Is our District Attorney’s Office tough enough on crime?
As you might expect, District Attorney General Lisa Zavogiannis and challenger Chris Stanford offered differing views on that subject when they met Monday night for a political forum conducted by the Southern Standard and WCPI.
“Our community wants a tough-on-crime approach,” said Stanford. “We do not want a soft-on-crime approach that my predecessor has unfortunately taken.”
Zavogiannis says that is not the case.
“We’ve taken a lot of our hard-core criminals out of our community,” said Zavogiannis. “We’ve secured numerous lengthy convictions for the worst of the worst. We got 153 years in April of 2016, and a 212-year prison sentence in June 2018 for two child rapists. That’s two of the longest sentences ever handed down in the 31st Judicial District’s history. We’ve taken many drug dealers off the street and sent them to prison. We have successfully prosecuted thousands of drug cases.”
Stanford says there are plenty of instances where serious offenders have been given short jail sentences and he doesn’t agree with that philosophy.
“Generally speaking, if you have a drug dealer and he’s carrying around a pound of meth and running from the cops, he should not get a six-month sentence in the county jail. He should not get a one-year sentence in the county jail,” said Stanford. “He should be sent to state prison. And if we can help federal authorities make a federal case against that defendant for drug conspiracy, maybe they need to go to federal prison. There are varying levels of cases here and that’s why it’s so important to evaluate these cases individually, one on one and that takes time and I’m dedicated to that.”
Zavogiannis says she supports coming down hard on serious criminals, but it must be done within the confines of the law.
“We have sentencing guidelines and Mr. Stanford wants to talk about how he’s going to do all these harsh sentences, well he’s going to have to follow the law and that’s what we do,” said Zavogiannis. “The sentencing guidelines set where you can do that sentencing. I do believe and I know for a fact we have sent some hardcore drug dealers to prison. Lots of them.”
enters the discussion
With Stanford saying Zavogiannis is not tough enough on crime, she countered by saying he doesn’t have enough courtroom experience and pointed to her 16 years as District Attorney.
“I have asked around. I have asked my staff. I have asked others in the legal community,” said Zavogiannis. “Can anyone tell me if my opponent has actually done a jury trial in this district? I haven’t been able to find one yet. As a matter of fact, I’ve asked around to other districts because he’s always touting what an amazing trial attorney he is. The cases he has tried have been very few and they have been relatively minor misdemeanors and they’ve been in another district. My opponent likes to say he is going to reinstate law and order. He’s too late. We did that 16 years ago.”
Stanford said Zavogiannis and her 16 years of experience give voters of the 31st Judicial District a clear idea of what to expect should Zavogiannis be reelected to a third term. He pointed to her history in office after she was reelected eight years ago to say she’s not doing enough.
“In 2014, she was re-elected to her second eight-year term as a Democrat,” said Stanford. “Her office of eight trial lawyers tried six total jury trials that year. They had three acquittals and three convictions. That means they’re batting .500 in the prosecutor’s office the first year she was re-elected. The second year she was re-elected, there were six acquittals and two convictions on a total of eight jury trials for eight lawyers in that office. Of course, one of those lawyers is a child support attorney so to be fair seven lawyers try the criminal side of things.”
Stanford continued, “In the 2016-17 fiscal year, the third year after my opponent was reelected, she tried six jury trials in her office with three acquittals and three convictions. That’s going to change with me. There are going to be a tremendous number of jury trials. Of course I’m going to have to get my feet under me my first year in and it will be a little bit of a learning process before we start trying jury trials at a break-neck pace, but I can assure you that as soon as we’re ready to go, these jury trials will be tried.”
Just as important as sentencing hardened criminals to lengthy sentences, Zavogiannis said, is providing support for those who may be experiencing legal trouble due to a drug or alcohol addiction.
“We work just as hard getting folks into Drug Court so they can have a chance at a drug-free life,” said Zavogiannis. “We focus on putting our young people on a path away from drugs and toward success. In this battle against drugs, our schools are most important of all. Common sense will tell you if you keep kids in school, you keep them protected, fed and out of trouble. We have been active in our schools for many years putting on anti-drug programs, teen pregnancy awareness programs and programs to encourage kids to stay in school.”
Stanford says he understands the importance of rehabilitation programs. He says he has gained valuable experience as a successful trial lawyer for 15 years, handling cases all over Tennessee and in federal court. Stanford says he’s tried over 100 trials, jury and bench trials, in state and federal courts.
“I’ve been misquoted throughout this campaign,” said Stanford. “People have claimed that I just want to put people in prison. That’s not realistic and that’s not true. I have not said those things. What I will tell you is we have a lot of excellent programs like Drug Court. I think that program needs to be expanded in certain respects and we need to seek additional grant funding for that program and I think we need to find ways to creatively sentence people and we need to evaluate each case with the seriousness and fairness it deserves. Each case deserves to be analyzed.”