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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Andrew Murray Right Choice For New Charlotte D.A.

Murray Is Best Choice For Charlotte's New District Attorney: Decision 2010

Come Jan. 1, Mecklenburg County will have its first new district attorney since Peter Gilchrist took the job in 1975. He has been re-elected eight times since then without facing an opponent.

Two candidates, Republican Andrew Murray and Democrat Michael Barnes, are both campaigning with a "get tough and lock 'em up" theme, although they tout some different proposals for precisely how they'd do that. Though we understand that campaigning requires rhetoric, we wish we had also heard more about the need for justice, which sometimes means prison and sometimes doesn't. But such is politics.

Barnes is the City Council member from District 4 in northeast Charlotte. Elected in 2005, he has been a good representative - attentive to his district, a quick study on issues and displaying a welcome independent streak. Although he has done some criminal legal work in his small law practice, most of his work in recent years has been civil law.

He's pitching the idea of instituting "Community Prosecution" in the DA's office - assigning Prosecutors to work with specific police districts.

He's also a strong advocate for finding money for more up-to-date technology for the office and says he could use his relationships with the City Council and N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue's office to win more money for the DA. Most everyone agrees on the need for better technology and more funds. But what's far less clear is whether Barnes would do any better than Gilchrist has or Murray would on that score, especially as state government reels from revenue shortfalls.

We like Barnes' energy, independent streak and recognition that, yes, political skills are a good tool for winning support for the DA's office from elected officials and from the public.

But we think Andrew Murray is the better choice. Murray is smart and well-respected and has a key advantage: He has worked four years as an assistant district attorney and 14 years since then as a criminal lawyer at a local firm, where he is managing partner.

Murray has spent 29 years in the Coast Guard and is a commander in the Reserves, where he leads a 250 reserve-member unit. In fact, he lost weeks of campaign time last summer when he was called to duty on the Gulf Coast to work on cleanup efforts from the BP oil spill.

In a perfect world, the next district attorney would have a lot on his or her resume: unassailable integrity, proven expertise in criminal practice, experience managing a large staff, political savvy to reassure voters that criminals won't go free and strong working relationships with police, judges and local and state officials. Neither candidate brings that perfect resume.

The Mecklenburg DA, heading a staff of 140, needs strong administrative skills for hiring and firing, mentoring and managing some 80 assistant district attorneys, many just starting their legal careers. And while the next DA won't be spending most of his time in courtrooms, in order to run the office well and make the best use of the staff, he should have more criminal law experience than Barnes has.

Murray's experience gives him an advantage in understanding the needs and challenges of the criminal justice system. He has made clear that while he admires Gilchrist, he won't be a clone. Like Barnes, he has good ideas for reorganizing some of the DA's operations to work more efficiently with the police and the courts, such as using the habitual offender tool more effectively to get repeat offenders off the streets.

We recommend Andrew Murray for Charlotte-Mecklenburg district attorney.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, WCNC, Google Maps

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