Griggers, Lankster face off for District Attorney

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 17, 2004

Following are the responses of Barrown Lankster to questions asked by The Demopolis Times. Lankster served as District Attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit from 1993-1999.

What is the most important part of the district attorney’s job?

“The district attorney, I think, has to be a good listener,” Lankster said. “… It is vitally important that individuals who have been victimized, either their property or their person, should be able to come into the district attorney’s office and explain the matters of concern. [They should be able] to lay out the facts of the case to you.”

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That quality, Lankster believes, is most important because a district attorney’s ultimate responsibility is to “respond to that person’s concern.”

“You have to make certain that the individual’s concerns are addressed, and some people have already formed an opinion before they walk in the office…,” he said. “That person’s right may very well not be given air.”

How do you decide between prosecuting a criminal and accepting a plea agreement?

“You have to look at the seriousness of the offense,” Lankster said. “You talk to the victims to see what their feelings are about it, too.”

Maybe more important to Lankster, however, is being realistic about what you can get out of a jury if you decide to take a case to trial.

“Sometimes, you have to look at the evidence. Can you win a conviction with the evidence you have?” he said. “You also look at the defendant and his record.”

Do you represent individual victims or the entire public?

“Your concern is to make sure the victim’s rights are protected,” Lankster said. “But the underlying concern you have is the public. Every case says ‘State of Alabama vs.’ I represent the people.”

In some cases, however, Lankster said there will be times when victims are reluctant to testify.

“You don’t always dismiss the case because you also represent the public,” he said.

An example cited by Lankster would be a child who was assaulted.

“Maybe the parent didn’t want to go forward, but there are ways to shield the child from the public spectacle,” Lankster said. “There are times when you have to take the decision out of the hands [of the victim].”

In cases like that, Lankster believes the public good is more important because the suspect could cause danger to others. In that instance, his ultimate priority is to protect the greater public and not just the victim.”

Describe your relationship with law enforcement. What should it be?

“The district attorney is not the first respondent,” Lankster said. “… [But he has] just as much responsibility to protect and serve. Unless [a district attorney] is qualified and experience, the role of the first responders is not given effect.”

Lankster believes having an open line of communication is vital with members of law enforcement.

“They must have access to you… There are issues that may arise during their line of work,” he said. “You must see to it that they have the tools to do a good job.”

One way Lankster said that can be done is to give officers grants to purchase items of need. During his term in office, Lankster said he gave law enforcement vehicles his office did not need.

“The district attorney is not a police officer,” he said. “His job is to make certain [law enforcement] has access to the district attorney. They should feel they can call you at home, and you have to talk to investigators to get input on cases that are pending.”

Lankster also believes there must be trust formed between the district attorney’s office and law enforcement.

“The individuals they deal with repeatedly, they need to know that the district attorney will understand their concern, and it will be reflected in the disposition of the case.”