Fired assistant to run for district attorney’s post

Matt Chandler, right, laughs as he listens to Bennie Nieves, former chairman of the Republican Party in Clovis, talk about him Saturday during Chandler’s announcement to run for the district attorney position. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

By Darrell Todd Maurina

Matt Chandler wants to bring what he calls “a bold new vision” to the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office where he’s served 17 months. Brett Carter, the incumbent district attorney, said voters should remember his nearly 17 years of experience in the district attorney’s office when they vote in the June 1 Republican primary.
Chandler, who was fired Friday by Carter after declining to back down from his decision to run for office, officially announced his candidacy Saturday afternoon at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales and at the Clovis-Carver Public Library in Clovis.
Holding up a copy of Friday’s Clovis News Journal, which included a story about a family claiming to leave the city because of an increasing crime rate, Chandler told a Clovis audience of about 150 that police on the street need an aggressive DA to help them put criminals behind bars.
“Our community is growing. Clovis is expanding,” Chandler said. “With growth, there does not have to be more crime.
“About 70 percent of the crime being committed in Clovis is being generated by 10 percent of the criminals,” Chandler said. “When these people come across our desk we should show no mercy, and crime will drop.”
The 28-year-old Chandler, son of a retired Clovis police chief who later became a state senator and magistrate judge, said he can bring new vision and the support of law enforcement officers to the post. Chandler said he’s been an active supporter of the Fraternal Order of Police, and communicates regularly with law enforcement.
“For the last two years I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of cases and I’ve had hundreds of convictions,” Chandler said. “I have the highest conviction rate in the district attorney’s office and I want to continue that as your district attorney.”
About a half-dozen uniformed officers stood in the back of the room and Detective Kirk Roberts of the Clovis Police Department said about 20 Clovis officers were present, though not all in uniform.
“When you talk about putting someone in a law enforcement position, you need to have the sort of person who is compassionate when necessary and hard-headed when necessary,” Roberts said. “I believe Matt Chandler represents the kind of person who has integrity and who we need in that office.”
Roberts said law enforcement can be a frustrating field for police when hard work by police is undone in the court system.
“Juries sometimes see things differently; legal manipulation and even political manipulation can occur,” Roberts said. “I think the large turnout of officers here shows the desire for some sort of change, whether that is a more progressive or bolder person who says these cases are going to be hard, but it is worth our time to prosecute.”
Brett Carter said he regretted Chandler’s decision to run.
“Now I have to spend quite a bit of time campaigning in addition to my regular duty of prosecuting cases,” Carter said. “But it’s always better to have competition in the primary than in the general election. At least this way in June we will know who the DA will be next year.”
Both Carter and Chandler are Republicans. So far, no Democrat has announced an intent to run.
Carter said Chandler was classified by state law as an “at-will” employee and he had the right to fire Chandler for any reason.
“We’ve got a small office, eight attorneys including myself, and it’s not a workable situation when somebody inside the office is running,” Carter said.
“I concluded this is in the best interest of everyone in the office and all the parties involved.”
Carter, 42, was appointed to fill a vacancy in mid-2002 when Randy Harris left the DA’s office. Carter won an uncontested election for the post in November 2002.