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Crime control is ‘team effort’

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

(Editor’s Note: The following begins a series of articles about the Martinsville commonwealth’s attorney race in the Nov. 5 election. Further interviews with the candidates will be published in upcoming editions.)

Reducing crime locally is an effort involving more than one person, the two Martinsville commonwealth’s attorney candidates in the Nov. 5 election say.

Statistics released earlier this year by former city police chief Mike Rogers revealed Martinsville’s crime rates in 2012 were among the lowest the city has seen in about three decades. Incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar has promoted that lack of crime in her campaign advertising.

Ziglar and her challenger, Clay Gravely, discussed the commonwealth’s attorney’s role in the community and, specifically, in reducing crime.

Gravely said the commonwealth’s attorney is “the chief law enforcement official in the city of Martinsville.”

“But it’s hard to apply a direct line” between a low crime rate and the work done just by a commonwealth’s attorney, said Gravely, who was an assistant commonwealth’s attorney under Ziglar from June 2008 until January 2010 when he opened his own law practice in Martinsville.

“I do not believe any one person can take full credit or blame” for either low or high crime rates, Gravely said, adding that reductions in crime rates are “a team effort” of the commonwealth’s attorney, police and judges.

Ziglar said she agrees. Yet the commonwealth’s attorney and police officers ultimately are responsible for enforcing laws, she said, whereas judges — who are supposed to be impartial — are responsible for ensuring trials are fair.

From a prosecutor’s perspective, Ziglar said that “if you prosecute the crimes brought before you, it should have a deterrent effect” on crime overall.

Ziglar noted that she often seeks the maximum penalties for offenders.

“When you seek the maximum penalty,” she said, “it sends the message to the community that you are willing to take a stand” and do what it takes to make the community safer.

Ziglar said the “first and foremost” role of a commonwealth’s attorney is to do everything possible to ensure the community’s safety as cases are being prosecuted, all the while “making sure the process is fair.”

According to Gravely, commonwealth’s attorneys must prosecute criminals effectively, but they also must ensure that justice is served, whether or not the defendants end up being prosecuted.

“Every case is different,” Gravely said. Facts must be examined, he added, and laws must be equally applied to all parties involved “with an eye toward achieving justice.”

Ziglar, 52, has been Martinsville commonwealth’s attorney since 1998. She is seeking her fifth four-year term.

She has a law degree from The College of William and Mary Law School, a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and a bachelor’s degree from Ferrum College.

Gravely, 35, has a law degree from the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia. He has worked for law firms in both Martinsville and Richmond.

He also has been a law clerk for Judge Jackson L. Kiser of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.


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