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Dear Citizens of Halifax, Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties:
It has truly been a privilege to have served the citizens of this district for more than fifteen years, almost fourteen of those years as an assistant district attorney with the district attorney’s office. During this time, I have had the opportunity first-hand to see what has gone right, but more importantly, what has gone wrong in our district attorney’s office and our court system.
My unique experiences working within the district attorney’s office and our court system have allowed me to see where the most need is in our district and the best course of action to carry out that plan.
As an employee of the district attorney’s office, I have not been in a position of authority to carry out my vision; as an employee, you are responsible for carrying out someone else’s vision.
If elected as your new district attorney I would welcome the opportunity to represent the citizens of this district while setting a standard of excellence throughout the office for all staff members. I am running to be your elected district attorney, and I am asking that you hold me accountable for my vision.
Under my leadership, my vision for the office that you can expect and hold me accountable for is:
The citizens of this district will be treated fairly, without regard for their race, financial status, who their attorney is, or if they can even afford an attorney when they appear before the courts
The district attorney’s office will be approachable and accessible for all citizens
Cases will be assessed based only on the facts and evidence presented to the district attorney’s office and done so within a timely manner after charges have been filed
The district attorney’s office will at all times be honest and transparent in their communications, prosecutions, and interactions with the public
Law enforcement can expect to always have open lines of communication with the district attorney’s office
The staff of the district attorney’s office will be trained to analyze, prepare, and try cases before the court and be prepared to proceed at all sessions of court
I believe that victims and defendants deserve justice, and justice delayed is justice denied. There is a tremendous number of cases pending across the district, and that number continues to grow daily.
During the pandemic, violent crime, especially homicides, were on the rise in our district, and across the state of North Carolina.
We are living in unprecedented times with crime rates that are devastating our communities. Our court system deals in the business of human tragedy daily, and we must prioritize moving cases forward in a more efficient manner to ensure justice for all citizens.
During these unprecedented times we must have an aggressive approach to resolving the cases in our district.
When elected, I would establish policies and protocols to aggressively approach the number of cases currently pending in our district.
My vision includes:
Ensuring the staff is fully trained on how to assess, prepare, and try cases before the court.
The role of the district attorney is to protect the rights of all citizens and speak on behalf of the state of North Carolina.
One of my first priorities when elected as district attorney would be to ensure the staff of the district attorney’s office is fully trained and equipped to uphold our oath of office — to protect the rights of all citizens, and to be a voice for victims throughout the court process.
With the proper training, the staff of the district attorney’s office will ensure that citizens receive access to justice in a timely manner and our courts are run more efficiently.
When the staff is properly trained, there is an all-hands-on deck approach to moving cases forward. When cases are screened properly, Assistant District Attorneys can determine how a case should be handled early in the prosecution, and they can communicate that information to all parties involved.
Assigning attorneys to the heaviest caseloads to ensure that victims and cases are being given the time they need for proper representation in court.
When assistant district attorneys appear in court, they are responsible for every single case that is listed on the calendar, and they are expected to be prepared to proceed with each one.
With so many cases pending, I believe it is necessary to assign attorneys to the caseloads with the most need.
Halifax County has more superior court sessions than any other county in the district, and more pending cases than any other county in this district.
Therefore, I believe it is necessary to have more attorneys assigned to Halifax to address this need.
Without allocating the resources to the Halifax office, there will continue to be a backlog that continues to grow.
There must be attorneys assigned to the cases currently pending to assess, prepare, and try them, while there are additional attorneys assigned to the new cases continuously filed into our system daily.
This issue directly affects all citizens of our district because it does not allow victims the access they need to the staff of the district attorney’s office, it takes longer for defendant’s cases to be reviewed and disposed of, and it affects taxpayers by having people in jail whose cases may have otherwise been disposed of.
Prioritizing jail cases and older cases and calendaring them for resolution.
Establishing a protocol where assistant district attorneys are prepared to proceed and object to any continuances, barring any unforeseen circumstances in a case, once the state has complied with its statutory requirements required by law.
The Administrative Office of the Courts hired an independent agency to assess the statewide backlog of cases across North Carolina.
The agency found that the single factor contributing to the backlog of cases more than any other was the number of times a case had been continued.
The study showed that reducing the number of continuances to seven would drastically reduce the backlog in our court systems.
In my experience with the district attorney’s office, the overwhelming majority of cases that are continued, are continued based on the defendant and/or their attorney’s request to continue the case.
While a judge is the only person that can continue a case, the state would be prepared to object thereby reducing the amount of time a case is pending before resolution.
The district attorney’s office is required to turn over all information, good and bad, to defendant’s and their attorneys. This process is called the discovery process.
In most cases this process should be completed relatively quickly after felony charges have been filed, however, in complex cases it can often take longer when waiting on labs, autopsy reports, or information that may be coming from out of state or other agencies.
It is not uncommon for this process to take 18 months or longer in homicide cases.
We are currently seeing cases that are 12-15 months old that still do not have autopsy reports. This process often prolongs cases even more because it is the responsibility of the district attorney’s office to ensure the defendant has everything before proceeding to trial.
This is a right guaranteed to defendants that can’t be waived by the defendant or the state of North Carolina.
However, once this process is complete, I do believe that it is necessary that the state take a firm stance and object to cases being continuously “kicked down the road.”
Time never makes cases easier to try, and victims and witnesses often get frustrated with the process and lose hope in the system.
The first step to fighting for the victims and state of North Carolina is to object to the cases being continued excessively.
Coordinating with other districts that share the limited number of defense attorneys working in this district to ensure that once a trial session is scheduled the state can proceed.
Almost all the defense attorneys in our district practice in other districts across the state.
This becomes an issue when courts that have precedence over our courts require the attorney’s presence somewhere else.
When this happens, that attorney’s cases are typically continued to another term of court.
By coordinating our efforts during our trial terms, and with everyone coming together, we can ensure that we can proceed with the matters that have been calendared.
Implementing a tracking system that records how many times a case has been continued, if the case is ready for trial, if there are outstanding pretrial issues in a case, and conduct regular status hearings for all jail cases.
The fact that cases are pending and getting older does not stop newer cases from piling in daily. I believe that it is necessary to have an organizational structure in place that ensures that cases are reviewed and addressed as long as they are pending.
Each file in the district attorney’s office represents a person, and we should never be so busy that we forget about people.
A tracking system would allow every case to come back in focus of the district attorney’s office and our courts, while still allowing the court system to focus on the matters currently being addressed before the court.
Success of any court system requires that all parties be willing to come to the table and work, because our court system works when our court system works.
The district attorney’s office, judges, and defense attorneys are all cogs in the wheel, and every cog on the wheel must be willing to work together to move this district forward in a more positive and efficient manner.
I am committed to adopting a cooperative approach that establishes a system of accountability for the district attorney’s office.
When elected, the citizens can expect someone who will not compromise their integrity, oath of office, or commitment to the citizens of this district and they should expect that an experienced, ethical and efficient leader will require the same standard of excellence for the entire staff of the district attorney’s office.
I vow to always be honest and transparent with the citizens of this district.
The information communicated from the district attorney’s office is not always easy to hear, but it is my promise that it will always be honest and transparent, and this office will work diligently at protecting the rights of all citizens while representing the state of North Carolina.
I have been a passionate advocate for the victims of this district, and I am asking for your vote to make my vision a reality — Kim Gourrier Scott