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Merrell: I’ll make tough choices

Walt Merrell is seeking election to the office of district attorney as a Republican. He is a former assistant district attorney and currently is in private practice.

It is apparent from arrest reports that there is a drug problem in Covington County. One of the current tools for combating this is Drug Court. Is it an effective and cost efficient tool?

Merrell: Drug Court could be effective, if properly utilized. The existing Drug Court, as administered by the current DA, began in July 2009. To date, there are 11 clients and no graduates. The 2 drug court administrators (DA employees) need more extensive training than they are being offered – they have had little or none. There must also be accountability in the program. The majority of the clients have violated the terms and conditions of Drug Court, with little or no sanction. As DA, I will make accountability a mainstay of the drug court program. A Drug Court without accountability enables the client to continue their wayward behavior. I will provide necessary training to the personnel and expand the Court to encompass more clientele. I will also investigate other programs – Veterans’ Court, DUI Court and Teen Court. Under the current structure, Drug Court cost taxpayers in excess of $50,000 for 11 clients. That is not cost efficient. It must be fixed.

Many members of the law enforcement community have openly supported you. Will they expect or receive special treatment?

Merrell: No, they expect me to do the job at hand, seeking and finding justice – nothing more. Police expect the same from the current DA. I received endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police, the Police Benevolent Association and most of the law enforcement in the county because they know what kind of prosecutor I was and will be – I will put those in prison who ought to be there and will do everything possible to “fix the problem” with addicts. I have promised law enforcement nothing more than to do the job that must be done. They, along with every citizen in the county, deserve the same.

You have criticized your opponent for settling too many drug cases with plea agreements. Given the overcrowding in the prison system, how would you handle this?

Merrell: I called attention to the settling of distribution cases, trafficking cases and meth lab cases, for less than what justice demands. Those crimes are distinguishable from crimes of addiction (i.e., possession of a controlled substance). In 2009, the DA’s Office prosecuted 65 drug dealers for distribution of a controlled substance – 35 (or 54 percent) were put on probation – all by agreement with the DA’s Office! These offenders are predators. They don’t offer their victims second chances; why should the dealer get one? As for prison overcrowding, the people of Covington County should not be punished because the Legislature won’t address the issue. We have not had new prison construction in Alabama in 20 years. Only 2.9 percent of the general fund budget is allocated to prisons. Building prisons creates quality jobs and keeps those predators off our streets! I will send them to prison. The answer to overcrowding is not to make us all prisoners in our own homes by putting serious offenders back into our neighborhoods.

Why are you a better choice for this office than your opponent?

Merrell: The ideal candidate for office should be well rounded. I efficiently and justly prosecuted almost every type of criminal offense, from capital murderers to rambunctious juveniles. I am a municipal court judge, small business owner and a private practice attorney. I know and understand every aspect of the criminal justice system. Bear Bryant was a great coach because he understood every aspect of the game – not just one.

I have unique experience in the field of addiction recovery. Drugs are the plague of our county. I have worked in the field of addiction recovery for seven years. I know and understand the beast that is addiction.

I will make the tough decisions to protect the people of this county. The number of people on probation has nearly doubled under the current DA. Many of these crimes are such that the people who commit them ought to go to prison. I will put them there, regardless of pressure from Montgomery. My duty is to the people of Covington County.