3 Democrats running for district attorney

Apr. 28, 2014 @ 06:13 PM

Three Democrats are on the ballot for Durham County District Attorney.

They are seeking a four-year term to replace interim District Attorney Leon Stanback, who was named to complete the term of Tracey Cline when she was removed from office. Stanback is not running.

The contenders are:

-- Brian Aus, a 59-year-old criminal defense attorney, who said he’s been disappointed with the performance of the district attorney’s office for the last 10 years.

“I think it’s time for a fresh approach,” he said in an interview. “I think there’s some serious reorganization that needs to be done to the office, and it needs to be responsive to the community as a whole.”

Aus said he would bring “a management style that will be good for this town. I intend to have open dialogue with the public. We don’t need everything hushed up.”

He’s been a criminal defense attorney in Durham for 29 years, and has worked as a public defender in Durham. He’s also been a civil arbitrator since 1993.

Aus is a 1985 graduate of the UNC School of Law in Chapel Hill, and earned a master’s degree in public health from UNC in 1977.

-- Roger Echols, chief assistant prosecutor in the Durham County District Attorney’s Office.

Echols, 40, was hired by former DA Tracey Cline in 2010 as an assistant prosecutor, helping to supervise the office’s assistant DAs.

“My major goals are ensuring equal protection under the law, fairness and maintaining the integrity of the office,” Echols said in an interview.

Echols said it’s important that anyone who comes in contact with the courts knows “that we administer justice in Durham County with integrity. The major way that you can have an effect on those things is from the top. Without someone in that position being committed to those things, it almost certainly won’t happen.”

A native of Detroit, Echols moved with his family to Atlanta and Memphis before settling in Hillsborough in 1977. He attended Orange County public schools and graduated from Orange High School in 1991.

He graduated from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 1995 with a degree in economics, and earned his law degree in 1998 from the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville.

Echols moved to Durham last year.

-- Mitchell Garrell, a former prosecutor in the Durham County District Attorney’s Office.

Garrell said in an interview that some Durham residents have lost confidence in the criminal justice system, and he rebuked his ex-boss, Tracey Cline, who declined to reappoint Garrell as an assistant DA when her term began in 2011. She wouldn’t say why.

Cline was removed from office in 2012 after a public feud with Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson.

“Her relentless, and often-bizarre, attacks on [Hudson] evinced her lack of respect for, and adherence to, the established laws and procedures regarding the relations between DA and judge,” Garrell said.

Garrell, who prosecuted many violent felonies as assistant DA, said he has a reputation “as a firm but fair prosecutor who has always complied with the rule of law regarding the treatment of defendants even as I attempt to hold them accountable for the crimes they have committed.”

If elected, he said, he would lead the office by example “and ensure that all persons in the office respect the law.”

Garrell currently serves as financial-crimes prosecutor for the Central Region of North Carolina, a position with the Conference of District Attorneys.

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

The primary election will be May 6. The general election is Nov. 4.

There is no Republican opposition in the district attorney race. If none of the three Democrats gets at least 40 percent of the votes cast, there will be a second primary, either in June or July. The exact date will be determined by the outcome of congressional races. But if one person gets at least 40 percent of the votes, there will be no second primary, and his name alone will be on the November ballot for DA, virtually assuring his election.