Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of columns about the candidates for district attorney.
Brian Aus grew up on the Jersey Shore. Springsteen territory, more or less. He settled in Durham County some 35 years ago, loved it and never left.
Now, the 59-year-old defense attorney wants to be the boss of the Durham County District Attorney’s Office.
I first met Aus about a dozen years ago, when he wore the mustache he waxes nostalgic about to this day. When I spoke with him in the courthouse, we were talking about a client of his standing down the hallway who was mixed up in pit bull fighting.
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I remember thinking, about Aus: this dude’s pretty direct.
I never spoke with him again until now. He hasn’t mellowed with age.
The Brian Aus interview has been edited for length.
Why are you doing this, running for DA?
Aus: “How ‘bout, because I give a damn.”
I’m not sure we can print “damn,” but we’ll make it work.
Aus: “Do what you have to do. Because that’s how I feel.”
You recently represented a Latin Kings gang member involved in a racketeering case. What did you learn about the Latin Kings?
Aus: “I wasn’t that impressed. Sounds like anyone could just put on the beads and say they were a Latin King. They seemed small-time to me.”
Really. So what does that say about the “gang” problem? Not a problem anymore, really?
Aus: “Heck, no. It’s a problem. Crips, Bloods, they’re still around. They all scare me. You don’t want to mess around with them.”
But you’ve represented young men who claimed to be Crips and Bloods.
Aus: “Yes, I have. That’s my job. They deserve a good defense like anyone does.”
Speaking of jobs, on your website in your race for DA, you say there is a “crisis of confidence” in Durham. That for the last 10 years or so, the DA’s Office has exposed us to national ridicule and threatened our public safety.
Aus: “It’s true, isn’t it? It’s time the DA’s Office quit acting like Durham County is a village. We’ve got 250,000 people. We need a big-city mentality. Professional, well-trained, transparent. Leading conversations, speaking out, not hiding behind closed doors hushing things up.”
“Is the office hushing things up?
Aus: Let’s just say if I were the D.A, the public would know a heck of a lot more about how the justice system works than they know now. I would tell it like it is.”
You also indicate that “equal justice” is what you want to stand for. You mean …
Aus: That you can’t buy it. If you have money, you can’t fashion the result you want. Just because you’re poor, you don’t get treated like a second-class citizen.”
You’ve said to me that there are too many plea bargains. You’ve also said the system wouldn’t work without plea bargains.
Aus: “I just think the DA’s office doesn’t have to give away the house when it makes a deal. You can tell I’m not here to win a popularity contest. I’m here to protect people. That’s what they want from a DA.”
Changing direction now, Brian. You lost your wife of 36 years, Debbie, to cancer six months ago. I am so sorry. How are you doing?
Aus: “It hurts. It’s still very powerful. I try to stay busy and talk to my son about her every day. We see how each other is doing, and that really helps. I’m always gonna have a hole in my heart, and I want to, out of respect for her.”
For those who didn’t know Debbie, tell me what you want people to know about her.”
Aus: “She was one of the smartest people I ever knew. And she’d give anyone the shirt off her back.”
Your son, Erik, who’s 19, is an accomplished spoken word artist. He’s been part of Brave New Voices, which has been featured on HBO. Are you a brave new voice?
Aus: “I want to be, yes. I am so proud of Erik. That young man can write. He’s amazing. Didn’t get all that from me.”
Maybe he can help you with your first closing argument if you become DA.
Aus: “He just might do that.”
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at email@example.com or 919-219-0042.