September 12, 2010

The candidates on the issues

Q. How has incumbent Peter Gilchrist handled the job of Mecklenburg district attorney?

Q. How has incumbent Peter Gilchrist handled the job of Mecklenburg district attorney?

Barnes: "Mr. Gilchrist has done an honorable job. ... As evidenced by his retirement, he recognizes that some changes may be needed in his office."

Murray: "Peter has done great things for this community. He has kept that office nonpolitical, which is important. Peter has always instilled ethics beyond reproach, which will be a hallmark of my administration."

Q. What would you do differently?

Barnes: Look for more resources, particularly to upgrade technology. Push for "community prosecutors" in each of three high-crime police divisions. If no additional money is available, tweak the department's current team structure to reassign attorneys.

Murray: Make the office more accessible and accountable, in part with a publicly accessible website tracking successes and failures. Send staffers to public events to "basically be my eyes and ears."

Q. How would you close the so-called revolving door that has let some serial criminals go free?

Barnes: Community prosecutors, like community police, would help by fostering more cooperation from citizens in identifying criminals and building cases.

Send a strong message to offenders through better cooperation with police, federal prosecutors and new community prosecutors. "There is not just one magic elixir. There are a host of tools that we can use to address the problem."

Murray: Push for more restrictive bonds. New rules adopted recently - which link bonds to the level of risk a defendant poses - are positive. Prosecutors would "put trial skills to work to ensure an appropriate bond" by focusing on initial appearances, backgrounding defendants thoroughly and advocating harder.

Q. You each say you would push for higher bonds to keep accused criminals behind bars. But judges, not prosecutors, set bonds. So what exactly would you do?

Barnes: The office will adopt a "different tone" in dealing with repeat offenders and increase the use of electronic monitoring of those released on bond.

Murray: "I intend to impact that (bond) decision. We're going to push hard to keep those who should stay in jail in jail."

Q. Could you shorten the time it takes to bring felons to trial? How?

Barnes: Better cooperation with police to improve the quality of evidence. More effort to contact victims and witnesses early. Push for more efficiencies in the use of court time and space. Cut paperwork through new technology and electronic case management.

Murray: That would be hard unless the legislature comes up with money for more courtroom space and resources as well as technology to streamline cases. "Unfortunately that means some cases have to be plea bargained. That's just part of being district attorney and making difficult decisions with limited resources."

Q. Critics say prosecutors should negotiate tougher plea bargains. What would you do differently to make this happen?

Barnes: Not dismiss as many charges as prosecutors currently do. "In order to send a clear message and hold people accountable, you can't dismiss all the lesser charges. Obviously you have to gauge it on a case-by-case basis."

Murray: The office needs "a different approach" to aim for tough bargains. "It's a plea bargain, not a plea fire sale."

Says Gilchrist's policy is to have a defendant plead to the highest charge in exchange for dismissal of other charges. "I need to ensure that we get what we need out of plea bargains to properly protect the public."

Q. Prosecutors have complained for years about the outdated state computer system. What specifically would you do to get the resources to upgrade it?

Barnes: There's clearly a need for better technology and maybe more people. Given state budget constraints, would seek more help from local government and federal grants.

Murray: "They absolutely do not have enough resources." While there are presently enough prosecutors, the office needs more technology and courtroom space as well as clerks and judges.

Either press the state for more help or get money from local government.

"I intend to continue beating the drum. Do I have any illusions that I'll make that change this year with the tight budget? No. That means that I'm going to take over that office and do more with less. It is my duty to get the job done with whatever resources I am provided."

Q. There have been tensions between the DA's office and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police. How would you build a better relationship?

Barnes: Work with police officials "to develop a better understanding of the challenges facing them." Work with them to find ways to prosecute cases more quickly and efficiently.

Murray: Be a "bridge-builder" by working with law enforcement, just as he has worked with local officials as a Coast Guard liaison in the Gulf.

"That's my job right now, to build bridges, to make sure we have partnerships here, to make sure everyone's equipped and trained and has the necessary resources to get the job done."

Q. Would you restructure the DA's office and if so, how?

Barnes: Technology improvements and a community prosecution program may entail some changes in assignment. Also would make prosecutors more visible in the community.

Murray: "No. The team concept works well. Having specialized teams that focus on specific types of crimes allows for prosecutors to become experts in their field, which maximizes efficiencies and the likelihood of success."

Q. Why would you be a better DA than your opponent?

Barnes: "I've got a vision for the office that goes beyond doing more with less. I think we can actually do more with more. We're both attorneys, but I combine with my legal background community service and leadership experience that will add value to the role of the D.A. in Mecklenburg County."

Experience on the City Council would help bring resources to the office and needed visibility to the job.

Murray: "I have 18 years experience in the criminal world of prosecuting and defending. I've tried hundreds of cases with judge and jury. I've gained a breadth of experience over the years in being able to run that office."

Cites his 29 years in the U.S. Coast Guard and specifically that as a Coast Guard Commander, responsible for training and preparing more than 250 people. "I've gained the experience necessary to run the office and hit the job running."

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