Local News

Longtime Wake prosecutor moving to defense table

Posted November 30, 2018 6:20 p.m. EST

— One of the most important figures in the Wake County District Attorney's Office is not only leaving the office, he's joining the opposition.

Howard Cummings, who has served as the top assistant district attorney for the last two decades, ended his 29-year run with the DA's office on Friday. After taking a month off, he plans to return to court in January as a criminal defense attorney with Raleigh's prominent Tharrington Smith law firm.

"I figure I got about 10 or 15 years left, and I wanted to do something different," Cummings said. "As a defense lawyer, it will certainly be valuable to know how prosecutors think, but in a lot of ways, we're trying to seek the same thing."

The 65-year-old known for his measured demeanor, dry wit and meticulous command of the law received a standing ovation in court Friday in honor of his years of public service.

"I will miss the people in my office that I speak to every day. It's a real family," he said.

During his tenure, the Wake County District Attorney's Office has grown from 15 to 42 lawyers.

"It's been rewarding that they have matured, and they're good trial lawyers and they can do it on their own," he said, adding that the office is in good hands with District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.

Cummings is known for prosecuting high-profile murder cases, including convicting Jason Young for the 2006 beating death of his wife and Bradley Cooper in the 2008 strangulation death of his wife.

On Friday, he handled the guilty plea of Arnav Uppalapati, who killed his mother three years ago.

Cummings said he often developed close relationships with victims' families.

"I've enjoyed meeting families and helping them because it's a time of crisis for someone when they lose someone," he said.