Chip McCrory spent decades in criminal law
This is the last of three profiles of district attorney candidates.
Working as a defense attorney for the last 19 years, district attorney candidate Chip McCrory says his experience gives him valuable insight into where the DA’s office needs to improve.
He has practiced criminal law for 35 years, 12 of them as a prosecutor for the 9th Judicial District.
McCrory, running as an independent, is challenging the Democratic incumbent Sherry Caloia and the Republican Jeff Cheney.
“I have not been exactly happy with the way the office has been run for the last three DAs. And I’m at a point in my life and career when it’s time to stop complaining and do something about it,” he told the Post Independent.
“I think they’ve lost a great deal of professionalism, efficiency and the tone of what a DA’s office needs.”
Much of McCrory’s consternation comes from organizational practices in the DA’s office and its rationale in charging and plea offers.
“That hasn’t changed over the last few DAs, and I don’t think it will change under Jeff Cheney, since he’s a product of Martin Beeson,” Caloia’s predecessor.
The DA’s efficiency in moving cases along has suffered, he said. For example, the office’s work in providing discovery to the defense has been sluggish. In the past, for routine cases like DUIs, the case was set out six weeks, during which the defense would get the police reports and enough work got done that the whole case could often be resolved on the first day of court.
More recently prosecutors have been falling back on their ability to wait 20 days after the first court appearance to provide discovery.
The DA’s motivation in charging also seems “like a competition right out of law school exams to see how many charges they can possibly apply to a case.”
“You should charge what you can prove,” rather than charging a bunch of extra counts to force a plea bargain, he said.
The prosecutors have also simply been making bad plea offers that he’d never advise his clients to take, he said.
“In some cases I’ve told my clients that we can go to trial, sleep through the entire thing, not ask a single question, get convicted of everything, and still end up with a lesser sentence than what the DA wants us to accept.”
Plea bargaining is a necessity given the number of cases that come through the courts, but the DA must be smart about offers, he said.
“A lot of what’s going on seems to be we’re filing charges just because we can, a push not for a sentencing that’s necessary in the case, but just because (they) can get a sentence.”
Some of this can be seen in cases where the prosecutor asks for years in prison but the judge gives the defendant probation, said McCrory.
Recently local law enforcement has also derided the DA’s office for making it too hard to get arrest and search warrants. If this happens, Caloia says, it’s because she’s asking police to do more investigation to develop stronger evidence.
Approvals of these warrants is always going to be on a case-by-case basis, said McCrory. “And in some cases you may very well want to do more investigation before you arrest someone.”
The timing of an arrest can have important impacts on a case, “and hopefully that’s something you’re discussing with the police officers involved.”
“The biggest thing I can tell, it seems like no one’s talking.”
McCrory said his relationship with local law enforcement is mostly good, apart from some natural conflicts from his defending suspects for nearly two decades.
“When I was in the DA’s office, too, sometimes we had conflicts with law enforcement, but we would sit down and try to hash out the issues with the officer and his or her case. … Sometimes those get heated, but mostly they get worked out because both sides are trying to put together a good, prosecutable case.”
District attorney is a political office, and part of the politics is you have to sit down with your police officers, who have a very narrow focus: good guys and bad guys, he said. The DA must communicate the important steps of the case beyond the arrest, he said.
His decades of experience make him a knowledgeable resource for the deputy DAs, he said. “There is nothing my deputies will do that I have not done.”
McCrory said that after 35 years of reading police reports, one of his great skills is quickly assessing the strengths and weaknesses of most cases and identifying likely defenses.
“I’m a relaxed, open guy, and I really will be encouraging the lawyers and secretarial staff to come talk to me. My door will be open.”
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