Expect hordes of lawyers to vie for district attorney’s job

Let the floating of names for Clark County district attorney begin.

The list has expanded quickly, and will grow even faster.

Two contenders have been out there since even before District Attorney David Roger formally announced Nov. 1 he would retire Jan. 3, 2012, at the end of the first year of his third four-year term.

Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Wolfson and Teresa Lowry, assistant district attorney in charge of the family support division, immediately emerged as potential DAs.

But new names are surfacing. Defense attorney Robert Langford, a former deputy district attorney for nearly eight years, is definitely going to try for it. So is former Democratic Party Chairman John Hunt, a one-time candidate for attorney general, who lost to that Brian Sandoval guy in 2002.

Don Chairez, who left a District Court judgeship to run for Congress as a Republican against Shelley Berkley in 1998, and lost, said Friday he will apply. He’s now a Democrat and was a challenger to Roger.

That’s only five and more names will begin pouring in for a job that pays more than $200,000 a year and has darn good benefits, especially retirement benefits. After 25 years with the county, and after buying credit for five years, Roger will receive a pension of $150,000. He’s considering going to work for the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, a 30-hour-a-week job that frees him to spend more time with his 1-year-old daughter, his stated reason for retiring instead of finishing his term.

Since the statutes are unclear, Roger’s office has asked the attorney general for an opinion whether his replacement will serve all three years or whether an election would be held in 2012 to fill out the last two years of his term. The commissioners also want a legal opinion on whether they can appoint a caretaker who serves only until a new DA is elected, whether it’s 2012 or 2014.

County commissioners asked County Manager Don Burnette to set up a screening process for applicants. The hordes — and I’m guessing there will be hordes for one of the most powerful yet demanding jobs in local law enforcement — must apply to the county manager’s office by 5 p.m. Dec. 9. Applications are on the county website.

A seven-person screening committee will reduce the number of lawyers to 10 semifinalists, after reviewing their qualifications. If they can’t agree on a top 10, Burnette will resolve the differences.

The 10 will be interviewed by the screening committee, and the top five names will go to the Clark County commissioners, who are all Democrats. All five names now out there are Democrats.

Will politics enter the equation? Of course it will. We’re not that naïve. But it’s possible a commissioner’s favorite (and never doubt, there will be favorites) won’t make it past the as-yet-to-be chosen screening committee.

County Commission Chairwoman Susan Brager said the screening panel system worked well when she was on the School Board.

“It’s a diligent, serious process that makes it equitable and assures that all have a voice. It’s a healthy way to do things.”

The commissioners can submit names for the screening committee, but they don’t automatically get to each name someone, just make suggestions.

Roger’s decision to resign may expose the Republican to criticism about his policies during his 11 years as the county’s top prosecutor, since candidates will be asked how they would change the office.

Langford, for instance, is already saying Roger prosecuted too many cases in general and too many expensive death penalty cases.

Commissioners may want a prosecutor who considers the financial cost in deciding justice.

Of course, these same commissioners won’t want to sound soft on crime, or like they put a price tag on convicting murderers.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison.

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