DURHAM, N.C. — The Democratic candidates in this year's race for Durham County district attorney say they can bring trust and confidence back to the office, tarnished by former prosecutor Mike Nifong and his handing of the Duke lacrosse case.
Two of the four candidates, Tracey Cline and Mitchell Garrell, worked as assistant district attorneys under Nifong as he sought for nearly a year to prosecute three former Duke University lacrosse players who were eventually cleared of charges of rape, sexual assault and kidnapping.
Garrell, a 13-year veteran of the office, said that overcoming the scandal is the biggest challenge the next district attorney faces.
"My top priority is to restore confidence in the judicial system," he said. "I think this is a process that will take, frankly, over two years."
“I would want to lead by example," he added. "There has never been any issue with discovery, candor with the court, anything other than openness with the criminal defense bar in my history there.”
Cline, a sex crimes prosecutor in Durham for more than a decade, said the case is part of the city's history.
"So, I don't think we can separate ourselves," she said. "I think we can learn from it and move on."
But candidate Freda Black, a former Durham prosecutor whom Nifong dismissed after 14 years of service, feels the way to win back the public's trust is to end the culture created under Nifong.
"The only way to restore faith back in that office is for the next district attorney to have had absolutely nothing to do with the lacrosse case – not giving advice, not sitting in the courtroom," she said. "Absolutely nothing."
Keith Bishop, an attorney with no ties to the district attorney's office or to Nifong, calls himself "a true outsider."
"It's time for us to clean house and bring someone in who is not burdened with the Nifong legacy, who is not burdened with the culture of deception," he said.
Because no Republicans are running, next week's primary will effectively be the election for the office of Durham district attorney. There will be a run-off if one of the candidates does not get 40 percent of the vote.