America’s criminal justice system is grounded in the lofty ideal that no man or woman is above the law and that justice will be meted out in a neutral and fair-minded manner.
But those involved in the process don’t always live up to these noble principles. And when favoritism and cronyism prevail over equity and impartiality, the integrity of the system is put at risk.
The Review-Journal’s Jeff German and David Ferrera reported last week that Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson allowed his relationship with a longtime aide to cloud his judgment. The story raises questions about how Mr. Wolfson employs his vast prosecutorial discretion.
The revelations involve Audrie Locke, the DA’s community liaison and spokeswoman, whose connection to Mr. Wolfson dates back 14 years to his time as a Las Vegas city councilman. Ms. Locke admitted that in 2014 she surreptitiously dipped into her boss’s campaign account and stole nearly $42,000 to fund a gambling addiction.
When Mr. Wolfson learned of the theft, he turned a blind eye to help a trusted confidante. “I believe that this is an aberration,” he told the Review-Journal. “I believe she had an illness, and I believe that it’s the illness that caused her to do this … I decided to give her a second chance to prove to me that she would get treatment for her addiction.”
Ms. Locke eventually repaid the money, temporarily resigned her position and sought help for a gambling problem. She was never prosecuted.
The obvious question: Would somebody who didn’t have a close relationship with the county’s top law enforcement officer have received similar treatment? We all know the answer. Mr. Wolfson’s office has prosecuted scores, if not hundreds, of cases involving individuals stealing or writing bad checks to feed a gambling addiction. Did these defendants get a “second chance” from the district attorney’s office?
“He clearly showed mercy for a friend,” said a former federal prosecutor in Las Vegas. “I hope that he exercises his discretion to similarly show mercy for those who may have troubling situations like this woman but who may not have the same kind of access to him as she obviously does.”
Mr. Wolfson broke no laws — prosecutors enjoy wide latitude in deciding whether and how to charge those suspected of criminal wrongdoing. But he made a mistake. The perception now exists that special treatment is available for lawbreakers with a connection to the district attorney. That’s a messy stain on Mr. Wolfson’s tenure.
On Friday, a day after the Review-Journal’s revelations about the Locke case, local attorney Robert Langford announced he would run against Mr. Wolfson in the November election. It will now be up to the voters to determine whether to accept the district attorney’s explanations for his selective compassion and leniency toward Ms. Locke.