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District attorney candidates Paine, Williams address issues at Columbia County forum
Augusta Chronicle - 10/23/2020
Oct. 22--Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Natalie Paine and Democratic challenger Jared Williams discussed their platforms and ideas at a forum held by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce at the Columbia County Library in Evans on Wednesday night.
Both candidates started their legal careers at the district attorney's office, Paine in 2009 and Williams in 2013. Paine remained a prosecutor with more than 50 trials before replacing now-Superior Court Judge Ashley Wright as district attorney in 2017. Williams left the district attorney's office after two years and about 20 trials to live and work in Spain. After his 2017 return, he began criminal defense work with the Hawk Firm.
Answers below have been condensed for space.
Q: What does a fair and just court system look like to you?
Williams: One where everyone is treated the way they would want to be treated; that the laws apply equally, no matter what you look like, how much money you have in your pocket, or what side of the neighborhood you come from.
Paine: Our office does not look at the color of somebody's skin or where they came from. We are interested in seeking justice for our victims and making sure that the law is applied fairly.
Q: What programs and policies would you like to see as DA to reduce crime and to increase public safety?
Paine: In terms of reducing crime, I think our office has actually done an exemplary job of that ... in terms of programs ... we are constrained by a pandemic financial crisis, but there's nothing that we would be currently doing that I would change.
Williams: Keeping kids in classrooms, not courtrooms ... first-time offenders recidivate at a high rate, they re-offend, and we need to make sure that they don't do that ... Finally, we need to make sure that, from a law and order standpoint, we are doing everything we can to combat violent crime.
Q: What do you think is the most effective way to deal with drug offenders?
Williams: There are two classes ... if you are a drug abuser ... you can't lock up addiction, you have to treat it ... if you are peddling poison to our kids or cooking methamphetamine near our school, we have a different plan for you.
Paine: There's a difference between someone who's got a drug problem and who is just interested in dealing drugs ... those are individuals that need to go to prison ... one of the things Augusta is substantially lacking in is an affordable, long-term residential treatment.
Q: What's your perspective on juvenile crime and its impact on our court system?
Paine: We're doing a good job with juveniles. The biggest issue that I see ... tends to be issues that happen well before they're entering the juvenile court system, such as multiple unexcused absences ... Those are things that we've got to start holding the board of education and DFCS responsible for.
Williams: I don't think that we can punt and put the responsibility on other agencies. We need to talk about what we in the district attorney's office can do better ... we have children that come through that system, and we need to make sure that their first time in there is their last time.
Q: How would you handle a fatal use of force involving law enforcement?
Williams: There's been some narrative that I don't support law enforcement ... I do ... We have to work together ... We need to be transparent, we need to follow the law, we need to take politics out of it, we need to get to the truth of the matter.
Paine: I go to every single scene where there's deadly force used ... If you were to ask anyone in the law enforcement community ... they would unequivocally tell you that, if they were to break the law, then they fully expect me to come after them.
To watch the full video of the district attorney forum, go to the "videos" section of The Augusta Chronicle's Facebook page.
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