WILL CLAIBORNE is a family law litigator in Savannah, mostly handling divorce, child custody, and adoption cases. Before entering private practice, the University of Georgia graduate worked in the offices of U.S. Senator Zell Miller and former Lieutenant Governor Pierre Howard.
As a relative outsider to the prosecutorial world, how would you change the way the DA's office is run?
Will Claiborne: I may have been practicing law for a shorter period, but I'm the only candidate who's worked for both the state and the federal government. I know how government works. Some believe the DA is sort of the case trier-in-chief, that if the case lands on the front page of the Savannah Morning News, the DA tries that case. But it's not unusual in a county our size for the DA to end being the person who manages the office, and who has to run it effectively. It ends up being detrimental if the DA tries to jump in and try all these cases.
A lot of your ideas come from your background in family law.
Will Claiborne: Well, take for example the way we treat domestic violence cases in Chatham County. If a perpetrator gets arrested for beating his wife, he'll be charged with simple battery, a misdemeanor. He bonds out less than 24 hours later, and he'll have an appearance in Recorders Court 2-3 weeks later, then it goes to state court. The next step is for the DA's to office to write up an accusation of charges. It's about, oh, a 15 minute job to copy and paste in the name of the perpetrator, the victim, the date, and the location.
It takes our DA’s office a year and a half. It’s a ridiculous delay. With a crime like family violence it’s a completely inexcusable delay. Those cases hurt the most, because the woman ends up taking the man back. She’ll forgive him and drop the charges, especially if a year and a half goes by and she sees nothing happen.
You have an interesting proposal to create a new office.
Will Claiborne: Chatham County is the largest county in the state that does not have a Solicitor General. That’s an official who prosecutes misdemeanors only. Right now our DA’s office prosecutes every crime. We have six people who work to prosecute misdemeanors. They move 7000 cases a year. That comes down to about five cases a day per lawyer. There are simply not enough resources dedicated to this problem.
Children who grow up in homes with domestic violence, the boys are more likely to become criminals. I mean the stats are off the chart. And the girls are likely to get in abusive relationships when they get older. Both are more liable to end up on drugs and have problems in school.
I would also institute a pretrial intervention program. Here’s what we do now: a 17-year-old kid breaks in three different vehicles. That’s three counts of entering an auto, a felony. The kid has no record, it’s his first felony. What we do now is have him plead guilty under the first offender statute to one count, and he gets two or three years probated, and we dismiss other two charges.
Here’s the problem: that kid’s immediately out on probation. We want him to be productive: Go back to school, get secure employment, join the armed services. But by pleading guilty, while on probation he’s ineligible to do those things. We’ve put stumbling blocks in the way of him doing what we want him to do. We also have limited options against him because we dismissed two charges.
I’m saying we should hold all three charges over his head. Give him the same 2 or 3 years probation, with conditions. That way we’re giving him the same punishment without putting stumbling blocks in front of him and without limiting our options.
What is your style of leadership?
Will Claiborne: My personality is one of working with people collaboratively. We don’t need a DA worried about turf wars and who gets credit. I’m not going to go in there with a big ego and a conviction that I have every answer to every question that’s every been thought of. That’s not what works. What works when we have these big interdisciplinary problems is coordinating with other people to make sure our oars are in the water and moving in the same direction.
It’s not a partisan thing. There’s no Republican or Democratic way to prosecute crime. My general philosophy is if it works, we should do it.