Choices for DA, sheriff

Apr. 28, 2014 @ 05:19 PM

Two races that technically won’t be settled until the Nov. 4 general election will effectively be decided in the primary May 6.

In the contests for Durham County sheriff and for district attorney, three Democrats are vying for the party’s nomination in each race.  Normally, we refrain from endorsements in primaries, preferring to weigh both major parties’ nominations in the context of the general election.

No Republican has filed in either race, however, so primary victory will be tantamount to election.

In the district attorney’s race, each of the three candidates brings positives. Given the tumultuous history for that office in recent years – two successive district attorneys left the office in disgrace – we suspect voters and anyone involved in the judicial process craves stability.

Leon Stanback, named as interim DA after Tracy Cline -- who had been caught up in a bitter public vendetta against Superior Court Orlando Hudson -- was removed from office, has brought that stability. He has endorsed Roger Echols, his chief assistant prosecutor, to become his elected successor.

We concur in that endorsement. Echols is a career prosecutor keenly familiar with the operations of the district attorney’s office. He vows he is ready to “create and continue” the stability of the office “to handle the negative perceptions” he acknowledged the turmoil has created.

He is comfortable with the “boutique courts” such as drug court and a new veterans’ court, but cautions that too great a proliferation of such specialty courts could spread the office too thin.

Brian Aus would bring a high degree of energy and commitment to outreach to the office, but his experience is on the defense side of the courtroom. Mitchell Garrell served for many years as a prosecutor here before Cline declined to retain him, but Echols’ recent leadership in the office along with Stanback’s nod gives him a clear edge.

For sheriff, we find it easy to commend to voters keeping Mike Andrews in the office he has held since longtime sheriff Worth Hill retired in 2012. Andrews, who had been Hill’s chief deputy, brings the experience of 25 years in the sheriff’s office and has been an effective and solid leader. He has overseen the transition of the office into the new courthouse, and has been steadily enhancing the department’s efforts to reach out to the community through social media.

Clarence Birkhead, the former head of the Duke University Police Department, certainly offers a law-enforcement background, but it’s difficult to overcome the advantages of Andrews’ solid service in the sheriff’s office.

The third candidate, Ricky Buchanan, retired in 2012 after 30 years in the department, the last half of it managing the accreditations office.