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Freshour, Martin get in jabs at forum
SoVaNow.com / October 31, 2013A standing room-only crowd turned out Tuesday night for a spirited, frequently pointed forum of candidates that featured the contest for Commonwealth’s Attorney as its main event.
Tracey Quackenbush Martin and Michael Freshour stated their credentials for the position of chief county law enforcement officer while jabbing each other over questions of experience and performance as criminal justice lawyers, and for the actions of their respective campaigns.
The Quackenbush-Martin forum was preceded by questions from moderator Nick Long of WHLF for South Boston Town Council candidate Margaret Coleman and Mayor Ed Owen, seeking a full term. A second Council contender, Jim Debiec, did not show for the forum.
The event, the last of four candidate forums sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and local Farm Bureau, was held at the South Boston/Halifax County Museum.
It was the contest between the two candidates for Commonwealth’s Attorney that drew the night’s sharpest exchanges. Freshour hammered home his claim that his rival lacks any prosecutorial experience, while Martin countered by citing the support for her candidacy from law enforcement professionals and former five former prosecutors who worked under Freshour when he served as deputy under former Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim White. The five have since departed for other positions.
Taking her turn on the offensive, Martin criticized her rival for allowing what she described as a disproportionate number of plea agreements while shying away from jury trials. She also said Freshour has allowed too many continuances in criminal cases, tying up law enforcement resources and contributing to a sense of “justice delayed is justice denied.”
Freshour pushed back against the criticism.
“My team of prosecutors and I have worked really hard, otherwise prosecutions wouldn’t be up by 43 percent, the number of defendants prosecuted wouldn’t be up by 53 percent. Plea agreements wouldn’t be down, and we wouldn’t have had more trials.
“No one, since I’ve been Commonwealth’s Attorney … has ever been denied justice,” he said.
“There is no continunce problem,” he added at another point. “My attorneys and I only agree to continuances when there is good cause.” He added continuances must be approved by the judge presiding over a case.
Martin, however, cited statistics from the Supreme Court of Virginia that suggest otherwise. The Court has found that 40 percent of cases in Halifax County took more than 12 months to resolve, in contrast to rates in the single digits in neighboring counties.
“If we have no continuance problem, why is it that of the eight counties in the entire 10th [Judicial] Circuit, 60 percent of the cases that took fmore than 12 months to get there are from Halifax County?” she said.
On the matter of her experience, Martin said she has participated in thousands of criminal cases and has been “involved to 12 to 15 jury trials in my career.” She also touted her success in private practice.
Freshour noted he has been with the CA’s office for ten years, learning from actual experience. He has headed the office for the past 14 months after former prosecutor Kim White was named to a judgeship. He noted that after setting his career path, he has achieved his goal to serve as the county’s chief law enforcement officer and sees no need for changes in the office.
Freshour suggested that Quackenbush might well see election to the CA’s office as “a stepping stone” in her career goal of securing a judgeship.
Quackenbush responded that was not true, that while she had been pleased to have been previously considered by members of the General Assembly for a judgeship, she had made her decision “to serve my community in the best way I can as a criminal prosecutor. This will not be a stepping stone,” she said.
Quackenbush said there is a real need for a fundamental change in the Commonwealth’s Attorney office, saying that prompt justice is necessary to maintain faith among the public in the criminal justice. Freshour countered that Martin’s private practice is centered around traffic and domestic cases. “I have the credentials as a prosecutor even though both of us have experience as a trial attorney.”
“If you have experience as a full-time prosecutor, I have to wonder why we don’t have more jury trials,” Martin shot back
Freshour was asked by forum moderator Long about a campaign misstep — the sale of raffle tickets as a fundraiser, a practice prohibited by state law. He quickly responded, “I made a mistake,” adding that he realized the mistake before it was made public knowledge by a television report.
“I talked with the State Board of Elections, told them what had happened and they told me what to do.” The money, he said, was given back and the State Board of Elections has cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Quackenbush responded that it is not the State Board of Elections that handles raffle violations, but rather the State Department of Gaming that oversees such matters. She pointed to a brochure, which enumerates the rules for election procedures, saying “as we all know, ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
Freshour retorted, “Let’s stick to who can be the most effective. Let’s stick to the issues.”
In closing arguments Freshour emphasized he is “dedicated and committed” to the work of his office and is working for harsher sentences. He said his ten years of experience in the office are in stark contrast to that of his opponent, noting that “my secretaries in the office have more experience than she has.”
