DA Candidates Make Cases
When voters go to the polls Nov. 4, they will choose Moore County's first-ever elected district attorney
The county became a single-member prosecutorial district with its own district attorney early in 2007. Gov. Mike Easley appointed Maureen Krueger, a former assistant district attorney who was then in private practice, to the post.
Previously, Moore County was part of a district that included Randolph and Montgomery counties.
Krueger is running for election to the office as a Republican. She is being challenged by Tony Berk, an assistant district attorney in Robeson County who previously served as an assistant in Moore County. He obtained enough signatures on a petition to be on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate and has been endorsed by the county Democratic Party.
Krueger announced her plans to seek election last December, saying she wasn't taking the office for granted even though no other candidate was yet in the race. She had told Easley that she would run for a four-year term whether he appointed her or someone else.
"I am holding true to my word on that," Krueger said.
Even though she is running as a Republican, Krueger said she hopes to win bipartisan support. Former Gov. Jim Holshouser became her campaign's honorary chairman, and Rufus Edmisten, a prominent Democrat and former state attorney general, backed her from the start.
One reason for Krueger's early campaign start was financial. It takes money to mount an effective campaign, supporters like George Little said. Last month, Krueger sent out her first political letter seeking contributions, noting that campaigns need significant funding to be successful.
"Tremendous ground has been covered in the short time I have been in office," Krueger said. "When I took office (we had) a seemingly insurmountable backlog of cases, a crowded jail and unacceptable excessive delays."
She pointed out that the number of jury trials has been doubled, disposing of murder cases and other felonies pending the day she took office. The county now ranks 30th out of the state's 100 counties in how quickly driving while impaired (DWI) cases are handled, with an 80 percent conviction rate -- well above the state average according to figures obtained from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).
Berk doesn't believe in political fundraising. He said he won't take contributions or make any contributions to political candidates himself.
"I don't send contributions," Berk said. "If I feel strongly, I will get on the street and knock on doors."
Berk sees two main issues for voters to consider electing a district attorney. The first is selecting someone who is proficient and professional in running the office. The second, Berk said, is that he feels district attorneys should not be involved with party politics.
The office could someday be elected on a nonpartisan basis as judges are, and many thought that change had already been made in the law of North Carolina, according to Berk. But that is not the case.
Berk grew up in New York but has lived in Southern Pines for 11 years. He and his wife Marlene have two children: Sarah, who attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Ben, a senior at Pinecrest High School. Berk graduated from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and earned his law degree at New York University Law School.
Krueger grew up in Cincinnati, finished college at Northern Kentucky University and law school at the University of Cincinnati. She moved to North Carolina in 1996 with her husband Rick. They have two young children, Timothy and Abigail.
After moving to North Carolina, Krueger became an assistant district attorney, working for Garland Yates in the three-county district that included Moore County.
Berk also worked for Yates when he first came to the state, spending four years in Moore County before moving to Robeson County, where he is a senior assistant district attorney.
Both said they would deal with court and jail congestion by disposing of lower-level felonies in District Court. Krueger said she started doing that after taking office. Berk said he would do that as well, though the practice is often opposed by District Court judges who say their dockets are crowded now.
A comparison of records kept by the AOC shows some differences between Moore and Robeson counties in District Court felony convictions. Robeson is the largest county in the state, Berk said, with a more than proportionately larger crime rate.
From July 2007 through this June, Moore County had 268 convictions and Robeson had none. There were 398 convictions (prison entries) in larger Robeson County over the same period, while Moore had 420.
Both candidates worry about the rise of gangs and gang violence.
"I am concerned about domestic gangs," Berk said. "We can stop them. We don't have much (here in Moore County), but we are going to. We are surrounded by counties that have them. I have spent much of my time the past year fighting them. They speak in codes, use visual codes. We have glossaries of those, so let us educate school officers, then take it to commissioners."
Krueger said she is already working on a task force to combat gangs in Moore County. She describes the problem as limited in scope currently, but on the rise.
"We do have gangs here," she told county commissioners recently. "It is certainly violent and dangerous."
Both candidates point to years of experience fighting crime and enforcing the law in court. Berk hopes voters will turn over the task to him. Krueger wants voters to keep her in office so she can continue the job she's doing.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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