Sherwood: Position a mix of administrative duties, leading prosecution
By ANGIE HAFLICH
Brian Sherwood sees experience — his own and his staff's — as the cornerstone of the county attorney's office.
Sherwood, who is currently the Deputy Finney County Attorney, is conducting a write-in campaign for the Nov. 6 general election since his loss to Susan Richmeier in the Republican primary in August.
The county attorney is the chief law enforcement official in the county, and Sherwood said his plan is to approach the position by combining administrative and prosecutorial work.
"My goal would be to be do both. We're going to run into a situation where we're probably going to lose an attorney," Sherwood said, meaning the office would be short his position if he is elected. "I think experience for this position is important, so in my opinion, we need to have experience in the courtroom. It's just not jury trials. We have a special knowledge, we have to have special experience that applies to what we're doing because of changes in the law and the different issues we come across. So, I would want to be in the courtroom. I'd be a lead prosecutor. I'd also have to do administrative work, and I'd have to be a leader in the office and help set a direction as to where the office needs to go."
Sherwood said he understands the county attorney position requires a 24/7 commitment, something he has learned in working for current Finney County Attorney John Wheeler.
"Absolutely, unequivocally yes. That's what we're doing now. That's what John does, that's what the assistants do. Each assistant is required to be on call. We have special assignments even outside the office that require us to do work outside of office hours. I'm already doing it, and I'm willing to do more," he said.
Because of this aspect of the position, Sherwood said he is willing to make himself accessible in any way necessary.
"Any law enforcement agency that needs to contact me, I would be available if they need to contact me at home, by my cell phone, by any means, I'll be there. At 2 o'clock in the morning ... and it's a murder case, I'll be down there. When the police, sheriff's department, the KHP, Holcomb or the KBI call and they need my assistance and advice, I will be there any time, day and night," Sherwood said.
The county commission set the 2012-13 budget for the county attorney's office at $1,391,429.24, a $50,000 cut from the previous budget. Sherwood said while many of the line items on the budget are not areas that can be cut, he said he would continually re-visit it, in order to make any adjustments that might be necessary.
"There will be a reduction, with me pledging to be a courtroom attorney, as well as supervising the office of county attorney. I think we can get by with the other county attorneys, so that will save some money. The other items, we've got $1,391,429.24 — obviously, there are a lot of different items in there that we can work on. There's things that we have to deal with, witness costs and legal fees, and we don't know how much that's going to cost during the course of a prosecution, but those are things that experienced prosecutors are aware of and will be able to manage," Sherwood said. "I don't think there should be a drastic cut to that budget, but I understand times are changing, and we have to adapt and that probably means we'll have one less attorney and we'll deal with that."
In dealing with the possibility of future cuts to the budget, Sherwood said, "That is hard to predict, but this is an essential service to the county and we're talking about community safety, so I would be cautious about cutting it too much. Ultimately, it's not up to me. It's up to the county, and I would have to discuss that with the county commissioners and address the issues they may have about the budget. I think one of the ways that we'll eventually get to, that might save some money, is going paperless ... that could help save some costs."
Although some of the business of the county attorney's office must remain confidential, Sherwood said some aspects should be more transparent and accessible to the public.
"A lot of the information in our office is confidential, and a lot of it is information that we can't share with the public. We're forbidden by rules of ethics or by law that we wouldn't necessarily be able to discuss a current case. We're accessible to victims ... we would try to make services better for them, but we certainly could be more accessible to the community," he said, adding that he would like to provide outreach services to senior citizens, by educating them about identity fraud and elderly abuse, as well as to students, by continuing law enforcement's involvement with the schools.
Sherwood said that outreach and education is also important when it comes to serving the multicultural population of Finney County.
"The county attorney is the county attorney for the people in Finney County. He's responsible for enforcing the laws against everybody. ... We have to be colorblind. We have to be equal, in terms of, first of all, how we treat the victim and how we prosecute. We've done that for 22 years, and I would continue to do that," Sherwood said.
Sherwood said that he will be able to make difficult decisions independent of outside pressure.
"I do that now. I make decisions in that office that may sometimes be unpopular. Sometimes, you're going to have to make those tough choices," he said.
Sherwood said that the experience he believes that the office needs is not just in jury trials, but in all aspects of the legal process.
"In terms of experience, now I've talked about jury trials and being in the courtroom, but it's not just jury trials. You have to deal with the changing law, you have to deal with special motions, you have to have that experience," Sherwood said, adding that the legal process starts before it goes to trial, and in a lot of cases, continues long after the trial.