Defense Attorney Seeks DA's Job

Defense attorney Robert Langford is trying to unseat Steve Wolfson as Clark County district attorney.

Defense attorney Robert Langford is trying to unseat Steve Wolfson as Clark County district attorney.

Langford told KNPR's State of Nevada that he was motivated to run after attending a leadership conference held by the ACLU. The conference focused on the problem of mass incarceration and the impact it is having on society.

“It’s a burden on taxpayers,” he said, “It’s a burden on particular aspects of the community. We end up in this endless chain of putting more and more people in prison. And I decided it is time to get off of that treadmill.”

Langford said he wants to end institutional bias and institutional racism within the district attorney’s office, which impacts incarceration rates.

The first example he pointed to is the issue of bail, especially cash bail.

Langford said the current DA Steve Wolfson and his office fight against the use of the Risk Assessment Tool, which is supposed to determine who should get bail and who shouldn’t.

He said the current bail system is another fee that disproportionally impacts poor people. According to Langford, it costs the taxpayers of Clark County $125 a day to house someone in jail.

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If someone can’t make bail, they sit in jail as their case makes its way through the system or they pay a bail bondsman to get them out. The bail bondsman takes 15 percent.

“So, if you are a poor person you have already started out with a greater punishment for whatever it was you did,” he said, “And that’s why it’s unfair.”

He said the bail system fills up jails, pushes people with few resources to make a deal with the district attorney’s office and sets people up for failure.

Langford also took aim at Wolfson over the case involving the DA’s close aide in the 2014 election. Audrie Locke admitted taking $42,000 from Wolfson’s campaign to pay for gambling debts. However, she paid the money back and avoided prosecution.

Langford said the way Wolfson handled the case was “just not fair,” especially because Langford and other critics say the DA routinely fights against diversion programs designed for people with addiction problems.

“I think that is part and parcel of the old-school mentality of: we need to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate for as long as possible,” he said, “And when you’re stuck in that mentality… that’s all you know how to do.”

The defense attorney believes it is part of the tough-on-crime stance that needs to be changed. Instead, he would like to see a smart-on-crime stance.

He points to the DA’s policy on the death penalty as an example. During an interview with KNPR’s State of Nevada, Steve Wolfson said he had chopped in half the number of times his office put the death penalty on the table during prosecutions.

Langford took issue with that number. He said last year the DA filed 17 notices to seek the death penalty and his predecessor had 19 in his last year in office.

Clark County is the second in the nation for death penalty case. Langford said there is nothing about Clark County or crime in the county that makes it so the death penalty should be sought that often.

“We need to be smart on crime,” he said, “And going after the death penalty is not the smart thing to do.”

Langford said for one thing death penalty cases are much more expensive and time-consuming to defend and prosecute. And he said keeping someone on death row is much more expensive than having someone in prison for life.

He pointed to the Scott Dozier case as an example of what can happen with the death penalty. Dozier wants to stop all of his appeals and be put to death. However, because of problems with the drug cocktail used to execute people, his execution is on hold.

“How much money has been spent in the last six months – just the last six months to put Scott Dozier to death?” he asked, “We’ve had people from the prison who have had to come down and testify and go through the possible drugs. We’ve paid for experts on both sides. We’ve paid for attorneys. Probably better than $100,000 to figure out what kind of drug can be used.”

He said if Dozier had been sentenced to life in prison he couldn’t have chosen to die and the state wouldn’t be paying for it all. 

Langford would like to see the money spent prosecuting death penalty cases diverted to crime prevention programs and programs to end the school-to-prison pipeline.

Perhaps one of Langford’s biggest problems with the way the DA’s office is currently being run by Wolfson is the lack of access to discovery material.

By law, defense attorneys and their clients are allowed all material about their case from the police and the district attorney’s office. However, Langford and other defense attorneys have complained that under Wolfson the longtime open-file policy of the DA’s office has changed.

“If you’re a district attorney that doesn’t stand up and say, ‘Look, I’m going to make a commitment to this community that every piece of evidence that is in the possession of my office, the police department, whatever agency is a county agency, my deputies are going to go out and fulfill your responsibility to make sure that a criminally accused person has that evidence before we go to trial.’ Until you are ready to say that, you’re just rearranging deck chairs,” he said.

If elected, Langford said changing the discovery process at the office would be his priority.

Langford and Wolfson are both Democrats and the only two candidates for the job. One of them will be district attorney after the election June 12.



Robert Langford, attorney

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KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada