By: Sabrina Siracusa

After taking the reins of the Clark County District Attorney’s office back in January 2012, District Attorney Steve Wolfson feels confident about taking a stance and making real changes in Las Vegas…no easy task for anyone responsible for an office with 700 employees and 170 attorneys.

The Clark County Board of Commissioners appointed Wolfson on Jan. 24, 2012. He was chosen to serve out the 3 remaining years on a 4-year term vacated by the former District Attorney David Roger, who retired Jan. 3, 2012. Wolfson came to the county from the city of Las Vegas where he served almost two full terms as a city councilman. On May 6, 2009, he was sworn in for a second full term, which would have ended in June 2013. Wolfson resigned from his city council position to become DA.

Wolfson was among seven candidates vying for the position. A screening committee appointed by County Manager Don Burnette reviewed the applications and interviewed the candidates before narrowing the field to three finalists.

As a city councilman, Wolfson served on several committees in the city of Las Vegas including the Las Vegas Audit Oversight Committee, Corridor of Hope Task Force, Local Law Enforcement Advisory Committee and several others.

His public sector work includes a past stint in the County District Attorney’s Office as well as the United States Attorney’s Office. He has also been active with the State Bar of Nevada by serving on the Board of Governors, the Judicial Ethics and Campaign Election Practices Committees, and other bar-related committees. Additionally, Wolfson was chairman of the State Bar of Nevada Ethics 2000 Committee, a blue ribbon committee established by the Nevada Supreme Court to review and bring up-to-date all Supreme Court rules involving attorney conduct.

Wolfson was born in Los Angeles, Calif. He received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from San Diego State University and a Juris Doctorate from California Western School of Law.

Prevention v. Prosecution

So how will Wolfson tackle the issues that Las Vegans face? He plans to take on projects that will help the DA’s office not only deal with the end result of criminal activity, but help deter it from happening in the first place. Safety on our streets is a priority for DA Wolfson.

Wolfson is interested in dealing with other serious issues that affect Las Vegas such as gun ownership by criminals and the city’s high DUI rate. His theory aligns with the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure by reaching out to the community, educating constituents about the resources available, and helping promote safety through prevention and of course, prosecution.

Safety First

DA Wolfson’s number one goal is street safety for both local Las Vegans and the tourists who visit. To forward this effort, Wolfson is part of a coalition of prosecutors from across the country called Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, where he and DAs from Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, New York, Atlanta, Miami Dade, Chicago focus on reducing gun violence and reviewing best practices for doing so.

“If you ask people the number one [things] on their minds, it’s family and jobs and health and everything; but it’s being safe when they walk from their car to their home, or from their car to their office,” says Wolfson. “They want to feel safe and we have so much gun violence in this society that I want to try and make a difference here in Las Vegas. So that is one of my projects.’’

While gun control has become a hot issue due to recent shootings throughout the country, Wolfson believes in the second amendment…but that people should have guns for self protection and they should not be in the hands of criminals. He is particularly concerned about criminals with automatic weapons and persons who have been convicted of domestic abuse.

The legal community is well aware that if a person is convicted of domestic violence they are not allowed to own or possess a firearm; however, the issue for the Las Vegas legal world seems to be the dispossessing people who have been convicted of domestic abuse. Wolfson has discussed the possibility of having it be part of a plea agreement. “If we can remove some of those guns from the offenders who are most likely to use them in a situation where homicide will occur, I think we are going to cut down on homicide.”

Driving While Under the Influence in Las Vegas

Another project Wolfson is committed to resolving is the problem of drivers under the influence of alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs. It is estimated that between 2008 and 2012, 363 people lost their lives and 816 were seriously injured in impaired driving crashes on Nevada roadways. [1]

Currently, the City of Las Vegas does offer UI educational classes in English and Spanish. The classes teach offenders to be accountable for their actions, help them understand Nevada DUI laws, and share information and statistics about the effects of substances on a person’s ability to drive while impaired.

Wolfson plans to step up the pressure and the attention level on impaired drivers. It’s a work in progress for a city that is open all the time and caters to drinking and other vices that can impair both drivers and even pedestrians who cross the street unaware.

Hope for Prisoners

Wolfson is involved with Hope for Prisoners, program that helps former prisoners re-enter society from a municipal jail, a county jail or state or federal prison.  As indicated on its website, Hope for Prisoners works to empower returning ex-offenders and their families to create a successful future built on strategic leadership and character development. It assists those fighting for second chances, who strive to serve, build and strengthen the community.

“I am sure you can imagine for so many people getting out of prison—they have been in prison for [a] couple years, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years and they are coming back into the community—and they really don’t have resources to help them [or] people to support them,” says Wolfson of the organization.

Wolfson and others have attended the graduation ceremonies Hope For Prisoners holds for people who have successfully passed through the program. Wolfson has talked to graduates and encouraged them to do the right thing. “We want you to succeed,” he says. “Ok: You did something bad, you made a mistake you paid your price to society. Now, let’s be successful out there.”

Believing in proactivity and not reactivity after a person has committed a crime, Wolfson recently joined Hope For Prisoners’ board of directors to become more involved in the organization’s policy.

