Meet the Candidate: Yuma County Attorney
The Yuma Sun is spotlighting the candidates ahead of the Nov. 6 general election. Jon Smith is running unopposed for Yuma County attorney. Check out past editions of Meet the Candidates online at www.YumaSun.com/Elections.
Name: Jon R. Smith
Office running for: Yuma County attorney
Family: Married for 21 years to Carol A. Smith; three children ages 17, 15 and 2.
Education: Thomas M. Cooley Law School (Lansing, Mich.): juris doctor cum laude, May 15, 1993, Class Rank: 15 of 185 students (Moore Class); University of Arizona (Tucson): bachelor of science, December 1987
Employment: Yuma County attorney (December 2004 to present); chief civil deputy county attorney, Office of the Yuma County Attorney (April 2001 to December 2004); associate attorney, Bowman and Smith, P.C. (August 1993 to April 2001)
To what organizations do you belong? My professional licenses include Supreme Court, State of Arizona; Supreme Court, United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, United States; United States District Court, District of Arizona; and the Supreme Court, State of Colorado. Professional memberships have included Arizona State Bar Association, Colorado State Bar Association; Yuma County Bar Association (president 2000, secretary/treasurer 1999); Arizona Prosecuting Attorney's Advisory Council (current vice chairman); Arizona County Attorney and Sheriff's Association (president 2008, vice president 2007); National District Attorney's Association; American Bar Association; Arizona Trial Lawyers Association; Association of Trial Lawyers of America; Arizona State Bar Association, Young Lawyers Division (past president, Yuma County 1996, secretary/treasurer 1999); The Arizona Bar Foundation (Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education) Fellows and Arizona High School Mock Trial Program. I'm also on the board of directors for The Healing Journey, LLC, vestry member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church and a member of the Yuma County Anti-Drug Coalition (formally, the Yuma County Meth Nucleus Group) as well as part of the Arizona Problem Solving Courts Conference Planning Committee.
What in your past experiences helps qualify you for this seat? I have been a licensed attorney in the state of Arizona since 1993. My work in private practice was focus primarily on civil plaintiff litigation, although I did participate in defense litigation as well. In 2001, I was hired by the-then sitting Yuma County attorney to oversee the entire Civil Division of the office, with an emphasis in bringing Yuma County related civil litigation “in-house.” In less than two years after assuming the role of chief civil deputy county attorney, we were able to competently handle all litigation in-house, with only a few exceptions. This was accomplished by coordinating the existing resources and improving the overall ability of the division attorneys to handle such matters.
Eventually, the division became efficient enough to reduce the number of deputies needed, thereby reducing the overall budget by more than $100,000. In 2011, we were able to meet the reduction request of the overall administration by reducing the number of deputies again by one, once more reducing the overall budget of the division by more than $100,000. Though reassessing and then reorganizing the case work, there was little to no negative impact to the internal services provided by the division.
In December of 2004, I was appointed county attorney. I extended my focus from the Civil Division to the office overall, concentrating on existing resources and seeing how each can be used in a manner that complements the other. Communication from within the agency as well with outside agencies with which the office works with was a key factor — and remains so today. By doing so, I am happy to report that the County Attorney's Office has never declined a criminal case because of a “lack of resource.” I also remain committed to existing restorative justice programs, such as Community Justice Boards — which has grown from one board to five — as well as improving our bad check program, which since its inception has recovered over $1.1 million in revenue for victims and cost and fees related to the administration of the program. Today, we are working with the courts and other agencies toward developing a mental health court.
As county attorney, I have also developed a strong working relationship with all area law enforcement agencies from the local to the federal level. By doing so, issues in Yuma County are better addressed, from handling of criminal matters which are federally initiated to providing education to peace officer and local individuals relating to changes in laws and regulations.
In summation, I believe that 12 years of experience and commitment in public service, my background in litigation, my administrative experience with and successes in operating the civil division of the office and later the office overall, my strong relationships with area law enforcement at all levels — local, state and federal — and my ongoing commitment to hold those accountable for crimes committed in Yuma County while addressing the rights and needs of the victims help qualify me for this office.
If elected, what is the one issue on which you would focus to improve Yuma's quality of life? How? The office needs to continue the level of services provided in all three divisions despite the continuing reduction in financial resources. It hasn't been fatal and we haven't had to decline services in any form due to a lack of resources, and I intend to keep it that way. We, meaning all county departments and offices, had been asked to provide the budget team with a plan that would result in approximately 4 percent of its adopted annual budget of FY 2010-11. After hearing the request, I sat down with my top-level attorneys and staff and we hashed out a plan that we think we can live with. This plan's goal was to first and foremost not disrupt mandated services and services which play a major role in the health and welfare of the residents of Yuma County. Financially, things are tight but that's just the reality of the times. I see it as an opportunity to be innovative. Eliminating waste in time and resource, concentrating on the basics, and simply working smarter are key elements to successfully operating a public law firm. But in doing so, you need to have the leadership to ensure everyone is on board. I don't like to ask others to do things I wouldn't do myself, and I try to impress on those in public service that it's not the sacrifices we make that are important, rather, it's the vulnerability of those we serve that counts.
What do you think is the biggest challenge right now facing Yuma County residents, and how would you change it? In tough times, everyone has to realize that there will be some give and take in order to ensure we are still maintaining our basic needs with regards to health and safety. Unfortunately, I worry that those less able to care for themselves, who because their vulnerability due to age or disability, are more likely to feel the effects of this process. As Yuma County residents, we are challenged, therefore, that our youths and our elderly are not left to fend for themselves completely. My experience has taught me that bad people will prey on those who appear to be easy targets.
As county attorney, I will continue to prioritize these offences and make sure those who victimize children, elderly and the vulnerable in the county are held accountable. It is also important that we provide ideas and resources to our residents on how to spot indicators of child and elderly or vulnerable adult abuse and what to do if you see it.
What would you do to make government more accessible? Access to county government has come a ways since I began working in public service in 2001. A large part of this has to do with the exponential growth in technology, especially social media. With regards to the County Attorney's Office, it is important that all county departments and agencies remain compliant with state laws dealing with open meetings and access to public records.
Who is your personal hero, and why? I have had many heroes over my lifetime. These are individuals who have acted in a manner that inspired me to do the same. Over the last two decades, my wife, Carol, has really been that consistent factor in my life. Recently, my older children have also served as an inspiration force. In this regard, I am a very fortunate man.