Gaither, Learner consider next steps

Jul. 17, 2014 @ 08:09 AM

District Attorney Jay Gaither says he has yet to begin planning what he'll do beyond the next five months as he assists the transition for the man who stopped his bid for a fourth term.

"I haven't really thought that far out," Gaither said Wednesday. "This has obviously been a disappointment to me. I considered it my life's work to be a prosecutor. I've been in public service now for about 12  years, and I've had a tremendous passion for the district attorney's office. But as I woke up today, I realize what a large burden that is.

"There's still lots of work to be done between now and Jan. 1. We have two homicides in Caldwell County to prosecute, and I want to make sure there is a smooth transition as (David) Learner takes over."

Learner, a Burke County attorney and former assistant district attorney, defeated Gaither Tuesday in the runoff for the Republican nomination for district attorney for the 25th Judicial District. There is no Democratic opponent on the ballot in November. Gaither was first elected in 2002. His current term ends on Dec. 31.

Gaither said his immediate goal is to spend time with his family, and he hopes to continue his work with the Veterans Treatment Court, a program he recently started with the DA's office to help veterans suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress and substance abuse who have committed non-violent crimes. Veterans who complete the program can see their charges reduced or even dismissed.

"I want to do some pro bono work with veterans in a defense capacity," Gaither said. "I also want to work with law enforcement and assist with victim advocacy in some way."

Gaither, who played football at Newton-Conover High School and Davidson College, also entertains the notion of one day coaching.

"My first love was coaching, and it is something I would consider as an assistant coach somewhere," he said. "That would be a limited opportunity."

Learner spent Wednesday pulling up campaign signs. He says his first priority is becoming familiar with his new job as the top law enforcement officer for the 25th District, comprising Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties.

"The main thing I have to do is assess the status of what's currently pending," Learner said. "Mr. Gaither has said he would help in that process. I am talking to officers and detectives to determine how the DA's office can better meet their needs, and will focus on any adjustments that need to be made with staffing. Those are my primary concerns."

Learner has been winding down his law practice as he focused on his campaign.

"I just have to tie up a few loose ends with my practice, and I've already declined a lot of work to keep my new workload manageable. As for my transition into the DA's office, we will do it in a very orderly and planned manner."