The DAs Community Outreach and Office Services

Wolfson believes in community outreach and the DA’s office is in the community more than ever. He assistant district attorneys are talking to students, and there are plans to begin regular town halls next year. The reason for the push is simple: Wolfson believes that in many Las Vegas communities, some residents are void of information on issues they may not even know are important to them, like record sealing.

“It’s something that [we] lawyers don’t think about too much unless a client comes in,” says Wolfson, “but there are a lot of people out there that have had a scuffle with the law [and] often times they are minor brushes but they are still on the records. So they go for that job interview and [something] from 15 years ago…when they were stupid young, comes up on their rap sheet.”

Wolfson says there is a very simple record sealing process that a lot of people don’t know about. He plans to devote a few town halls to the topic.

 The Divisions in the Clark County DA Office

“Here is something interesting,” says Wolfson. “A lot of people don’t realize that the district attorney’s office has four divisions: criminal, juvenile, civil and family support.”

Here is a little about each of them.

Criminal Division

While the DA believes in reform and second chances, if a crime is committed while visiting or living in Las Vegas its perpetrator will be held accountable. Here is a summarized outline of the many things the DA criminal division does on a daily basis, as stated on its website:

The Criminal Division of the Clark County District Attorney’s Office has the responsibility to prosecute over 55,000 felony and misdemeanor cases each year. We hold criminals accountable and ensure that the rights of victims are honored and respected throughout the process. In the courtroom, we provide the highest quality legal representation for the community and seek justice in each and every case. The Criminal Division is organized into general litigation teams and specialty litigation teams. The specialty litigation teams in the Criminal Division include:

  • Support Services Unit
  • Major Violators Unit
  • Financial Integrity Unit
  • Special Victims Unit
  • Criminal Appeals Unit The Juvenile Division of the Office of the District Attorney strives to instill respect for the community, and compassion for victims. It also strives to reduce juvenile crime and the incidence of child abuse and neglect by promoting family responsibility and individual development by vigorously prosecuting repeat offenders and those who victimize children.  The DA’s civil division provides the defense of all civil suits brought against the county and against former officers and employees in civil actions. Here are some other things it does

The Juvenile Division

The juvenile division also offers assistance to juvenile victims of crime. The Victim-Witness Assistance Office of the Juvenile Division has been in operation since 1996. This office can provide information and assistance to Victims/Witnesses of Juvenile Crime in Clark County, Nevada. They handle notification upon filing of a Petition and status of a case to the juvenile, accompaniment to court hearings and transportation to and from court, if necessary. It basically serves a liaison between victim and prosecutor. Christopher J. Lalli supervises the activities of this unit, which is located in the Family Court building.

The Civil Division

Whether the prosecutors are on general or specialty litigation teams, their focus is always the same: ensuring the safety of the Las Vegas community. The Assistant District Attorney for the Criminal Division is Christopher J. Lalli.

  • Prosecutes for the recovery of debts owed to the county
  • Prosecutes the nuisance issues
  • Prosecutes civil actions as directed by the Board of County Commissioner
  • Attends administrative hearings

Mary-Anne Miller, County Counsel, supervises the Civil Division.

Child Support in Las Vegas

Wolfson praises the family support division and how it has done great things in the last few years, crediting the people who work there. It is primarily responsible for the collection of unpaid child support. In 2012 that division collected a $125 million.  “I am very proud of a division that gets almost no attention and no accolades but [that does] great work,” says Wolfson. For example, 5 years ago the child support unit was 54th, last year it rose to 33rd. In 2013 the division won two national awards. The Assistant District Attorney for the Family Support Division is Teresa Lowry.

Bad Check Unit

A cross between the civil and criminal division is the bad check division. About this unit, Wolfson says: “Bad checks cost the citizens and businesses of Clark County millions of dollars in losses every year. The public suffers major financial harm when goods or services are ‘stolen’ through the use of fraudulent checks.”

The information on the Clark County DA website describes the division as having been established to “assist citizens and businesses in obtaining restitution for bad checks and to prosecute those offenders who habitually pass these checks. Our primary goal is to obtain full restitution for the victims through a DA-supervised diversion program in which bad check writers are provided the option of making full restitution and paying the administrative fees in lieu of prosecution. This opportunity is extended to individuals with no serious criminal background. As required by Nevada law, the program also includes an educational component designed to teach responsible check writing and budgeting, as well as the legal consequences of repeated criminal conduct.

This service is available free to the general public. Issuers of bad checks, not you, will pay any administrative costs, as provided by Nevada law.

What the Future Holds for the Las Vegas District Attorneys Office

As Las Vegas continues to grow, the Clark County DA’s office will face new and interesting challenges. With growth and a fluctuating economy, crime can increase and show up in unexpected places. A key to crime prevention and safety on the streets may be deterrence and developing a strong relationship with the community. From Hope for Prisoners, being part of a prosecutor’s coalition and to reaching out and educating the community, DA’s Wolfson’s involvement and dedication in accomplishing these goals seem to be on track.