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Wake County DA: rooting for underdogs


Democrat and Republican

The Wake County District Attorney is the most powerful prosecutor in the state, charged with litigating the most high-profile criminal cases as well as graft and corruption that may occur within state and county departments. The Wake DA leads an office of 40 attorneys and 30 administrative staff, and is responsible for more than 100,000 cases filed annually.

Both of the candidates are highly qualified. Lorrin Freeman, a former prosecutor, assistant attorney general and the Clerk of Superior Court for the last eight years, has an impeccable record.

As clerk, she is intimately acquainted with the inner workings of the DA's office and has a reputation as a fair and effective manager. She passed along allegations of corruption that implicated one of her department heads, and served as chairwoman of the Raleigh Human Relations Commission. Her integrity is uncontested. Freeman has received endorsements from many Wake County mayors, including Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, and District 16 Sen. Josh Stein.

But the district attorney's office is more than just a bureaucracy in need of an effective and well-connected manager. The candidate should have a solid, recent record as an aggressive prosecutor, and for this reason we endorse Boz Zellinger.

As assistant district attorney for Colon Willoughby, he has prosecuted a wide variety of cases, ranging from the first-degree murder case of Brad Cooper, to law enforcement officers, to child molesters and sexual assaulters. He even prosecuted his own mentor, lawyer James Crouch, who was indicted and imprisoned for a DWI backdating scheme.

A thoughtful Democrat, he is loathe to use capital punishment and is well aware of how low-level drug charges disproportionately affect and create a prison pipeline for African-Americans. He believes in taking a strong stand for victims but also envisions the district attorney's office beholden to more community accountability. Zellinger understands how unrestrained and unaccountable actions by law enforcement can rupture public confidence and damage the fabric of our communities and believes in holding the police as accountable to crimes as citizens.

Lastly, Zellinger is sensitive to the bond of trust that must be formed between the DA's office and victims in immigrant communities, where people are sometimes scared to come forward for fear of deportation. Given his record of integrity as a district attorney prosecutor and his finely calibrated sensitivity to issues of race and class within the justice system, we believe he is the best candidate for the job.

Four Republican candidates are running for Wake County District Attorney, attempting to fill Colon Willoughby's shoes. None of them have expounded positions that distinguish themselves. Two of them, Terry A. Swaim and John Walter Bryant, are milquetoast candidates who are coming from private practice.

The only serious contender is Jefferson Griffin, a young assistant district attorney in Colon Willoughby's office since 2010. Griffin is running a savvy, 21st century campaign, with lots of glossy, social media-friendly photos of him at farmer's markets posing with chocolate labs and being a "real" North Carolinan—The Garden & Gun-ization of state politics.

Though we're of course rooting for Boz Zellinger, in the Republican field we have to endorse Jeff Cruden. Cruden is a longtime prosecutor and senior assistant district attorney in the Wake DA's office. He is more moderate and has more experience than Griffin.

He understands that the prisons are too full, that non-violent drug charges need to be dealt with in a more constructive way, and the need to safeguard citizens' rights. Cruden could be relied on not to be overly political in executing the duties of the office.

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