What is the central role of the district attorney?
The primary role is to protect the public, to ensure that citizens’ rights are protected by the District Attorney’s office, to prosecute cases brought by law enforcement under the privy of laws and statutes that exist; that’s our primary duty.
Some judicial districts around the state make use of special courtroom procedures or pleas for minor offenses like traffic violations. How would you handle cases like these in Wake County?
We already have a system in place for minor traffic offenses. It started years ago to free up district courtrooms of minor traffic matters, to get cases tried quicker in district court. The calendars are still woefully backed up, one of the things I need to focus on when I become District Attorney is to form a different mechanism to address those issues we have.
District Attorneys around the state have taken different steps to manage the flow of cases. What will you do to improve the speed and efficiency of the criminal court docket in Wake County?
I think we have a good process in our superior courtroom. Years ago I helped formulate a plan where we’d set a trial lineup of cases so lawyers and defendants knew when their cases would be up for trial, kind of a case management system. We’d had a hard time where a case would get set for trial and then you have different judges looking at it and continuing cases became a real problem, so we turned over the scheduling of our homicide cases to our senior resident Superior Court Judge Stephens. When a judge sets a case, it’s much less likely to get continued. That’s worked out well for us. Judge Stephens has been a great tool for both sides, the state and defendants, just to get their cases in court and get them moved, get them tried so they don’t get so much age on them.
How do you view minor drug offenses?
Our prisons are overfull, we don’t have room for all those folks, and the main people taking up those beds should be violent and repeat offenders. Everybody wins when folks that suffer from addiction and substance abuse issues get their treatment so they can become productive members of society. We have a drug treatment court, we have diversions, we have conditional discharge, we give folks an opportunity to get those cases resolved without a criminal conviction. We were all young and foolish — this way they can become less young and less stupid.
Would you have taken the same approach to prosecuting the Moral Monday protestors and why or why not?
It’s tough for me to second guess my boss when he’s still here, down the hall. Our marching orders are, if you have a clear-cut substantial violation of the law and there’s probably cause to believe that a crime was committed, than you try to resolve them by plea or by trial. It’s hard to second-guess my boss, who’s done a great job in the office for the last 28 years. On both sides of the aisle, most folks would tell you, it doesn’t matter who you are and what your politics are, if you break the law and it’s a prosecutable case, we’re going to prosecute it.