Albany County Attorney Candidate Interviews By The Laramie Chamber Business Alliance
The following is an interview of Albany County Attorney Candidates initiated by the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance. Neither the Governmental Affairs Committee nor the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance endorse any candidate. They felt it was important to find if candidates were supportive of business.
This is directly from the minutes provided by the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance.
Attendance: Peggy Trent and Jim Schermetzler
1. Are you satisfied with the way the County Attorney’s office currently operates? What changes would you suggest to make it more effective? Do you think your full time participation in the operation of the County Attorney’s office will serve that county and its citizen’s interest better?
Peggy Trent- “I believe there needs to be a complete restructuring of that office and how we are handling that. We have five attorneys and I believe five assistants and it just seems ineffective and efficiency level and how we are generating a work project and how you operate a law firm. From the criminal perspective it’s completely backwards to the way we are providing services from the civil side they are not getting timely advice. I’m focusing on the budget and how we are operating as a law firm. I believe there needs to be a restructure in response and more accountably needs to be in civil, you have to have time management software.”
Jim Schermetzler- “Cross training the staff, communicating better brainstorming sessions with the lawyers unparticular, we need to bounces cases off better than we have done. More openness with law enforcement, they needs to have a feeling that they will be listened to. My style is to listen first and talk second. Law enforcement folks are quick to tell prosecutors that they are not in their chain of command. They have their responsibilities and their commands and we need to communicate better and work together.
2. Albany County and the City of Laramie is a college community that has a relatively low rate of serious violent crime, but a rather high rate of minor drug and alcohol offenses. What is your policy with regard to enforcement and prosecution of minor drug and alcohol offenses (excluding DUI and DWI)?
Peggy Trent- “Majority in our community is being routed through the City of Laramie and not the through the county. The reason we are doing it quite frankly is funds. It is a very lucrative business what we’re doing also at the time it was being routed there was being in my opinion and I know this as being the City Attorney from Laramie, so I’m speaking from my experience. There is a distrust in how cases were being handled over in Circuit Court through the County Attorney’s office. So these two reasons factored into rallying majority of the alcohol minor cases through the City being charged under city ordinances verses state. You will find as you go through the City that it’s stricter and it’s getting stricter each day. I’m not sure what the driving force behind all of that. When you’re under age we have a problem here in this community. I believe too many children and I’m talking under 18 are being tried as adults and what that means in the State of Wyoming, we have elected not to have one system of juvenile system. And at first I couldn’t understand that, but as I worked here in this community I have learned that you empower the local government to make sure we do it the way we want to do it in our community.”
Jim Schermetzler- “The County Attorney’s job is to enforce the law and so no matter what one’s personal feeling may be about a particular area it’s important to enforce that and do it in a consistent matter. If there is a way to use that system to treat those kind of problems rather than pure punishment then I think we need to do that. The drinking under age is a problem and the problem is it is against the law but those things need to be done in a way that it recognizes we treat everyone fairly and it needs to be consistent.
3. Albany County borders the state of Colorado where the purchase of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use is legal. Are you concerned with the increased accessibility of contraband in Albany County? Do you support legalization of marijuana in Wyoming?
Peggy Trent- “My job as County Attorney, I would be obligated under my oath and law to enforce the law. If the citizens of Wyoming have determined it as illegal, it is illegal and I will enforce it.”
Jim Schermetzler- “The problem that it is illegal in Colorado is huge, particular with the kids. Kids do not understand that its legal there and here it’s not. The problem is its legal in Colorado when you turn 21. There has been a recent study that shows that since Colorado legalized marijuana for people 21 and up the usage among people 16-18 as well as 18-21 has about doubled and that’s illegal in Colorado as well. So I leave decisions of what the law should be to legislators and people who elect legislators.”
4. What experience do you have in Civil and administrative law that will assist you with the County Attorney’s role as chief counsel for county officials and governments departments?
Peggy Trent- “To elaborate, I have represented Civil Litigation, I’ve been involved in DEQ and the engineering office and as it relates to water rights. That has been working with administrative agencies and how we process in Douglas, we are on a different side than in Albany County. They have oil and gas industry and we sale our water for fracking and as part of that you have to have water rights and the knowledge as you work through different issues.”
