Russell Wasley knows the resources of the 22nd Judicial District are limited. So, as the Republican candidate for district attorney, he is promising to focus on several types of offender if elected: repeat criminals, meth dealers, violent criminals, and felony probation violators.
The 53-year-old, who until recently was a deputy district attorney in the 22nd, is challenging incumbent Democrat Mac Myers for the position. Myers was appointed DA this summer after the May 22 death in a motorcycle accident of Republican Jim Wilson.
Wasley said he is prepared to deal with the tight budget in the 22nd and took a dig at Myers for asking the county commissioners for more funds.
“I believe it is important for the DA to live within our means,” he said. “The final budget for 2010 was approximately $605,000. It’s my understanding that Mr. Myers has asked for a supplemental allocation of $10,500 for the remainder of 2010 and is asking for additional money next year.
“I intend to live within the scope of the existing budget.”
One of the ways to do this is to focus the efforts of the office, Wasley said. A large percentage of crimes are committed by a disproportionately small number of offenders, and his first priority would be using Colorado’s habitual-offender laws to seek tougher sentences for repeat criminals.
For instance, someone committing a felony after three prior felony convictions can receive a sentence of four times what would otherwise be the maximum.
There are also habitual-offender statutes for some misdemeanors, he said, including burglary and domestic violence.
“I am not trying to turn the office into Attila the Hun,” Wasley said, “But I want to target those felons who need the most attention.
“Though I enjoyed working with Jim, I think we had a different philosophy when it came to prosecution of repeat criminals. I felt there were more individuals who needed to be prosecuted that way. But that decision had to be made by the DA.”
Wasley also wants to crack down on felony probation violators. Typically such offenders, when given probation, must comply with conditions such as submitting to drug-testing or seeking regular employment.
Too frequently, however, they fail to comply, Wasley said, and he wants to ask the judge for “appropriate re-sentencing.”
“I think in some instances some individuals have gotten off too lightly.”
Another priority will be prosecution of meth dealers. “Methamphetamine is a very dangerous drug,” Wasley said. “It’s a real danger in the community and I believe the dealers have to be dealt with in a serious and harsh way.”
Wasley said he is not, however, trying to crack down on users. “There is a drug court with [District] Judge [Douglas] Walker. It works very well. It tries to focus on treatment of drug addicts.”
Asked whether the distinction between dealers and users is always clear, Wasley admitted it can be blurry. “It’s quite possible someone can be mainly a user and buys 2 grams of meth and may sell a quartergram to a buddy to support their existence. That person is probably by and large a user.”
However, he said, “It’s one thing to sell to a friend once or twice and it’s another for someone to sell four or five times. There has to be a low level of tolerance for dealing. Meth has the potential to destroy a large number of lives in the district.”
Wasley also has strong concerns about the growth of the medical-marijuana industry and spoke before the Cortez City Council on July 13 to urge them to ban dispensaries in the city; the council, however, decided to allow them.
Wasley said he still believes there are too many loopholes in state marijuana laws and that too many prescriptions are not justified by patients’ medical conditions.
“I do feel uncomfortable about the whole dispensary industry,” he said. “I think this whole situation needs tighter regulation, even tighter than has been recently passed. I would really prefer that THC [the active ingredient in marijuana], if it’s going to be dispensed, be dispensed through a pharmacy.”
However, Wasley said keeping a watchful eye on dispensaries to make sure they are following all the new regulations, such as the 70-30 rule (a dispensary must grow 70 percent of the pot it sells)can’t be a high priority.
“We have a small DA’s office. It’s very important to prioritize where those resources go,” he said. “Before addressing marijuana you have to look at more serious issues: meth, repeat offenders, all crimes of violence, murders, residential burglaries, assaults against children, sexual assaults — those are the areas where there has to be attention in terms of the DA before expending enormous resources on the medical marijuana.”
Wasley came to the 22nd in December 2008 after being defeated that November in his bid for DA of the 6th Judicial District, which includes La Plata, San Juan and Archuleta counties. Prior to that, he was a deputy DA in Colorado’s 6th, 14th, and 9th judicial districts. He came to Colorado from Lubbock County, Texas, where he was an assistant DA.
In his decade as a prosecutor, Wasley said, he has prosecuted about 70 jury trials, including six murder trials, the most recent of which resulted in a second-degree murder conviction for Ignacio Rael of Cortez for killing his girlfriend, Diane Cordova, in 2008. In that case he shared duties and closing arguments with Wilson.
“It was a three-week trial involving DNA evidence, and we split it down the middle,” he said. “I handled the scientific evidence and we split the closing arguments.
“It was a sad case, an awful case.”
Wasley applied to fill Wilson’s position, but Myers, who had narrowly lost the DA’s race against Wilson in 2008, was chosen by Gov. Bill Ritter instead. Myers reportedly said Wasley could stay on as deputy DA if he would promise not to run against him, but Wasley refused. The two were already acquainted, having worked together previously in the 9th Judicial District when Myers was DA there. Wasley has been public about his indignation over being forced to leave the office because of his candidacy.
“He [Myers] told me he would be happy to keep me on if I decided not to run in November,” Wasley said. “He said that if I chose to withdraw my candidacy that I was in, I could bank on that. He said he was hoping I would stay, and that he enjoyed working with me in the 9th Judicial District.”
However, Wasley said, he had already been chosen by the local Republican Party as their candidate and had no intention of withdrawing. He believes Myers should have let him remain.
“I think in a DA’s office, public safety should always be the No. 1 concern, not politics,” he said. “The most important qualifications for a deputy DA are competence, fairness, hard work and intelligence. In regard to Mr. Myers’ decision with regard to me, I do not believe that was the best decision.”
Wasley said he had promised Myers that if Myers reappointed him as a deputy, Wasley would make his job his first priority and that politics “would not affect me at all and that during the work day there would be no discussion of politics.” Myers, however, has said that having two competing candidates in the same office would unavoidably cause conflicts.
“Mr. Myers did write a letter to the editor in the Cortez Journal raising the issue of loyalty,” Wasley said, “but the DA’s office is about public safety, protection of victims, and loyalty to the community. “It’s not supposed to be about personal loyalty.”
Wasley said he would be honored to be elected and would aim to be “an accessible and responsible DA.”