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Durham Gets New District Attorney From Within

Posted September 6, 2007
Updated September 7, 2007

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— Gov. Mike Easley on Thursday appointed a 15-year veteran of the Durham County District Attorney's Office to replace former prosecutor Mike Nifong as district attorney.

Chief Assistant District Attorney David J. Saacks will serve as district attorney until 2008 when a new district attorney will be elected. Because he lives in Cary, he would be ineligible to run for the office unless he moved to Durham County.

A 1989 graduate of Tulane Law School, Saacks has handled misdemeanor, felony drug and violent felony prosecutions since starting at the district attorney's office in 1992.

"A prosecutor’s first responsibility is not to win at any cost, but to be the state’s defender of the truth and a just advocate,” Easley said in a news statement released Thursday. “It is my hope that this will guide (Saacks) as he undertakes this very important task."

In recent years, Saacks prosecuted or helped prosecute several high-profile cases, including the 2003 murder trial of Durham novelist and former mayoral candidate Michael Peterson.

Saacks played an instrumental role in that case, researching a significant aspect of the prosecution's case – the similar deaths of Peterson's wife and a family friend nearly 20 years earlier.

Last year, he also won a second-degree murder conviction of Kenneth Maready on a charge stemming from a February 2005 drunken-driving incident . Maready was sentenced to at least 50 years in prison for killing Kay Stokes, 61, and injuring her 5-year-old granddaughter.

Saacks also handled the prosecution of several men in the 2002 slaying of 89-year-old Durham grandmother Lois Cannady, who was shot to death in her home while on the phone with 911.

Those in Durham’s legal circles praised Easley’s decision Thursday, calling Saacks fair, ethical and honest.

“From an integrity standpoint, the governor couldn’t have selected a better individual,” said Durham defense attorney Butch Williams, who was retained by an unindicted lacrosse player early in the Duke lacrosse case.

Defense attorney Mark Edwards called Saacks "a logical and smart choice" and described him as "steady, fair and ethically minded." From a defense attorney's point of view, he said, Saacks has always been easy to work with.

“(Saacks) doesn’t hide anything," Williams said. “He’s going to be straightforward, ethical and honest. That’s the biggest thing I can say about David. He’s a very honest guy.”

Easley said Wednesday his decision was based, in part, on Hardin's recommendation and that he had been waiting until after Nifong's hearing on a criminal contempt of court charge to make the announcement.

Saacks was a subpoenaed witness for Nifong's defense in that hearing last Friday.

“I want to send a signal, if I can, that there are good people in that office over there (in Durham) and that the inappropriate conduct of one person does not taint the rest of the office,” Easley had said Wednesday. “There's some good, hardworking people over there.”

Saacks was likely to be sworn in Friday morning, a spokesman for the governor said. That is the same day Nifong is expected to begin serving a one-day jail sentence for being held in contempt for lying to a judge at a court hearing in the Duke lacrosse case last fall.


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  • wakecountyvoter Sep 7, 2007

    I feel sorry for anyone associated with the Durham DA's office over the last 2 years. Their reputations are trash for not publicly questioning what was going on. They were hiding. The embarrasment to the state started with Gov. Easley making an appointment on political lines and not based on qualifications. Hopefully the voters in Durham will have brain transplants and choose a better representative next time. By the way, $30 mill that is on the table to settle civil suit with the county is not nearlyy enough punishement to Durham.

  • William Tell Sep 7, 2007

    Thank God it was not Freda Black, she is a real piece of work.

  • mvnull Sep 7, 2007

    What Durham's prosecutors office needed was a way to put this mess behind them (including an honest investigation). If Easley had done his job, he would have chosen someone without even the hint of taint (possibly keep an interim DA longer). Instead, Durham gets an insider. Regardless of how competent Saacks is, he was the wrong choice.

    Mr. Saacks has a hard job ahead of himself. I wish him luck in restoring confidence in the Durham DA office.

  • moi_oc Sep 7, 2007

    Oldschool - need to change your handle to oldboynetwork - you are in as deep as the rest of 'em. I now understand your willingness to defend Saacks - you aren't his mother, you are his cohort. Well played. As for answering your inane questions - we aren't on the stand here. And you need to chose your friends more wisely. And not brag about who you play golf with - the Nifong stain is spreading.

  • doobedobedoodoo Sep 7, 2007

    Helpful hint to the new D.A. : You might want to go slow and check out the story if any stripper girlie-ho --with a record of lying to police/stealing deputy's vehicles, etc., comes to you blubbering that she's been sexually assaulted without any evidence and in which the suspects have strong alibi's.

    Just a thought.....

  • Nancy Sep 7, 2007

    The leader of the DPD frame job was Gottlieb, and it will come out eventually through the civil rights violations lawsuit headed into Durham now.

    Gottlieb has a long history of going after Duke students, abusively outside the bounds of his job in fact. There is a clear and distinct record of his actions, words and faulty cases brought before judges against Duke students.

    And Gottlieb manufactured much of his 40+ pages of summary on this case "from memory" since he never took notes (how many police investigators do you know that don't take contemporaneous notes?)during the investigation.

    Gottlieb is the lynchpin in the DPD that ran this hoax up the flagpole and stood guard at the bottom lest anyone should want to lower that flag.

  • seankelly15 Sep 7, 2007

    Yes, conspiracy. It will be shown that the police knew that there was no evidence but continued to support Nifong's push toward prosecution. His assistants knew what he was doing and either were afraid or didn't care to bring there concerns to the court.

  • seankelly15 Sep 7, 2007

    Ineptitude? Where have you been? He deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence. He showboated to the electorate to the detriment of the three men. He wasn't a country bumpkin who was in over his head; he was involved in criminal behavior.

  • hp277 Sep 7, 2007

    Conspiracy? That's a pretty big leap. More like ineptitude by Nifong, and sheep-like behavior from the Police who were investigating.

  • seankelly15 Sep 7, 2007

    Nifong is not exempt from a civil suit. The laws providing immunity do not apply if he uses the office of District Attorney to further a conspiracy between the DA’s office and the Durham Police Department. If this conspiracy lead to the malicious prosecution of three men, then the question is how wide the conspiracy is; how many people knew what he was doing and didn’t say a word? Saaks is an officer of the court. He had an obligation to report what was happening. You can’t railroad three men without someone knowing what was happening. That someone (or someones) had an obligation to say something to the court. Ignore the source of the monies given to the County to pay the salaries of the employees in the DA’s office; it is not relevant to the question that is being discussed.