The campaign to succeed Colon Willoughby, the 30-year district attorney for Wake County, has brought two outstanding candidates to the fore, but our endorsement goes to Lorrin Freeman.
Freeman, the clerk of Wake County Superior Court since 2006, has done a splendid job in that role, running an efficient and complex office with 160 employees. She also has experience in the Wake DA’s office as a prosecutor and in the office of the Attorney General.
Freeman has a background in Democratic politics. Her father, former state Supreme Court Justice Franklin Freeman, is a long-time Democratic operative who served as chief of staff for former Gov. Mike Easley. That has given Lorrin Freeman a strong position in the party. She admirably does not try to pretend that her family connections have not provided her with an advantage.
Freeman, soft-spoken and earnest, is serious in her belief that the district attorney’s office must first seek justice and not fall into the mentality that has dominated some DA offices, which is to serve as a vehicle to convict, convict, convict. She vows that as DA, she will make the search for justice the first priority.
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That’s vital, because there have been some troubling cases in North Carolina where wrongful convictions, prompted in part by the zeal of law enforcement and district attorneys, have put innocent people away. That is not acceptable in any system of justice if that system is to have credibility with the people it is supposed to serve.
Freeman’s views, her principles when it comes to fairness, are shared by her opponent, veteran Raleigh attorney John Bryant, a Republican.
Bryant, outspoken and articulate, is a respected trial lawyer who also vows that as district attorney he would put fairness and the search for truth ahead of seeking victory in the courtroom.
Bryant’s courtroom experience is extensive, and that is an asset in this race. Freeman’s administrative skills give her an advantage, however. While Willoughby prosecuted some cases, he left most of the front-line prosecuting to a capable staff of lawyers who are in the courtroom daily.
Bryant has argued that as DA, he would do more courtroom work. He believes that sets an example for assistant district attorneys, and that may be true.
Bryant has run an aggressive campaign, likely believing he has to overcome Freeman’s political connections. But he has played fairly, as has Freeman. Both candidates recognize that, once in office, they would be in a role crucial to bolstering the public’s confidence in the state’s system of justice.
Frankly, either candidate would serve well as Wake’s district attorney after 30 honest and good years under Willoughby. It should also be said that the interim district attorney, Judge Ned Mangum, has done a superior job in the role for these last few months.
It is our view that the DA’s job is primarily an administrative one, however, and Freeman’s experience running the clerk’s office gives her an edge. She gets the editorial endorsement without reluctance. But Bryant has engaged in a sound, substantial campaign and deserves credit for his thoughtful presentation of his views.