drug dealing, drug abuse, property damage, and traffic violations. Furse believes different approaches are required for prosecuting violent crimes versus nonviolent crimes.
Plea bargaining, a legal maneuver in which a defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge with a specific sentence to avoid a trial, should not be offered for certain violent offenders, he said.
“A plea bargain should not be an expectation of the offender. As a prosecutor, I believe that certain crimes of violence and specific habitual offenders should not receive the benefit of a plea bargain,” Furse said. “We are experiencing an increasing number of violent crimes here, and I believe this is due to a lack of a deterrent effect coming from the current DA’s office.
“As DA I will not be reluctant to go to trial in order to take violent criminals off the streets for as long as possible. Consistently harsh sentences for violent individuals will deter them from committing future crimes, and I don’t see this strategy being utilized in this jurisdiction.”
Regarding specific non-violent offenders, Furse believes rehabilitation and community service saves the expense of jail time, gives offenders — especially youth — a second chance, and deals directly with the societal problem of drug and alcohol addiction.
“Drug addiction, in particular methamphetamine use, is a huge problem here and I think you need to have a real deliberate rehabilitation approach to these types of crimes,” Furse said. “Rather than institutionalizing addicts and perpetuating their existence in the system, I feel it is important to utilize available treatment programs. For certain non-violent offenders, using pro-social sentences such as public service tailored to an offender’s job skills is also a good fit.”
The criminal justice system can be particularly harsh on younger people making extraordinary mistakes. Furse said for non-violent youth offenders a special effort should be made to prevent them from becoming felons, a “scarlet-letter for life” that limits future employment, promotes a criminal lifestyle, and disenfranchises people from society.
“We need to find ways to sentence them that keep them out of the criminal justice system and promote positive participation in their community,” he said, adding that it costs taxpayers approximately $50,000 per year to incarcerate one prisoner.
A priority for Furse is to improve the juvenile court system and re-open youth diversion programs. The closing of Montezuma County Partners, a support system for at-risk youth, leaves a gap in the community justice system, he said. Reviving a youth diversion program is critical in order to “take the juvenile out of the court system and into a restorative- justice, community-based program that prevents someone from being institutionalized in the courts.”
Furse points to his knowledge and love of law, experience as a public defender and “zealous determination” in the courtroom as reasons he will serve the public as an effective DA.
“As a defense attorney, I know the strategies and tactics unique to that position, and knowledge of those skills will translate effectively to the prosecution side,” he said. “It’s like being traded to a different team, not unlike Tim Tebow. When he plays Denver, he’ll know the ins and outs of their playbook, and as a prosecutor I’ll have that advantage as well.”