DA candidate Serna plans to ‘be smart on crime’

District attorney candidate Marco Serna. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

Correction appended

Marco Serna was raised in Santa Fe but spent summers with relatives in Española and Chama. He said that experience gives him firsthand insight to the epidemic level of drug abuse that has adversely affected many families in that part of the First Judicial District, including his own.

Though he’s only worked as a prosecutor, Serna is campaigning as a reformer. He said he’s realized over the years that justice for all includes criminal defendants.

“I had a different mindset when I started prosecuting,” said Serna, at 33 the youngest of three candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination for district attorney of Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties. “I had the mindset of ‘I’m going to put bad guys in jail and I’m going to help make my community safe.’ But the more I prosecuted individuals, I stopped viewing them as just criminals and I started viewing them as people who were, yes, offenders, but people just the same. And when I started seeing the recidivism rates, specifically with drug offenders, I was like, ‘This isn’t working.’ I started thinking we need to focus on treating these individuals.”

Serna said he plans to address recidivism by focusing on “the root cause, addiction.” He said he would do that by implementing a sentencing and plea policy that focuses on long-term treatment. This change, he said, “will help reduce crime across the board, as we take back the lives that are being lost to addiction.”

Serna said part of his plan for reducing addiction will be to work with schools to educate children about the negative effects of drug and alcohol abuse, not just once or a twice a year, but quarterly.

“I’m gonna be smart on crime, not just tough on crime,” he said.

But, Serna says, people shouldn’t worry that he’ll be soft on criminals who need to be locked up.

“Violent criminals, offenders of sexual assault, crimes against children … I believe their sentences are deserved because if you are going to sexually molest a child or murder somebody, you should be incarcerated because then it becomes a public safety issue,” he said.

Asked about what treatment resources are available in the region, he mentioned the Delancey Street Foundation, an intensive long-term program north of Española. He also said he’d like to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program that provides services such as housing, job training and counseling to repeat offenders with a history of substance abuse. He couldn’t name any other sources for treatment.

“I can’t tell you specifically what is available,” he said. “My approach would be to encourage these things to be implemented in the district.”

Serna’s three-plus years as a prosecutor in the 13th Judicial District, covering Sandoval, Valencia and Cibola counties, and two years with the state Attorney General’s Office prosecuting Medicaid fraud have given him hands-on experience trying cases. His administrative experience is more limited than either of his opponents’.

He offered a detailed platform, saying in a statement that within the first 100 days of his term he would: implement training for prosecutors; put supervising attorneys in both the District Court and Magistrate Court; require each of his prosecutors to go on ride-alongs with police to help them better understand what officers go through; and hire a grant writer to seek money to expand programs that are working and implement new “progressive” ones.

Like his opponents, Serna said he would change the way the District Attorney’s Office handles shootings by police officers, but his approach is different from theirs. Serna is the only candidate who has said he would take himself out of the equation when trying to determine if an officer should be prosecuted for shooting someone while on duty.

He said he would “team up with state agencies to create an independent investigative body, along with a special prosecutor, to review all of the evidence.” If that panel determined the shooting was unjustified, he said, the case would go to a preliminary hearing before a District Court judge.

“This provides transparency to the public and ensures each individual’s rights are protected,” he said.

In fundraising, Serna has bested both his opponents by a wide margin. At the close of the second campaign finance reporting period in early May, he had raised about $48,000. Each of his opponents had raised about $25,000.

A number of his contributions have come from out-0f-state friends, including a $500 donation from Barry Goldwater Jr., son of the late Barry Goldwater Sr., a five-term U.S. senator from Arizona and the Republican nominee for president in 1964. Serna’s father once worked for the senior Goldwater.

Local contributors include Española Mayor Alice Lucero, who gave him $50.

Santa Fe County Treasurer Patrick Varela, county Deputy Treasurer Eric Lujan and former state Democratic Party chairman Mike Anaya of Moriarity were among the hosts of a fundraiser for Serna at Santa Fe’s High Note bar in April.

Serna’s father is former state Superintendent of Insurance Eric Serna, who retired in 2006 amid a flurry of allegations that he gifted Century Bank with a contract as the depository for millions of dollars worth of insurance company security money after the bank donated $129,000 to his nonprofit Con Alma Health Foundation. Eric Serna also was accused of having waived fines for companies that had donated to Con Alma and other nonprofits. The elder Serna was never charged with a crime, but one of his deputies, Joe Ruiz, who maintained he was only following instructions from Serna, was convicted on numerous counts and sentenced to four years in prison.

Marco Serna said voters don’t have to worry that his connections will make him beholden to anyone.

“I would not be conflicted in prosecuting, or the office prosecuting, somebody that I know,” he said. “If someone commits a crime and the evidence is there to prosecute them, I would never discourage that in any way, shape or form. There’s not going to be any favors if I’m district attorney. Everyone gets treated the same way, whether it’s my cousin or a police officer or someone I’ve never met.”

Contact Phaedra Haywood at 505-986-3068 or phaywood@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter @phaedraann.

Correction: This story has been amended to reflect the following correction. A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Serna is 32 years old and that former Santa Fe County Commissioner Mike Anaya, who is running for a state Senate seat, was one of the hosts of a fundraising event. 

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