RALEIGH, N.C. — A crowd of family, friends and district attorney's office staff erupted into applause after longtime prosecutor David Saacks took the oath as Durham County's new district attorney Friday, bringing to a close more than a year of scrutiny of the position under Mike Nifong.
"I am here to serve to keep this courthouse running, to keep this office running and to keep doing what we do," Saacks said Friday.
"I don't have an agenda," he added. I don't have a mandate. I don't have anything of that nature."
Gov. Mike Easley appointed the 15-year veteran prosecutor to the post Thursday after more than two months of speculation about who would take the helm and help restore public confidence to the office after Nifong's mishandling of the now-discredited Duke lacrosse case.
"What I think we need to do is what we're doing already," Saacks said. "I want us to do our job and do the right thing in each and every case. If that happens, the community will be with us, because that's who we're working for."
The Duke lacrosse case, he said, was one of approximately 60,000 handled over the past year. That one, he said, should not define the office or the head prosecutor position.
"We didn't just have that one victim, we have victims – thousands of victims – and thousands of cases that we need to deal with," he said. "And as we deal with each one of those the right way, I think we will be just fine with the community."
Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin, who served as interim district attorney for more than two months, was also reinstated Friday to his former position.
Easley asked Hardin in June to move into an interim position to review the district attorney's office, its personnel and its practices after Nifong, who began serving a one-day jail sentence Friday
, was disbarred and subsequently suspended from the prosecutor's office.
Hardin applauded the staff members Friday, calling them "absolutely and consistently dedicated" to representing the Durham community . He said the office was run "very, very well for the last year and a half under extremely adverse conditions."
"When I came in, I didn't know exactly what I was going to find," he said. "I assumed, wrongly, thank goodness, it was going to be chaotic, the policies were going to be disjointed, there would be no real leadership running the organization. And thankfully, and to my surprise and to the benefit of Durham, that was not true."
Hardin said the staff assumed "great courage" in how they were running the office and that Easley made an "exceptional decision" in asking Saacks to serve as district attorney.
"He, in my opinion, is the quintessential professional. He's very smart, he's very hardworking. He has an even temper," Hardin said. "He gets along well with everyone that he deals with and he has a way of empathizing and sympathizing with folks that need that."
Saacks will serve as district attorney until 2008 when a new district attorney will be elected. Although he is currently ineligible to run for the office (he lives in Cary), he said he has no intention to do so.
"I put myself in a position to be doing this, at this point," he said. "This isn't my passion or my love, but I can do it. And I'm willing to do it to help out and get us through this time – to be a bridge, so to speak – until someone else who is elected comes over and takes over."
"I would just soon be in the courtroom dealing the cases, dealing with the law, dealing with the judges and dealing with my evidence. But I will do this until that time comes again."