Q&A: Krueger Talks About DA Job
Maureen Krueger, Moore County's new district attorney, says it's her job to be "the voice of justice in the courtroom" for victims of lawbreakers.
Gov. Mike Easley appointed Krueger at the beginning of the year to serve as the first DA to head the newly created one-county prosecutorial office serving Moore County. Moore was formerly part of a three-county district that also included Montgomery and Randolph.
Krueger said she believes that creating her office and splitting Moore off into its own district will ultimately have the effect of speeding up the handling of criminal cases and helping ease the crowding of the jail.
Krueger came to the office of The Pilot and participated in an interview with Staff Writer John Chappell, Managing Editor David Sinclair, Editor Steve Bouser and Publisher David Woronoff. Here is an edited transcript of their tape-recorded discussion.
Q: Congratulations on your appointment. What does it feel like to be sort of on the other side -- to be in this new job?
A: It feels like I'm back where I was supposed to be. So it doesn't feel like I'm on the other side because this is where I was initially.
Q: All right. So how does it feel to be back in the DA situation as opposed to practicing law?
A: Well, the DA is a practice of law. People tend to ask me that a lot, as far as whether or not I'm still a lawyer -- not understanding that, of course, the district attorney is first and primarily a lawyer. It feels good to be back on the side of the prosecution, on the side of the state. It's a very comfortable place for me to be.
Q: Do people come up to you and say, "What does a DA do, anyway?" How would you answer that?
A: I would say that we are the voice of justice in the courtroom for them, and that if something has happened to them or someone they love, we are the last stop to try to get justice for them.
Q: What will your goals be as the DA?
A: To streamline the court process for a lot of people. To have a more open office to the general public and to the officers. And to get the witnesses they need to come in. They need to know that they've got a district attorney here in Moore County that is looking out for them.
Q: How do you go about getting appointed? Do you write a letter to somehow let the governor know? Does he interview you?
A: No. I think the process is different for different kinds of appointments, but I sent a letter to the governor saying I was interested in the appointment. And then I sought out people who would either speak to the governor or other people who might speak to the governor or know the governor. I just rounded up whoever I thought would be a good candidate to either talk or make phone calls, write letters, make in-person contacts with whoever it might be that might know something.
It's a very mysterious process to me at this juncture.
Q: Did the governor ever interview you?
A: I went to his office and interviewed with Reuben Young, who is the chief legal counsel. ...
I mean, it's a mystery to me. Not that I got the appointment, because I think I'm the most qualified person for it, but how the actual process works. Do they sit down at the table and, say, there's a four-inch-high stack of letters from this person or, you know, this guy called on this day and that means whatever? I don't know why people make their decisions, but I assume that he made it because I'm the most qualified candidate for it.
Q: You have a tremendous backlog of stuff on your desk, I understand. How do you go about digging into that backlog of cases?
A: The first thing I do is actually physically pull every file that's in the office and look through them to see what the status is of the case -- whether or not it's been in District Court or Superior Court, whether or not there's been a plea offer, whether or not discoveries have come up to date by physically pulling each file.
And then I organize them by the seriousness of the crime, the date of the offense, how long it's been in court, whether or not it's been on trial calendar before -- and physically pull those files out and say, "These need to be dealt with by such-and-such a time," and "These need to be revisited for plea offers or discovery," or "We need to go ahead and do calendar for a trial."
Q: Having a single prosecutorial district, as opposed to remaining in a district with the other two counties -- will that help with the backlog?
A: I think so, because the legislation created two new positions to actually have more assistant district attorneys plus myself in the office, to have more people working on it. So just by creating the new district, we've created more manpower, and that manpower alone is going to enable us to get into the cases and get them disposed.
Q: A big topic of conversation with the county commissioners is overcrowding in the jail and problems with that. Will having our own DA help with the jail crowding?
A: I think so, because I've already spoken with other judicial officials and defense attorneys and with the officers about what can we do to move those cases along. There are things we can do in terms of how we schedule court, how we schedule court for jail cases, and whether cases should be handled differently than for someone who has made bond or not. ...
Q: Do we have enough courts in Moore County?
A: We could always use more courts. Everyone in the system would agree that you could use more court days, more court personnel, more clerks, more managers, more officers -- but as much court time as we have, we could probably fill up.
Q: We in the newspaper business are very fond of open courts. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on keeping courts open and records open and being accessible and transparent with your constituents.
A: Of course the courts are open. There's no question about that.
Q: In what kinds of situations do judges close courts? I know in juvenile situations --.
A: The legislation has changed about that. It used to be presumed that juvenile court was a closed proceeding, and there was legislation a number of years ago that changed it to say that the presumption is that it's an open proceeding unless it's requested by one of the parties. And typically that's only in a very sensitive case, if there's some sort of sexual abuse or some other sensitive matter -- that the children are of a young, tender age and it's in juvenile court.
Q: The recent situation in Durham in which District Attorney Mike Nifong attracted national attention and outrage with his handling of the Duke lacrosse rape case -- how would you have handled that differently?
A: I don't have any comment on that. I really don't. I don't know anything about that case. You can't comment on how someone else would handle a case, because you don't know -- you're not there at the time.
Q: Well, would it be unusual, as a general principle, to charge somebody as a DA, and to make a lot of public statements about them without ever even having spoken to the actual complaining witness yourself?
A: Typically, how the process works is that you have a felony detective involved, and the detective does the report. The detective makes the charge and the decision and goes to a magistrate and obtains the felony warrants. And then after that felony warrant is obtained, it's presented to the DA's office -- "I've obtained a felony warrant, and here it is."
And at that point, then the district attorney picks that up and starts their internal process about how to build their case file and so forth. But that is the normal process. I don't know how it works in Durham, how involved their ADAs or district attorneys are in particular cases. But that is how it works here. The officers or detectives have the authority to go ahead and get their felony warrant. They don't have to come through us. And they normally don't.
Q: And you don't normally interview a witness unless you are getting ready for trial? Or do you normally interview them before going, say, to a grand jury or an indictment?
A: It depends on the case. If there were something unusual about it, where you really needed the victim or the witness' input in order to make a plea offer before you even got to the trial stage, then you'd call them.
Q: I know you don't want to get specific about Mr. Nifong, but there have been allegations that he was politically motivated because he had an election coming up. Do you think DAs should be elected?
A: Well, I've been appointed so far, so that's my only experience in that. There's always a debate as to whether or not it's better to have appointments or elections, and both systems have their flaws and their benefits. The appointment people complain that that is a more politically driven system than an election is -- that an election is more open and accessible to the people.
So this is the system we have, and I'm pretty happy with it so far. I hope I would be happy with the results of an election, too. (Laughter.)
Q: Your assistant DAs: Tell us how quickly you choose them? Where do they come from? Are they local?
A: They were already here. When I took office, there were three ADAs here. And so I kept them. ... I have one of them who is moving on, so really I have two vacancies right now that I'm interviewing for.
Q: How has the transition gone for you?
A: It's been good. Everybody's been helpful. At the state level, the office that oversees clerks and judges and district attorneys is called the Administrative Office of the Courts. They've really bent over backwards to help us out. To get us our equipment, our stationery, business cards, every little thing we could probably think of, there is somebody who either knows how to do it or they're directing me to who can help us out. And they've really been very helpful.
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