Quackenbush closed by asking “Are we satisfied?” with the current operation of the CA’s office over which her opponent is the supervisor. “He is not an effective manager according to the five prosecutors who worked in the office and who now are supporting me,” she said.
As Long put for the final question to Freshour and Quackenbush, one spectator groaned, “Thank goodness, it’s about over.”
Earlier in the forum, Long had questioned hopeful South Boston Town Council member and Mayor Ed Owens about their plans for election. Coleman, along with Jim Debiec, is seeking to fill the seat now held by interim Council member Morris Bryant who was selected to fill the seat vacated by the relocation of Connie Manning.
Coleman,who is a native of South Boston and now a special education teacher in the local school system, introduced herself as having worked for seven years with the Community Action Agency, now the Tri-County Community Action Agency, before moving to New York. She and her husband moved back here where he is the minister at First Baptist Church of Ferry Street. She is also an ordained minister. She said she felt it necessary for one to offer oneself in finding ways to expand efforts to grow the local economy.
“We’re the leaders in attracting businesses and must hold those businesses accountable for reinvesting in our community,” Coleman said, noting that she applauds the town’s revitalization efforts.
Debiec, in a written statement read by Long, said he had come to the community in 1990 as part of the construction team building the Clover Power Plant. He was employed by Old Dominion Electric Company (ODEC) for 22 years. He wrote that he had felt very welcomed into the community and now sees an opportunity to work with the Town of South Boston for continued growth.
Owens said he had been serving on Town Council for 15 years before becoming interim mayor back in February 2013 following the death of Mayor Carroll Thackston. He said he and Council have worked hard to bring progress to the town and eliminate the duplication of services by working with the Halifax County Service Authority and the county of Halifax.
In response to a question about what he will be looking for in a new town manager, Owens had the highest praise for current manager Ted Daniel. He said he would be looking for many of the same qualities that Daniel has offered to the town — a keen sense of finance, zoning and state regulations.
The Mayor said town residents want trash pickup and fire and police protection, and he and Council have worked hard to keep the town safe and to see citizen requests addressed.
He also pointed out that they have managed to keep taxes low with the meals tax, which is primarily a user fee, bringing in more revenue than real state or personal property taxes.
Coleman agreed that while people want services they don’t want tax increases. She said she hopes to continue the good work done by Council and to show her passion for her birth place in South Boston.
CommentsSeems like martian would have a conflict on interest with her husband being a capt at the sheriff's office. I think we all need to vote for Freshour. I can see Tracy going to be a judge in a few years. No one had more plea deals then kim white. Look at whose yards tracey's signs are in, looks like alot of people who lean toward the liberal democratic party, even though she is running as an independent. I can't see her helping the county any. Vote for MIke!
- By allpolitical2 on 10 / 31 / 13
CommentsI do not want to bet on someone with no experience and hope she does a good job. Mr. Freshour has earned my vote.
- By R Duke on 10 / 31 / 13
CommentsThis Freshour does not know even how to stay out of trouble while in the race for CA. Tracy is smarter, tougher, and a much better lawyer. For him to think that she may use the job for a stepping stone.....what did his former boss do??? Tracy has been urged to run by many law enforcement officers and they know how bad the CA's office is. Tracy is a organized family orientated lady and will be a great CA. Freshour is the usual bureaucrat. I am impressed she ran independent, politics in the CA's office is not needed any more. If Halifax lets this opportunity slip by it will just be another nail in its coffin. If Halifax is smart it will elect Martin.
- By Vote Martin on 10 / 31 / 13
CommentsWow that previous comment is so negative I'll bet Tracy wrote it.
- By R Duke on 11 / 01 / 13
CommentsSounds like tracy wrote it. We don't need a CA that is in bed with the cops. We want one that is independent of the cops. Just because a cop says you did something does not make it so. I got his mailer and many people trust him. As I said in my previous post just look at some of the yards that have her sign in it. Vote for MIKE!
- By allpolitical2 on 11 / 01 / 13
CommentsFreshour signs are in drug dealers yards? What would that say about the CA? Freshour doesn't have the support of cops, citizens of all races. It looks kind of one sided with the support of him. Ms.
Martin is a great attorney who has broad based support from all area's of the county. Time for the "good old boys," to pack up and get out. It's time for a change for the better. I'm voting for Quackenbush along with all of my friends so Freshour, pack up and get out!!!!
- By HC on 11 / 01 / 13
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