Local Politics

Wake DA candidates tout experience

For the first time in nearly three decades, Wake County voters will choose someone other than Colon Willoughby as district attorney when they go to the polls this fall.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — For the first time in nearly three decades, Wake County voters will choose someone other than Colon Willoughby as district attorney when they go to the polls this fall.

Willoughby announced in January that he wouldn't seek re-election, and he had resigned by the end of March to move into private practice. Since then, Democrat Lorrin Freeman and Republican John Bryant have captured their party's nominations to be the next district attorney in Wake County.

During a recent taping of WRAL News' "On the Record," both candidates played up their experience and their vision for the district attorney's office as reasons why voters should support them.

Freeman has served that last eight years as clerk of Superior Court in the county and was previously a state prosecutor and worked in the state Attorney General's Office. Meanwhile, Bryant has been a defense attorney for more than 25 years.

"This job, the DA, is the top prosecutor in this county, and as that, you have to be someone, I think, that is experienced in trying cases," Bryant said. "After 25 years of doing them, it is more of an art than it is a science or some formula that you can get out of a book. You learn it by getting scuffed up along the way."

Freeman countered that she has the management experience to run the district attorney's office, noting that she worked with Willoughby and judges to keep the justice system moving in recent years. She also said she has worked with crime victims and law enforcement officers and evaluated which cases to take to trial in her previous jobs.

She said she has introduced more technology into the clerk's office and hopes to do likewise in the prosecutor's office, such as case management systems to ensure that witnesses and officers know when they need to be in court so cases aren't continued. That would help the system operate more efficiently in light of continued tight state funding, which she said is putting a strain on the system.

"You can't cut to the point where you jeopardize people's public safety," she said. "At some point, you do have to make a determination (as to) what is the value of justice and a system that can work efficiently."

Bryant said the district attorney's office needs to be streamlined, saying too much time is wasted in county courtrooms, especially with minor offenses in District Court.

"Most of the time, bureaucrats – in some cases, I think, Democrats – believe that a solution to a lot of problems is to throw more money or more people at it rather than streamlining things," he said. "The more cases you have pending, the more work the clerk of court has to do, the more times cases are continued, the more expensive it is for the taxpayers."

Although the election is partisan, both Freeman and Bryant said they don't believe politics should play a role in the operation of the justice system, including handling state public corruption cases, a role that falls to the Wake County district attorney as head prosecutor in the capital county. Each said they would handle such cases individually and without regard to who the defendant is.

"There's no cookie-cutter that's going to be available to you," Bryant said.

"My career has been about building a criminal justice system that the public can trust," Freeman said. "The job is not win at any cost; the job is to pursue justice."


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