5th Judicial District Attorney: Candidate embraces past mistake
October 25, 2016
Independent candidate for 5th Judicial District Attorney Sanam Mehrnia is the only candidate in the race without a criminal record, although she did have a 2003 DUI in Arizona expunged from her record. Republican challenger Bruce Carey pleaded to professional misconduct stemming from bribery and witness tampering allegations, while the Democratic incumbent, Bruce Brown, was charged with larceny for stealing a plant in Vail when he was 21.
Mehrnia got the DUI when she was 21 after being pulled over with a blood alcohol content above 0.15. The record, however, was expunged after Mehrnia wrote a letter to the judge asking to have it removed. Unlike a sealed case, where the record still exists but is not publicly available, documentation of Mehrnia's case has been destroyed and her record made clean.
Unlike her opponents, however, Mehrnia has embraced her own brush with the law and even woven it into a campaign narrative: Her harrowing experience as a young woman charged with a serious crime, she says, impressed upon her the importance of compassion within the legal system.
In a video on her campaign website, she recalls feeling lonely and frightened after what she admits was a serious, and dangerous, mistake. She had just turned 21 at the time and was taking classes at a community college. After her arrest, she says, she was afraid to tell her parents and relied on a public defender who was less-than sympathetic.
"I was a mess in the courtroom," she recalls in the video. "I was crying. I couldn't hold myself together. And my public defender looked at me and said, 'Stop your blathering. You did this, now own up to it.'"
After she pleaded guilty, she spent 10 days in Tent City Jail, an open-air facility in Phoenix that houses some 2,000 inmates and can reach a sweltering 130 degrees in the summer.
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Mehrnia said the incident threatened to dash her law school aspirations, but after her background was cleared, she was able to attend the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.
"We all deserve a second chance," she said. "I was lucky that I got caught and learned my lesson before I hurt somebody."
Down to the wire
But, she says, the experience of being charged stuck with her, and it continues to inform her Frisco-based defense practice — and her campaign for DA. She is running on a promise to "bring humanity back to justice," stressing compassion for both victims and perpetrators of crime.
Her Republican rival, Carey, has taken a similar tack, arguing that quality of justice rather than quantity of convictions should be the DA's top priority. Bruce Brown, meanwhile, has positioned himself as the more traditional law-and-order candidate, emphasizing the importance of getting justice for victims of crimes.
The like-mindedness of Mehrnia and Carey could potentially split the opposition vote and create a path for Brown to remain in office. He has run a quieter campaign than his two vocal and highly critical opponents, largely taking the high road at candidate forums when assailed by Carey and Mehrnia for out-of-court issues, particularly his six-and-a-half weeks of vacation last year and alleged failure to properly report an accident after totaling his state-owned vehicle last year. Brown has defended his use of vacation time and says he reported his accident properly and did not break the law.
Mehrnia and Carey have both bought radio spots criticizing Brown for those incidents, with Carey spending $7,680 on radio ads this month and Mehrnia shelling out $2,142, according to campaign finance reports. According to the reports, Brown paid $20,000 to Denver political consultancy RBI Strategies and Research on Oct. 11, nearly the entirety of his campaign war chest.
All told, Brown spent $24,451.46 since filing his candidate affidavit last June, according to finance documents. Carey, meanwhile, has spent $14,500.21 on his campaign and Merhnia $5,587.61, according to the documents.