Garrell files in Durham DA race

Feb. 26, 2014 @ 06:47 PM

Mitchell Garrell, a former prosecutor, filed Wednesday for election as Durham’s district attorney, saying “it’s past time” to restore trust in the criminal justice system.

Garrell is the third person to file for DA so far. The others are Roger Echols, chief assistant prosecutor in the Durham County District Attorney’s Office; and Brian Aus, a criminal defense lawyer.

In an interview Wednesday, Garrell, 58, said that if elected, he’ll hold monthly meetings during which citizens could voice opinions about how the office is performing.

Garrell said he’d like hold the meetings at the courthouse on a weekday starting about 6 p.m. to allow people to attend after work. He said he’d need to coordinate the meetings with the sheriff, who is in charge of opening and closing the courthouse.

Garrell was an assistant DA under Tracey Cline before she was removed from office in 2012 after a public feud with a Superior Court judge, calling him dishonest and corrupt. She declined to reappoint Garrell to his job when her term began in 2011, but wouldn’t say why.

“Her relentless, and often bizarre, attacks on our chief resident Superior Court judge [Orlando Hudson] evinced her lack of respect for, and adherence to, the established laws and procedures regarding the relations between DA and judge,” Garrell said. “Seeing the chief law enforcement officer of the county display such a brazen disregard for the law cannot but have an effect on this community, an effect which is still felt today. No one who assisted in such attacks should be serving in the district attorney’s office.”

Garrell said some who backed Cline’s attacks still work in the prosecutor’s office.

Asked if he would fire them if elected, Garrell said he wouldn’t announce personnel decisions during the race.

“I believe some real changes need to be made so there is a break with business as usual,” he said. “There are some folks still in the office who supported Tracey in her campaign against Judge Hudson, and I think that sends the wrong message to the community.”

Other parts of Garrell’s platform include:

  • Linking mentally ill defendants who have alcohol and other drug addictions to “people in the community who are willing to help.”
  • Examining whether it’s appropriate to impose hefty court fines and fees on defendants who can’t afford to pay them. “Even people with jobs have difficulty paying the fines and fees,” he said. “And while I’m going to follow the law, I think that can be brought to the attention of the legislature. I just wonder if there’s a better way to finance the judicial system.”
  • Working with defense attorneys who have compelling evidence to question the integrity of a verdict. “There’s been some concern about the integrity of convictions in cases nationwide where DNA evidence has exonerated someone,” Garrell said. “I would commit to meeting with and allowing an attorney who has a good-faith basis to question the integrity of a verdict to review our files.”

“No one has an interest in convicting someone who didn’t commit the crime,” he said.

Garrell currently serves as financial-crimes prosecutor for the Central Region of North Carolina, a position with the Conference of District Attorneys. He said he’d leave that job if elected.

Garrell graduated summa cum laude in 1991 from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in political science. He earned his law degree in 1995 from the UNC School of Law.

The winner will replace Interim District Attorney Leon Stanback, who was named to complete Cline’s term. Stanback said he won’t seek election.

A primary election will be held May 6, and the general election is Nov. 4.