LARRY CHISOLM spent 19 years as an Assistant District Attorney under current DA Spencer Lawton before leaving first for private practice, and then for his current position as counsel for Savannah State University. The Savannah native is a Duke University graduate.
What prompted you to seek a return to the DA's office after your time at Savannah State?
Larry Chisolm: Several things. When I came here I had to undergo what's called Six Sigma training, an efficiency and customer service training program that's sort of similar to Total Quality Management. I had to be certified in Six Sigma, which gave me an opportunity to take a second look at the DA's office from the standpoint of efficiency and customer service.
Secondly, I’ve always been interested in helping to try to find solutions to some of our crime issues here. I think that violent crime is an extreme problem here, even though we’re doing better in terms of the rates of violent crime. I still think it’s a big problem, particularly in certain communities and as it pertains to chilling our tourist industry. I think we do have somewhat of a national reputation for having violence and crime issues in our tourist areas.
I really want to be involved in bringing various elements and groups in the community together like we did back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when we had an extreme problem. The DA’s position is a tremendous platform to try to bring those people together and provide input in making those changes.
Has the very slow pace of the current DA’s office been overstated, or has that also been your experience?
Larry Chisolm: That’s been my experience. I think the DA’s office shares a percentage of responsibility there, but I think it’s a systemwide problem, only because of the large volume of cases that we have going through the system down at the courthouse.
I think what would be helpful is if the DA’s office could do a better job of screening up front, and trying to force cases to disposition earlier on. To me it’s a clear situation of watching the warrants and measuring the speed with which the warrants are getting through the office and looking for the bottlenecks. And when there are bottlenecks, bringing resources to bear on the areas where the bottlenecks exist as opposed to watching employees struggle.
I think the slowness comes in the cases where the defendants are not in jail, because those cases don’t get as high a priority. I think the DA’s office does need to move those cases along faster and to screen them more appropriately and not to be as zealous in terms of holding on to a case just because it’s been bound over from Recorders Court or because the police say so.
An opponent wants to start a separate office to handle misdemeanors. What’s your take on that?
Larry Chisolm: We’re moving almost 7,000 cases. When I look at the DA’s budget only about $600,000 or less is devoted to the state court function and the misdemeanor function. That means we’re doing it pretty efficiently in terms of the cost. In order to go to a Solicitor General’s office you’re talking about a whole new level of bureaucracy with the salaries and costs associated with that.
The Juvenile Court, the Recorders Court, and the Magistrates Court are the primary ports of entry into the criminal justice system. So if we want to look to find solutions to stop crime from developing and moving into the adult felony system, then we need to direct resources to those ports of entry.
If the DA abrogates his authority over the misdemeanor function, then he doesn’t have the opportunity to put structures or programs in place on the misdemeanor level.
Another candidate wonders how you can beat Republican David Lock in the fall if you always worked under Lock.
Larry Chisolm: I don’t see the relationship between having worked for David Lock and whether or not you can beat him based on whether you worked for him. The critical issue in the case of myself and Jerry (Rothschild) is we didn’t have management authority in the DA’s office. So any of the policies put into place in the time we worked there, those aren’t our policies. Those are Spencer’s and David’s. Experience matters when you’re talking about putting someone at the head of the DA’s office. You have 35 to 36 lawyers in the office who need to respect the person who’s in leadership there, and that person needs to have something to offer to those people.