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The depth and diversity of her background sets Angela "Spence" Pacheco apart from her opponents running for district attorney, she said during an editorial board meeting at the Monitor Friday.
Pacheco spent 13 years in social work that includes working with adolescent girls at Casa Mesita in Los Alamos. She went back to school and with law degree in hand, became assistant city attorney of Santa Fe, was a prosecutor under retiring District Attorney Henry Valdez and is currently the city attorney of Espaola.
"Both professions deal with problem solving," Pacheco said. "As a prosecutor, you have a lot of power and you have to be very careful how you use that power."
Some people clearly need to be separated from society, she said, but in other cases, for whatever the reason, something unusual has happened in a person's life and a prosecutor can work with him or her and make a positive difference.
"It's not so much about being sympathetic but more about being compassionate," Pacheco said.
As an example, she described receiving a call from a man who wanted to contribute to her campaign whom she prosecuted years ago. The man became drunk and got into a screaming match with his wife, she said. During that same time the son was arrested and charged with DWI. It turned out that the man's wife, the son's mother, was dying. Pacheco assisted the father and son to get into grief counseling, adding that the woman died one month later.
"This was a family in crisis at one point in time," she said. "I did my job, I prosecuted them but I also got them the help they needed."
Regarding first offender DWI cases, Pacheco said she always thinks, "There but by the grace of God any one of us could make a bad decision but if you come back again, you're going to jail."
In seeking to become DA for the First Judicial District, Pacheco said the office has been more or less on the same track for the last 16 or more years and needs an infusion of new ideas.
"I'm very much a community person and as the elected official, I want to be involved in the community and I want to be involved in the schools," she said.
If elected, Pacheco also wants to assign an attorney to work in Los Alamos handling misdemeanors and lower level felony cases. She explained that in a small town it's beneficial to hold preliminary hearings, which are open to the public rather than convening closed Grand Jury proceedings. Pacheco met with Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados about the idea and said Casados said she could fit preliminary hearings into her schedule.
"You have a really good police department up here whose police reports are very well done and it's practical to do preliminary hearings here because your police are thorough, well trained, and it gives them the opportunity to testify in court here...," she said.
Pacheco also plans to talk to Police Chief Wayne Torpy about the idea, if he has space, of having an attorney work out of the police department two or three days a week. "I had my office in the police department when I was in Santa Fe and it's very helpful," she said. "Officers would come in and say they were dealing with a particular situation and we'd look at the legal aspects together..."
Pacheco, 58, is running against Chief Deputy District Attorney A.J. Salazar, 41, and Deputy District Attorney Joseph Campbell, 42. All three are Democrats, which means the winner will be declared following the June 3 primary.
"I have the most diverse experience and maturity running an office...," she said. "I have prosecutorial experience and trial skills. I'm good in court and well respected by judges and attorneys and law enforcement and that's key. I also know about personnel matters, budgets, supervising, community outreach and I know the communities in the district, Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Espaola."
Pacheco also describes herself as a very stable person and said it's important to the community to know their law enforcement is there for them and that includes their DA's office.
Pacheco earned her bachelor's degree in social work at the College of Santa Fe and her law degree from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. She lives in Santa Fe and has a daughter, 17, and a son, 20.