Prosecutor Candidate Challenges Opponent’s Campaign Literature
The factual accuracy of a campaign brochure is at the center of a dispute between the two candidates running for Benton County prosecuting attorney.
Kimberly Weber, a Rogers lawyer running in the May 20 nonpartisan election, is distributing a campaign handout that compares her record to that of her opponent, Nathan Smith, a Benton County deputy prosecuting attorney.
Smith says much of the information in the handout about him is factually inaccurate. Weber contends the information is true.
Both are seeking to replace Van Stone as the elected prosecutor in Benton County. Stone recently stepped down to work on Walmart’s legal team. Gov. Mike Beebe appointed an interim prosecuting attorney to fill the top spot until the winner in May’s election takes over in January.
At issue is a checklist of items meant to show that Weber has professional experience that Smith lacks.
For instance, the list includes the question “Life Sentences for Serious Criminal Offenders?” then answers “Yes” for Weber and “No” for Smith.
Smith said that is just one item on the checklist that is untrue.
As an example, Smith said he prosecuted a case that led to the life sentence on drug charges in 2011 for Osires Guevara, whom Smith describes as an habitual offender and MS-13 gang member.
Smith said of all the items on the checklist that one especially stands out because Weber later represented Guevara on appeal and phoned Smith to assert that the convict did not deserve a life sentence.
Weber added that she doesn’t dispute that Smith worked on some of the types of cases listed on her handout, but she said he was the second-chair attorney, not first chair, on the cases, including in the Guevara conviction.
In the legal community, first chair is the designation for the lead attorney in the case. Weber said prosecutors shouldn’t claim a case as theirs unless they are first chair.
Smith said he has served as first chair on many of the categories listed on Weber’s handout, including complex drug cases, and added that it is incorrect to assert that someone in the second chair doesn’t count as a prosecutor in the case. He said he was second chair in the Guevara case but handled many aspects of the prosecution. In prosecuting a case, “two heads are better than one,” he said.
“The Benton County prosecutor’s office always assigns two prosecutors,” Smith said.
Whether as second chair or first chair, he addresses the jury during opening or closing statements, takes evidence from witnesses, performs direct or cross examination of witnesses and makes strategic trial decisions, he said.
“If that’s not trying the case, I don’t know what is,” he said.
Weber said second chair is reserved for attorneys who are learning the job.
“You’re an assistant,” she said about lawyers in the second chair. “You’re in the learning process.”
Weber has said the Benton County prosecutors’ office would benefit from having a seasoned attorney at the top. In her career, she has been a prosecutor and defense attorney.
Her handout notes that she is 45 years old, while Smith is 31. (Smith turned 32 this month.) He has been a deputy prosecuting attorney since 2007.
“You deserve a prosecutor with experience,” the handout states.
Weber said she stands by the handout “110 percent.”
Smith said it is important for prosecutors to be thoughtful and show care in making decisions. Weber’s handout does not demonstrate those attributes, he said.
“She certainly was not careful in getting her information,” he said. “Voters need to know the truth about who the candidates are.”