Q&A: District Attorney Andrew Womble settles into new job

By on February 27, 2014


Womble was appointed D.A. after Frank Parrish died. (Russ Lay)

When District Attorney Frank Parrish passed away last September, it fell upon Republican Gov. Pat McCrory to appoint a new District Attorney to fill Parrish’s unexpired term.

On Nov. 18, the governor appointed R. Andrew Womble, then District 1 Public Defender.

District 1 encompasses Chowan, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.

We spoke to Womble shortly after the appointment, but he wanted some time to settle into his new position before sitting down for an interview.

Womble is now settled in, we asked the new D.A. a series of questions about his new job.

Explain the role of the District Attorney and the office to our readers:

“The District Attorney’s office is made up of the elected D.A. and also delegates, administrative assistants, paralegals, and assistant district attorneys.

“On a daily basis: we process criminal cases that are brought in criminal court on behalf of the victims or law enforcement officers for the state of North Carolina.

“So the District Attorney’s office on the one hand doesn’t have clients, but it represents the state of North Carolina and serves the state’s interests in the prosecution of various criminal matters.”

What is the specific role of the District Attorney? Are there administrative duties also?

“The District Attorney’s job is to oversee that particular administration of justice.

“I want to be a player manager-because I enjoy going to court, I enjoy the criminal process, I enjoy the criminal justice system.

“I want to be involved in the administration of justice and the hands-on, day-to-day activities of what we do, so I have assigned myself to various district court sessions, and I will go to these daily court sessions and prosecute the calendar of the day.

“The second part is the overseeing of the entire office and making sure people are treated fairly. All cases are treated in the same manner and everyone shares the same vision of how to allocate our limited resources for the vast number of cases that come in.

“There is value statement for our office and we should live that value system and impress upon the people in the office that value system, that our values are honesty, integrity, fairness, dependability and transparency and then make sure every single day when we proscecute cases, when we actually do the job of district attorney, that these values are being exhibited in our work.

“Are we treating people fairly, are we being honest in our assessment of the case, are we being transparent to the public, are we being dependable, are we fighting for the victims in the cases and standing up for the work of the law enforcement officers investigating these cases?”

Has the role of the District Attorney changed over time?

I feel the ultimate role of the D.A. changed with the “Duke Lacrosse” case.

There was a pervasive mindset that the job of the district attorney was to prosecute all cases and to gain convictions. The Duke Lacrosse case sort of changed that in my mind; the role of the district attorney is to seek justice. It means you understand the enormous responsibility when you bring someone to trial, so what you have to do is evaluate cases, investigate cases and seek the result justice demands in that case.”

You came from the Public Defender’s office, which many would see as the polar opposite of prosecuting cases. Does your past role is a public defender affect your approach as a District Attorney?

“Some say it’s the other side of the same coin, but it really is not.

“A criminal defense lawyer has a client and their job is to zealously represent that one person to the best of their ability, within the rules of law and our professional code of conduct.

“The role of the prosecutor is larger than that. It’s systemic versus the individual client, so it’s not just the other side of the coin in the adversarial process.

“I am aware of the human condition, the pitfalls that are associated with the criminal justice system and what the vast majority of the defendants face in their lives and the problems they suffer through.

“I also think it brings an opportunity for me to change the way we move the cases in the system.

“I know the role of the criminal defense attorney intimately.”

“If I can move the evaluation process of the cases up and I can be more efficient, then the D.A.’s office can spend the limited resources we have dedicated to the more serious cases in the system.

“Hopefully we can move cases through the system quicker and reach reasonable resolutions for the victims in those cases while giving credence to the dedication and investigations of the law enforcement officer.

“We can then be able to focus resources on those cases which are egregious — crimes against persons, cases involving weapons, cases that involve special attention and by their nature are already time consuming — and have them ready to present to a jury properly.”

Under your tenure, what would like to see the office become or be known for in the eyes of the public?

“I want our processes to be upheld, be just, fair and equitable and transparent such that this office is not held in any kind of disdain by the public and that they see us in service of the public.”

Womble graduated valedictorian from Plymouth High School in 1990. He contemplated attending an out-of-state college to play football but decided on UNC-Chapel Hill instead.

“My father went there, my mother went there, my uncle went there and so did my grandfather. It’s a family legacy,” he said.

He majored in business and finance and decided to stay at Chapel Hill and pursue an M.B.A. degree.

“But after I took a couple of business law classes, I decided I wanted to go in that direction,” he said. “I took the LSAT test, passed it and was accepted into UNC’s law school.

“At first I thought I’d pursue a dual M.B.A. and law degree, but soon found out law school was enough on its own, so I concentrated on that.”

He graduated from law school in 1996 with honors and went into private practice first in Greenville and then to Raleigh, where he specialized in civil litigation.

In 1998 he came back to Plymouth and opened his own firm with one associate.

His practice took him to court houses in Plymouth’s district (the 2nd Judicial District) as well as the 1st Distirct, and he became familiar with the judges and courthouses of the region where he is now D.A.

In 2004 the 1st District bar associated voted to establish a public defenders office because the vast number of cases filed in the district exceeded the caseload local defense attorneys could handle.

He applied for the position and was appointed the Public Defender by then Senior Resident Superior Court judge Richard Parker in 2004.

Womble served as the first and only District 1 public defender until he was appointed by the governor to the District Attorney’s position last November.

He will stand for election to the office this November as a Republican.

At this writing one Democrat, attorney Kathryn Fagan, has filed to run as a Democrat, and other Democrats are contemplating a run, setting up a potential primary race for that party in May.

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