Wake County District Attorney Watch: Jefferson Griffin

GOPJefferson Griffin, an assistant district attorney, has also filed the necessary paperwork to launch a campaign. His website is at www.jeffersongriffin.com. Jefferson is running as a Republican and the rumor is that he has the support of at least one prominent North Carolina judicial figure. There may be more.

Jefferson is a graduate of North Carolina Central School of Law, and the University of North Carolina as an undergraduate. He’s from Nash County, and is a felony prosecutor in the office. At thirty-three, Griffin is a year older that fellow assistant district attorney Benjamin Zellinger, a Democrat who is also running for District Attorney.

A Republican – even a younger Republican – can make an effective run this year, but provided he’s able to raise the money. While Democrats have a 10 point registration edge in Wake County (40 percent of registered voters are Democrats, 29.9 percent are Republicans, and 30 percent are unaffiliated), an effective Republican campaign for District Attorney can win in what promises to be a year favoring the Republican Party (for reasons related to off-year presidential cycles where President Obama’s party will suffer.)

In addition, the Democrats’ edge in registration numbers is misleading. First, Republican George Holding won the open seat that Brad Miller vacated in 2012. And Richard Burr won in the county against Elaine Marshall. Second, the mean Democrat tends to be more moderate (and therefore, more willing to cross over and vote Republican) than the mean Republican in North Carolina. Third, Republicans ended straight-ticket voting which paradoxically helped the Democrats (in spite of their willingness to cross party lines).

Fourth, “unaffiliated” voters in North Carolina are, on average, Republican voters in general elections, and even more so in a year disfavoring the party in the White House.

Lorrin Freeman would have some advantages of a name, strong party support, and the fact that she’s a woman (which will give her a boost, even among female Republican voters). But an effective campaign even by someone 10 years her junior would probably result in a Republican District Attorney.

What would really help Jefferson would be the support of the elected Sheriff of the county, Donnie Harrison, who is popular in the areas strongest for the Republicans – the suburbs.

Campaign Filings

So far, I could only find two filings for Jefferson Griffin. They simply establish his fundraising committee, with his treasurer designated as Raymond Tarlton and the assistant treasurer designated as Noah Abrams. Tarlton, a registered Democrat, is a former assistant district attorney who, after a stint as an assistant federal public defender, recently opened his own criminal defense firm in Raleigh. The assistant treasurer is Noah Abrams, also a Democrat and an associate at what appears to be a family personal injury firm in Raleigh of Abrams & Abrams. Tarlton graduated from Campbell Law School in 2008. Abrams graduated from the University of Georgia Law School in 2008.

It is not unheard of for consultants or treasurers to be from a different party than the candidate, and certainly relatively young people can certain run effective campaigns (especially ones using social media: see Obama, Barack, 2008). However, much of the enthusiasm on the right that is important in a primary in an off-year election either requires party backing, or effective use of the Tea Party/Art Pope political machine. Do Democratic campaign volunteers have those connections? The question will be whether any other candidates, ones not yet on the radar screen from either the civil bar or the political world, will see a Republican year as an opportunity to launch a political career in elective office. From Wake County District Attorney to Attorney General to Governor.

What would be some good criminal law issues?

It’s hard to run to the right of Colon Willoughby on crime issues. It’s not as if violent criminals or DWI offenders are coddled in Wake County. This is among the toughest counties in the State, and Wake County juries tend not to like DWIs so convictions are common even on weak factual scenarios for the state. In addition, if you’re coming out of Colon Willoughby’s office, it’s tough to on the one hand run on a campaign with themes that implicitly characterize the office as soft on crime or insufficiently aggressive, and at the same time not be seen has criticizing your boss and mentor.

If I were running, I would emphasize focused DWI prosecution that emphasizes penalties for impaired drivers who cause serious bodily injury or death. It would be a campaign issue that would likely win favor, a would touch on recent high profile cases involving impaired drivers whose impairment resulted in in tragic consequences. Voters don’t like DWIs (until they are charged with them, in which case they of course want to have their DWI dismissed). But people especially don’t like DWIs that result in death or serious bodily injury. A quick glance at WRAL’s comment section is a glimpse into the special loathing for such offenders.

A second campaign theme would be better cooperation among law enforcement and prosecutors. In North Carolina, even in the case of felonies, law enforcement sometimes charges the felony without consulting with an Assistant District Attorney, sometimes leading to confusing and inefficient prosecution. I’ve heard from some law enforcement folks who wish they had better guidance when it comes to charging decision. Better cooperation is an amorphous theme, but it emphasizes bread and butter Republican theme of law and order. It’s not terribly critical of the current District Attorney. This theme could include better cooperation with the Republican Sheriff of the county, Donnie Harrison.

Third, guns. What’s not to like about guns? Jefferson Griffin is a hunter. North Carolina is full of hunters. Even in Wake County, which is citified, guns are precious. Law enforcement and prosecutors can bring guns into the courthouse, but not private defense counsel. (I feel naked when I have to walk to court. What about private defense counsel? Shouldn’t we get to bring our concealed weapons in there as well? One can only wish…)

A pro-Second Amendment theme, coupled with a “no guns for felons” emphasis, does two things: hits a Republican hot topic, while emphasizing a law and order bent.

Three themes are enough, but a fourth might be efficiency. Right now prosecutions can take years in Wake County. This can be a problem not just for defendants, but importantly for victims. Republicans like efficiency: it suggests we’re saving time and money and running this whole thing like a well-oiled business. Offering to improve courthouse efficiency with some vague gesture at technology improvements would be a good conservative theme.

Finally, a Republican is in a unique position of being able to work with a Republican legislature and governor to accomplish various legislative goals that would be important. Conservatives don’t like spending more money, unless it’s for law and order. So I’d suggest: how about improving funding (and pay) for assistant district attorneys. ADAs are woefully underpaid.

UPDATE: Jefferson Griffin has launched his website, and has a platform that tracks some of the issues I wrote about last week. Pro-Second Amendment, limited government, better cooperation with law enforcement.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.