Candidates for district attorney discuss experience

Apr. 24, 2014 @ 09:27 AM

The News-Topic sent each of the candidates for district attorney the same set of questions. Over the coming days we will run their answers. Individual responses have been edited because of space limitations.

How important is courtroom experience as district attorney?

James C. Gaither, incumbent since 2002: “As your district attorney I have used my experience as an attorney, as a husband and father and as a lifelong resident of this area to help me hire and retain the best people that I can to work in our district attorney’s office.  I oversee the day-to-day work of 18 lawyers and 18 legal staff and we manage a docket that includes over 3,500 felonies and 18,000 misdemeanors each year. My experience in the courtroom and also my experience as a conservative leader in our community gives me the practical knowledge to help guide my day to day decisions, and I believe that is part of the reason for our success.”

Scott D. Reilly, private attorney in Newton, former assistant district attorney:“It is the most important thing a voter should look for in deciding who they want as their district attorney. The D.A. is the chief law enforcement officer of the district. How can you expect a district attorney to make a decision as to whether his office should seek the death penalty in a murder case if he has never tried a death penalty case? I have tried many death penalty cases, both as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney. There are currently two convicts on death row that I prosecuted when I was an assistant D.A.”

David Learner, private attorney in Morganton, former assistant district attorney: “I’d say that it’s about as important as oxygen – it’s absolutely essential. If you have no trial experience, you’re not in a position to make informed decisions as to what a judge and jury is likely to do on a given set of facts and evidence. Therefore, you’re not in a position to make an intelligent decision as to which cases should be tried, plea-bargained or dismissed.

“That’s one of many problems with the current DA’s administration. To the best of my knowledge, the current D.A. has not personally tried a single case by himself since being sworn in over 11 years ago. That’s why we have had some of the shameful and dangerous plea bargains which have turned violent and repeat offenders loose on our citizens. This must stop.”