Monday, November 7, 2011

Nebraska: York County Attorney Recall set for December 20 -- A look at prosecutors and the recall

Bill Sutter, the York County Attorney (the local D.A.) who has been accused of inappropriate conduct on numerous occasions, will face a recall vote on December 20th. It looks like if Sutter loses the recall, the county then holds a special election to fill the position.

This recall brings up a question -- how unusual is it to have a recall against a prosecutor? On the state level, only one state Attorney General has been recalled -- North Dakota's AG in 1921, swept out in the same wave as the Governor and the Agriculture Commissioner. The Michigan A.G. is facing a recall campaign, but it is definitely a longshot to get on the ballot.

On the local level, historically, don't seem to get him with too many recalls. The Recall: Tribunal of the People (1997) does not mention any D.A. recalls. Going way back, in The Recall of Public Officers (1930) Bird & Ryan claim that only one California D.A. had been recalled (Barclay McCowan of Kern County in 1917). San Francisco D.A. Charles Fickert faced a recall vote in 1917, but he won a crushing victory,

More recently, Oregon has seen a spate of prosecutorial recalls. Four D.A.'s were recalled in 10 years ending in 2008, including a husband and ex-wife (10 years apart). There are clearly other examples, though one to note was the Marin County D.A. beating back a recall brought by medical marijuana advocates by a 6-1 margin in 2001.

However, there are no signs that prosecutors face recalls at the same level as many other local officials (like mayors and councilmembers). This article notes that the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan reported that there were no recall elections against county attorneys, at least in the last 30 years. Among recall petitions currently circulating, I've only seen one against a prosecutor.

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