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Fumo squares off with incumbent Wolfson in DA primary

A former state assemblyman is looking to end Steve Wolfson’s 10-year term as Clark County District Attorney.

Wolfson will face off with prominent criminal defense attorney Ozzie Fumo in the Democratic primary on June 14th. Voters in the general election will then decide between the winning Democrat and defense attorney Timothy Treffinger, who is running unopposed as a Republican.

Wolfson, 67, was first appointed district attorney in 2012 and was reelected in 2014 and 2018. He has emphasized what he calls “smart reform” for the criminal justice system. But he stopped short of calling himself a progressive candidate.

“Some reforms are good, but I don’t believe in the ultra-progressive socialism type of reforms,” he said. “… I’m not going to let Nevada become the next California.”

Fumo, 56, was elected to Assembly District 21 seat in 2016, a position he left to launch an unsuccessful bid for the Nevada Supreme Court in 2020.

Throughout his campaign, Fumo has emphasized eliminating the death penalty in Clark County by promising not to pursue capital punishment if elected.

“We just get it wrong,” he said. “I’m going to be tough on crime, believe me… When I prosecute someone, I want their last breath to be in the prison system here, not fighting their appeals.”

Wolfson said he continues to pursue capital punishment because he believes “the jury should have the option” in egregious cases. He also expressed doubt that eliminating the death penalty would save money.

“If we remove the death penalty, then the worst penalty will be life without the possibility of parole,” he said. “And I believe that they will spend as much money and fight just as hard to avoid that penalty.”

While Fumo has focused on fighting the death penalty, Wolfson said he wants his campaign to focus on “public safety.”

“We need to get back to a little bit more law and order — prosecuting violent and repeat offenders,” Wolfson said.

Both candidates said they would like to get more defendants into diversion programs such as drug treatment or mental health courts. But Fumo said the current requirements for who can access the programs are too strict, especially for people convicted of a violent crime.

“They’re the ones that need the help the most, and we’re not putting them into the programs,” Fumo said.

‘Sweetheart deals’

Since announcing his candidacy in October, Fumo has repeatedly criticized Wolfson for what he calls “sweetheart deals” in high-profile cases. He pointed to the case against tech billionaire Henry Nicholas III, who in 2019 pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge after prosecutors agreed to dismiss drug trafficking counts and ultimately drop the conviction in exchange for community service and drug counseling.

Wolfson defended the prosecution against Nicholas and pointed to other high-profile cases he said were vigorously prosecuted, including wealthy real estate broker Scott Gragson, who is currently serving an eight to 20-year sentence for DUI resulting in death, and ongoing cases such as charges filed against former Raiders player Henry Ruggs and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.

“I take extreme exception to the accusation that wealthy people are getting special treatment,” Wolfson said.

Wolfson was also criticized in 2018 for not prosecuting a top aide, Audrie Locke, who had stolen money from his campaign account in 2014 because of a gambling problem. She returned to the office after attending a problem gambling program.

Last month, Wolfson received criticism for dropping out of a candidate forum organized by the Clark County Black Caucus and the local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP. Wolfson said he dropped out due to safety concerns after demonstrators, who he called “agitators,” attended past fundraising events and showed up at his home.

“I’m accessible,” Wolfson said. “I’m not afraid to talk about any of the issues. That one particular event, I didn’t feel safe for myself or my staff.”

Wolfson said he would be open to a future debate if it was “fair and impartial.”

Racial remark

Fumo has also faced criticism in recent months for referring to current Supreme Court Justice Douglas Herndon as a “white supremacist” during a panel at Boyd Law School. While serving on the Clark County District Court bench in 2016, Herndon asked Deputy Public Defender Erika Ballou to remove a “Black Lives Matter” pin she was wearing in court. Ballou refused, and the hearing she was attending was postponed.

The State Bar of Nevada has opened an investigation regarding Fumo concerning a rule of professional conduct prohibiting an attorney from making a statement “that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer, or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial or legal office,” according to Bar counsel Daniel Hooge.

Hooge did not say more about what prompted the investigation. Fumo told the Review-Journal in April that he was not aware of the investigation.

In the past year, the Bar has received five grievances against Wolfson, but all were found “facially insufficient” and were not investigated further, Hooge said.

Wolfson has received endorsements from Nevada’s major police unions, including the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which covers the Metropolitan Police Department’s rank-and-file officers.

Fumo has received endorsements from organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Nevada chapter of the National Organization for Women, and the Real Justice PAC, which backs other “civil rights-minded prosecutors” across the country, according to its website. Fumo is also endorsed by multiple labor unions, including the Service Employees International Union, Local 1107, and the Clark County Education Association.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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