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Experience is key in prosecutor's race, incumbent says

June 28, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong Jr. told me this week he would run for the job he holds even if it paid less than its current $100,350 salary.

"I do this job out of love. It's the one way I can effectively give back to the community," Strong said.

Based on my recent interview with his predecessor M. Kenneth Long, now a Circuit Court judge, it's not an easy job to do. It includes long hours, midnight phone calls and dealing with victims and family members who don't believe you've done enough - or done it correctly.

Strong, 59, knows what he's getting into. He started work in the state's attorney's office in October 1980 and continued until December 1981, when he began a five-year stint in private practice.

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He returned in 1988, was named Long's deputy in 1993 when Noel Spence was appointed as a District Court judge and took over the top job when Long was named a Circuit Court judge in 2004.

Asked if he had encountered anything unexpected when he became head of the office, Strong said "not unexpected, but the emphasis changed."

"As deputy, I was more the operations person. As state's attorney, I'm more involved in dealing with the budget process and the county commissioners," he said.

And, as the top person in the office, he said he's the one who gets to handle community concerns.

"When people call and want to know why something did or did not happen, you are the person who gets called," he said.

It's important to deal with those people honestly and fairly, even when their concern - a jury's verdict, for example - is beyond the state's attorney's control.

"You acknowledge them all and we do follow-up, to see if something can be done to address the situation," he said.

The three largest categories of cases his office handles are drug dealing, domestic violence and drunken driving.

"Directly or indirectly, drugs or alcohol seem to be a common thread that runs through a lot of these cases," he said.

Strong said it's important to reach juveniles early, so they don't make mistakes as adults that will be lifelong impediments to their progress.

To that end, Strong said he's working to help set up a drug court for juveniles. He's a member of the board of the Washington County Community Partnership for Families and Children, which funds prevention-related activities. He emphasized that there is no one program that works for every child. The important thing, he said, is to keep looking for what works and what doesn't.

Asked why he should be elected instead of opponents Greg Bannon or Gordon Lynn, Strong said he didn't "intend to be involved in any personal attacks."

The public should choose him, he said, because of his extensive experience.

"I've tried numerous homicides, rapes and I bring that as part of my experience," he said.

"I also bring to it the managerial experience of supervising 35 employees," he said, adding that 14 of those positions are attorneys.

Strong said he feels his responsibility is to continue the growth of the office to keep up with the times as Long did.

"It's constantly evolving. The laws are changing, the judges are changing," he said.

As evidence that he can move forward with the times, Strong urged the voters to "look at who I am and look at what I have done."

There is no backlog of cases, Strong said, due to an aggressive effort to clear that last year.

To keep ongoing personal disputes from turning into criminal cases, Strong said that his office is working with the Washington County Mediation Center. The idea will be to identify those cases that could be resolved without going to court, he said.

Like his predecessor, Strong still spends time each month in court - a couple of dockets in District Court and a non-jury trial docket in Circuit Court.

"I just don't have time for a lot of jury trials anymore," he said.

But there are certain cases he says he feels the state's attorney must handle, such as the case of Brandon Morris, an inmate accused in the death of Jeffery Wroten, a correctional officer.

"I just can't see anyone else doing it," he said.

Strong said that one aspect of his job is mentoring lawyers. For those who haven't worked in prosecution, he said it takes about three years to "get them up to full speed."

Part of that process is to have regular group discussions on the issues the office faces, Strong said.

"I know what my people are doing and they know what each (of the others) are doing," he said.

Strong said one key trait of good prosecutors is the ability to remain open to different interpretations of a case, as new facts are uncovered.

"From the beginning of an incident until the end, you have to be open to hearing new information," he said.

"The bottom line is to 'do right and be fair.' You may be criticized, but that's how you have to do it,'" Strong said.




Bob Maginnis is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Mail. Join him for an online chat with State's Attorney Charles Strong Jr. on Tuesday, July 25 at 1 p.m. at www.herald-mail.com.

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