MAYODAN — Usually, it’s tough to find Rockingham County District Attorney Belinda Foster and her opponent in this November’s election, Phil Berger Jr., in the same room, much less seated shoulder to shoulder at the same table.
But on Thursday the two exchanged attacks that have already become typical — even only two weeks into the traditional campaign season — while seated side by side at WLOE/WMYN, an AM talk, news and Christian programming radio station that covers Rockingham and part of Stokes County.
The program was a “meet the candidates” forum on the daily “Community Accents,” hosted Thursday by Joy Toms, chairwoman of the Eden Main Street Committee.
Foster, who has been district attorney since 1993, stuck to her campaign theme, “experience matters,” and said Berger, who has been an attorney in private practice for seven years, would be “the only DA where the police will know more than he does.”
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Berger, in turn, attacked Foster for making what he considered to be too many plea agreements, and in so doing, giving “too many gifts to criminals in the form of plea deals.”
Berger, who is the son of state Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said only four other jurisdictions plead down more cases than Rockingham County.
“Criminals know that and they’ll take the slap on the wrist offered by this district attorney as opposed to facing a Rockingham County jury,” Berger said.
Foster and Berger each found fault with the statistics the other used to support points. Berger said Foster’s claim of a 98 percent conviction rate was “impossible, inaccurate and misleading,” while Foster said that Berger was misappropriating work load statistics compiled by the Administrative Office of the Court.
Foster said Berger abused that data because the statistics in the work load tables were not intended to be used as measures of efficiency or productivity.
“He throws out statistics as a bright line, while no prosecutor can run an office and make decisions if he must first calculate how it will affect the numbers,” Foster said.
“What I have observed over the years is that people without any talent for art paint by the numbers.”
Berger also confronted Foster on her relationship with law enforcement agencies.
He has proposed a ride-along program for the district attorney’s office, which he says would improve the relationship between the district attorney’s office and police departments.
Foster defended her relationship with police, the Division of Social Services and other agencies as one that is professional and objective, as it needs to be, she said, since decisions from many agencies can end up appealed to her office.
Foster said that by riding along with police, a district attorney could become a witness to a crime and not be able to participate in the trial.
But Berger said that, in her objection to ride-alongs, Foster “trashed a program that is in place in 37 out of 42 districts in North Carolina.”
Thursday’s radio show was the first event at which Foster and Berger directly confronted each other’s positions. Berger said that no others are scheduled.
Toms, the host, said that she didn’t have any difficulty getting the candidates to agree to the forum. “ I just called and asked and they were willing,” she said.
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