Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Richard Mallard is touting his 12 years’ experience as DA in his bid for re-election, while challenger Martha Kirkland Hall believes her range of experience in the courtroom should earn her the position.
At last week’s candidate forum hosted by the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce, Mallard pointed out that “25 of the 31 years of my legal career have been spent in public service as a prosecutor.”
Mallard has been the district attorney in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, which serves Effingham, Bulloch, Jenkins and Screven counties, since 2002. Prior to that, he was the circuit’s chief assistant DA.
“I have been around prosecution since 1982, and this office provides a high level of effective service to the citizens and victims of crime,” Mallard said. “My office has been very successful in some high-profile murder cases that have occurred, including many of the child murders that recently occurred in Effingham County, along with some severe child abuse cases that resulted in life-without-parole sentences.”
Hall has been a lawyer for 18 years, beginning in Effingham County in 1994 as an assistant district attorney. She went into private practice in Statesboro in 2000, but said she “knew that (she) would be back in Effingham County from the time that (she) took the job.”
She accomplished that five years later, opening Hall and Kirkland on Highway 21 in Springfield. Hall said her experience in private practice, combined with her prior time on the other side of the courtroom, has prepared her well for the duties as district attorney.
“I have tried cases from both sides of the coin,” Hall said. “I tried any number of cases as a felony prosecutor. In private practice, I have worked primarily in family law and child custody issues, as well as criminal defense, so I think I bring a very balanced approach to the job. I know what’s coming.”
Hall said she decided to run for the position after being approached by members of the law enforcement community “who want an improved relationship with the district attorney’s office.”
“I pledge to you and to them that I will be accessible, I will be available, I will be here,” Hall said. “Effingham County actually pays approximately 32 percent of the approximately $1 million budget given to the district attorney’s office, and I believe that the district attorney needs to have set office hours in this county so you can get to the person that is serving you, on a regular basis.”
However, Mallard pointed out that, as the four-county circuit has grown to a population of about 140,000 people, the district attorney’s office has grown with it. The DA’s office now has 22 full-time employees, including 10 attorneys and thee investigators.
Mallard maintains an office in Effingham County’s historic courthouse, staffed by two full-time attorneys and a full-time investigator. A juvenile prosecutor and a drug prosecutor also assist the office.
“I have expanded the Effingham County office as much as space and budgets will allow,” Mallard said. “I have always tried to hire people in Effingham County who have ties to the county, who have a personal stake in the county. I encourage them to be part of the community where they serve.”
More so than just the number of employees is the experience they bring, Mallard said. He said he has “prosecuted all types of cases — from DUIs and shopliftings to murders and child molestations,” enabling him to “provide effective leadership to the nine assistant district attorneys and the office staff.
“We have been able to retain many of the assistant district attorneys; we have very little turnover, unlike some of the neighboring circuits,” Mallard added. “I don’t think it serves the people well to be constantly training people and having turnover. We have retained many years’ experience in the office.”
Hall made it clear she “advocate(s) tough punishment for career criminals and anyone who commits a violent crime,” but she also wants to look at each situation on a case-by-case basis to avoid “cooker-cutter justice.” She said jail time might not be necessary for individuals who “have good family support and they can get the help they need through rehabilitation.”
She also pledged to establish a special unit devoted strictly to crimes against children. Hall said she has seen the success district attorney’s offices in other counties have seen with attorneys trained specifically for prosecuting child crimes.
“We cannot afford to let any of those cases to go by the wayside with acquittals,” she said. “We need the special training. Those cases are difficult in the best of situations, and I pledge to do that. I think it’s absolutely necessary.”
In his closing, Mallard said, “I would ask you to look at my qualifications, my experience and character, and I hope that you agree that I have earned the opportunity to continue serving as your district attorney.”
Hall concluded her remarks by stating, “I want to work for the county. Being a business owner and a property owner here, it is vitally important to me that we are safe. I believe law enforcement here does a good job; what they need is support. I want to give it to them.”