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Mentoring Prosecutors

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Judge Ned Mangum, Wake County District Court

Rule 3.8 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct is titled “Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor.” The comment section of the rule provides the best description of the role of the District Attorney: “a prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. The prosecutor’s duty is to seek justice, not merely to convict.” It goes on to note “the prosecutor represents the sovereign and therefore should use restraint in the discretionary exercise of government power.”

It is common for this power to be delegated to a young lawyer hired as an Assistant District Attorney in their mid-20s with little professional experience. Considering the comments above, ask yourself this question- is there a position in which a person has been entrusted with a more powerful job than that of an Assistant District Attorney? You might answer that a judge has a more powerful role, yet it can be reasonably argued that the power to prosecute is more powerful than the judge’s ability to decide and sentence.

It is important to read section 5.1 of the rules in conjunction with the rule mentioned above. It states “a lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers possesses comparable managerial authority, shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm or the organization has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers  .  . . conform to the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

Simply stated, the District Attorney’s Office must make sure the young assistants follow the rules.

For the last 25 years in Wake County, spanning the terms of three different DA’s, much of that responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of First Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings.

If you have ever been an ADA or an intern in the Wake County District Attorney’s Office, it is likely you have been in Howard’s office talking about how to proceed with a case. In his own way, he works through the issues with a young lawyer, helping that ADA find a just result. Howard also started a formal mentoring program in the District Attorney’s Office almost twenty years ago before these programs were on our collective conscience. He accomplished this formal mentoring while also handling many of the most complicated and well known investigations and trials this county has seen. Recently, this commitment to service was recognized by the North Carolina Bar Association. He was named the 2017 recipient of the Peter S. Gilchrist award for the Most Outstanding Prosecutor in the State.

Our profession is better because of him.

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