Jim Schermetzler- “I have quite a bit of experience. When I was in private practice I represented the town of Wright for a couple of years so I have some municipal experience. When I was in Campbell County for the four years half of my responsibility was representing the County in Civil matters. That was also half of my responsible here in Albany County up until about four years ago. I have experience in advising legal elected officials.”
5. Do you feel that the Albany County is a safe community? If not, what would you do to make it safer? If so, how do you intend on maintaining the level of safety this community enjoys?
Peggy Trent- “I come from a large city, and I have been a victim of crime. I know what it’s like to live in a large city and the comparison to this community this is an outstanding community to live in. What I have learned from this community and other communities is there is something that is lacking. It is communication. Getting out there and talking, vandalism is an issue here and so is car thefts. Although they are not violent they are a pain. The money we spend and the insurance and the court system that we do to get involved. We need to be out in the community talking.”
Jim Schermetzler- “ I think we are a safe community and what we need to do is support our law enforcement folks, work with victims and have some ability to work together to keep that safe environment. I think the key is to support law enforcement to be available to assist them early on in their investigation and to make them feel like they are welcome to ask questions to us. We all need to work together.”
6. What is your stance on trying juveniles as adults for violent crimes? What is your stance on rehabilitation vs. incarceration for members of this community?
Peggy Trent- “With juveniles when we do remove children from their homes , which I think we do way too often when we have enough resources in our community to have wrap around services. But when we do remove, unfortunately, I’m not sure why we are sending them the Sheridan, Cheyenne etc. I don’t know why we aren’t using our resources here in Laramie like Cathedral Home. I have attempted to present that and for some reason it does not get addressed. I believe things need to be brought back to our community. This is going to be a challenge. I’m not a fan of removing children from their home, we are spending way too much money doing so. We got to get the family to succeed. We need to do more in our community and use all of our resources.”
Jim Schermetzler- “I am a believer that kids need to be in Juvenile Court. Juvenile Court is built for rehabilitation. There has been a lot of talk about traffic violations which are huge in terms of numbers. We are averaging about 250 traffic tickets a year. Kids who get traffic tickets enjoy a privilege we all do. I believe the only efficient way to handle those is to have them go to traffic court. If we put them all in Juvenile Court we would need three more judges and I don’t even know how many attorneys, social workers. Kids who get a traffic violation I don’t think need to be supervised by DFS or have their families under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court which is very intrusive. Some cases do require juveniles to be tried as an adult, it depends on the case.”
7. Do you think the war on drugs succeeding? If not, why not?
Peggy Trent- “I don’t believe in these catch phrases. You won’t hear these phrases from my mouth. You need to open your mind and not fall victim of these phrases. I do believe there are issues with drugs. We do have to be diligent with the use of drugs.”
Jim Schermetzler- “The war on drugs is not succeeding to a great degree, I think because the demand remains there. If there is a demand for drugs someone will supply them. It’s the education side, teaching your kids that there is another way to live. That’s the only way to win this thing. It’s an uphill battle.”
8. What are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the County Attorney’s office? What are your plans to make it better?
Peggy Trent- “Well they don’t have a good leader right now, so it is unfair to saddle a lot of what’s going on in that office. If you don’t have the leadership at the top to direct and give training and mentoring it all falls apart. I feel we have some talent in the office but it’s not being tapped in.”
Jim Schermetzler- “The biggest strength is the staff that we have, they are all hardworking. I think what needs to be different is an administer or County Attorney who spends probably half of their time just seeing the workflow and assessed in a way that cases meet the current need.” 9. What is the biggest issue the Albany County judicial system faces, how would you intend to address it?
Peggy Trent- “I think it just requires experienced attorneys who are doing their jobs trying cases. I think we have an outstanding judges.”
Jim Schermetzler- “I think the biggest issue we have is just working together in every area. We need to have the ability to come up with a coherent everybody buys in plan so that each agency is on the same page.”