What is the central role of the district attorney?
The role of the District Attorney’s Office is to make sure that the important work our law enforcement officers do in the community doesn’t fall apart when it gets to the courthouse. We file over 100,000 criminal matters here a year, there’s over 80 people in the DA’s office, and so the office needs a strong manager who can make sure that those cases are handled in a way that first and foremost promotes public safety, but that also seeks justice and is fair.
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?
First and foremost, I’ve been fortunate in my capacity as Clerk of Superior Court to be at the table and help make the decisions in the last eight years with the current District Attorney, our senior resident Superior Court Judge, the Sheriff, about ways we can be more efficient and effective in the court system. We have a convenience court that we started several years ago that allows people to come in and dispose of tickets between 2:00-3:30, where we dispose of about a thousand cases a month in that setting. That’s keeping them out of courtrooms so that time in court can be used more effectively to handle more serious cases.
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?
We have expanded our DWI court, and are in the process of trying to expand it again. It really takes not only dedicating court time, and managing cases effectively, I think there’s a lot to be gleaned from other counties; we’re still largely calendaring criminal cases the same way we did 20 years ago when I was in the District Attorney’s office. Our primary focus when you get into more serious felony cases has to be on, one, promoting public safety and two, taking care of the victims.
How do you view minor drug offenses?
It has been a longstanding practice in this county that on minor drug offenses, first time offenders get treatment and evaluations. That should really be the priority; I would be committed to continuing that.
Would you have taken the same approach to prosecuting the Moral Monday protestors and why or why not?
I mean those cases are currently pending in the system; I do think as we move forward in these cases and as more and more of them are dismissed due to a lack of specificity, at some point we do need to evaluate effectively where it’s a good use of court resources. Again, those cases are pending in the court system, you need to look at each one.