The two men who seek to become the next attorney general for the 10th District met head to head at the Judicial Forum at the Bradley County Courthouse Thursday night.
Steve Crump and Stephen Hatchett are both running in the Republican primary for the position and without any Democratic candidate in the race, the primary winner will replace retiring District Attorney General Steve Bebb.
Their session in the courtroom of public opinion opened by being asked what they felt were the most significant issues and the reason they were running.
Crump said he is running because he was not satisfied with prosecutions “as they are taking place now.”
“I’m not satisfied with the way criminal defendants are dealt with and I’m not satisfied with the level of service that the people of this district have received,” he said.
Crump said over the last 12 years he had seen the system “from all different angles,” having sat as a judge and served on both sides of counsel.
“In the 21 years I’ve practiced law, we’re still doing things the same way we did when I first started,” he said.
Crump said there needs to be consistency in prosecution and its results.
He also cited the problems with methamphetamine and prescription drugs and the crimes that are often associated with those situations.
“I believe it’s time we did things differently,” Crump said.
Hatchett said he was running for the office “because it’s what I know how to do.”
“I went to school and studied crime. I went to law school and studied to be a prosecutor. This is what I know,” Hatchett said.
He said the major issues will come because of the growth of the area.
“With growth comes increased crime,” Hatchett said. “Facing those problems requires professionals that understand the issues, understand crime, understand criminals and know how to fight it and deal with it and face it and stand up to it.”
He said within the next decade Bradley County would face “some of the most severe issues within this district when it comes to crime,” including drugs.
“As you get bigger, you’re going to increase crime, and need a district attorney that can face it,” Hatchett said.
Hatchett said the thing that differentiates the two candidates is his educational background in criminology.
“I originally planned on becoming a career prosecutor,” he said. “I don’t care anything about running for office, but the bottom line is I didn’t feel like Steve (Crump) was the best man for the job. The biggest difference is I went to school and I studied crime.”
Crump emphasized his experience in practicing law for 21 years.
“That’s three times more than my opponent. I’m not saying that disqualifies him, but it is a factor,” Crump said.
He said he had tried every kind of case and “looked into the jury’s face and asked them to put somebody to death and they did it.”
“From an experience standpoint, we are significantly different,” Crump said. “It’s more of the same or we do things differently. Neither of us is necessarily wrong, it’s just we disagree. I think it’s time for something different.”
Hatchett responded saying he could not deny the length of Crump’s experience as an attorney.
“There is also no denying the difference in our approach,” he said. “I would ask anybody in Bradley County to ask any law enforcement officer what kind of prosecutor I was and what kind of prosecutor [Crump] was and I’ll stand on their decision.”
On the question of whether there are too many plea bargains, Hatchett said those negotiations are “how the system works.”
“However, there are cases where someone’s feet need to be held to the fire — if they’re not willing to plead guilty and accept the sentence, there needs to be a jury trial,” he said. “If someone needs to go to prison and they don’t want to plead guilty, then they need to be tried.”
Crump said there needed to be a tone set in plea negotiations “to make them feel uncomfortable.”
“If you pick up the paper and you look at plea after plea where it’s a suspended sentence with no jail time for all kinds of things, that’s not going to set the correct tone,” Crump said. “There are very few trials in our district. There must be more because people have to understand there will be accountability.”
Crump said the problem of repeat offenders stems from the tone of the prosecution.
“It used to be the first time you committed burglary in this district, you got 90 days in jail regardless if it was your first offense or not. That’s long gone,” Crump said.
“We have to set the tone at the first offense,” he continued.
Hatchett said conversations with law enforcement can help with the repeat offender problem.
“They know who the problem people are,” he said. “The D.A. has to talk to law enforcement and find out who these problem people are.
Both candidates said there was no need to have the district attorney’s office funding augmented by local funds.