MAUSTON—Local voters had an opportunity to hear from the three candidates for Juneau County district attorney during a forum on Tuesday.
The forum, moderated by WRJC General Manager Jim Murph, and broadcast on the radio station, was hosted by American Legion Post 81 in Mauston. The forum was a two-hour question-and-answer session with three breaks. Questions were submitted to the radio station and the three candidates, challengers Kenneth Hamm, Stacy Smith and incumbent Mike Solovey, did not see the questions beforehand.
Solovey was elected to the position in November of 2012 and also served as D.A for a term in the 1970s. Smith ran unsuccessfully against Solovey in ‘12, but hopes to unseat the incumbent during this election cycle. Hamm, 32, is the youngest of the three and is running for D.A. for the first time.
While all three touted their experience, credentials and goals for the position, both Hamm and Smith emphasized changes they would make if they became the county’s lead prosecutor. Solovey has faced backlash from the county board and local law enforcement in recent months for alleged poor performance. In March, the board gave Solovey a vote of no confidence during the same meeting he was scheduled to present his annual report.
All three candidates were asked why they decided to run.
“I have deep ties to Juneau County and I took it personally when I’ve heard the differences law enforcement has had with Mr. Solovey,” Hamm said.
“As for Mr. Smith, he has run unsuccessfully for D.A. positions in Juneau, Monroe and Vernon counties. It seems to me like he just wants a job. I’ve been in court every day for the past five years. Mr. Smith claims he has done more than 200 jury trials, and I don’t believe that.”
At Tuesday’s forum, Solovey maintained that the allegations against him are politically motivated. He said during his three and a half years in office he hasn’t received complaints from the public about his performance.
“Not one letter to the editor has been published that’s portrayed me in a negative light,” Solovey said. “My one and only duty is to the people of Juneau County, not the powerful and privileged few. I have to make sure justice is done for all.”
Both Hamm and Smith said Solovey has passed off a considerable amount of his workload since taking the D.A. position in early 2013. Hamm claimed that Solovey has sent 11 cases to the state’s attorney general’s office for special prosecution. Solovey said there has been only one case that was passed on, involving a child sexual assault.
Both challengers also claimed Solovey has put more trials into the hands of his assistant D.A. Jake Westman. Solovey responded that by noting his office has been cut by 20 percent and that staff have had to do more with fewer resources.
Smith talked about his experience throughout the forum. Smith has served as an assistant D.A. for 14 years and said he has more prosecuting experience than both Solovey and Hamm. Solovey has eight years’ experience as a prosecutor, while Hamm has none. But, Hamm has served as a public defense attorney for the past five years.
“I’ve been a practicing law for 20 years, and I’ve won a high percentage of my cases,” Smith said. “I’ve faced some super attorneys along the way and have had some satisfying results. I have a ‘think outside the box’ mentality and I’m willing to work more with victims.”
“I have 40 years of legal experience,” Solovey said. “During my time as district attorney, I’ve handled some of the most complex, time consuming cases and I’ve also spent time putting together reports and meeting with officials in all of the municipalities of Juneau County. I am the only one of the three up here who carries this responsibility every day.”
One of the biggest issues addressed at Tuesday’s forum was drug-related crimes. Both Smith and Hamm proposed forming drug and sobriety treatment programs. Solovey said he likes the idea, but with the office’s budget being cut, doesn’t see those programs as being practical. Smith and Hamm both would like to bring back CHIPS (Child in Need of Protective Services) cases that were passed along to the county’s corporate counsel in the past couple years. Smith believes the money brought in from those cases could help fund drug programs.
Hamm believes there are state grants available to supplement drug courts.
“If Mr. Hamm feels he can work some type of magic with less staff and resources then when I took the office in 2013, well he can think that,” Solovey said. “If I thought there was a chance to get funding for a drug court, I would have applied for it already. That’s just not the reality I’m facing.”
“I think if it’s a program that is important, sometimes you just have to pony up and pay for it,” Smith said
In closing statements, Hamm said that while he doesn’t have the experience Smith and Solovey have, he has handled every type of case during his years as a public defender. Smith said there is “something broken” when the district attorney and law enforcement can’t work together. However, Solovey countered by saying that if anyone wants to see how he functions with law enforcement, they can spend time in his office.