‘Tell the Truth’

Published 8:58 pm Monday, April 21, 2014

Perhaps the majority of those who read this column are old enough to remember the TV game show – “To Tell the Truth.”

It originally aired in 1956, when I was three-years-old, and continued through 2001 with several different hosts. The one I recall the most was Garry Moore (1969-1977).

The show, according to Wikipedia.org, features a panel of four celebrities whose object is the correct identification of a described contestant who has an unusual occupation or experience. This central character is accompanied by two impostors who pretend to be the central character. The celebrity panelists question the three contestants; the impostors are allowed to stretch the truth, but the central character is sworn “to tell the truth”. After questioning, the panel attempts to identify which of the three challengers is telling the truth and is thus the central character.

It seems that similarities can be drawn between the game show and the current race between two women seeking to become the District Attorney of the newly combined Judicial District 6 – which, as of Jan. 1, 2015 will combine the current District 6A (Halifax County) with the current District 6B (Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties).

Currently, Melissa Pelfrey is the 6A District Attorney while Valerie Asbell is the 6B DA. Both are seeking to become the DA of the new combined District.

The campaigning began innocently as both candidates boasted of their personal experience in running a DA’s office. The gloves came off when Mrs. Pelfrey, in an ad published in our newspaper, compared her prosecution numbers against those of Mrs. Asbell.

For the record, Pelfrey cited her District has tried more felony cases than Asbell; that the pending number of those cases has declined in her District, while increasing in 6B; and, for all cases combined in District and Superior Court, she has a 73 percent conviction rate as compared to 56 percent for Asbell.

Asbell counters that the numbers Pelfrey cited are based on what any citizen can openly find at the website operated by the North Carolina Court System (nccourts.org). I checked and that website did list prosecution numbers, by counties throughout the state, from 2010-2013. When I checked the numbers Pelfrey listed on her website, they covered July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2013.

Asbell contends, in her ad which was published in Saturday’s edition, that Pelfrey left out one year of the state report. Ironically, and the numbers don’t lie, in the year omitted (2010), Asbell tried 22 felony cases with only one not guilty verdict, compared to 19 felony trials in 6A with seven of those ending with a not guilty judgment.

Asbell said by using the entire three-year period, her numbers are superior to those of Pelfrey. She has won 83 percent of the Superior Court trials in District 6B, compared to 76 percent for Pelfrey’s District; and that, on average, 6B disposes of 90 cases per term of court compared to 72 per term in 6A.

If one does choose to study the entire picture and not just two-thirds, the numbers do favor Asbell. However, and I feel this is far and above more important, I think honesty and integrity are the cornerstone on which the foundation is laid for a trustworthy public officer.

Additionally, I tend to gravitate towards an individual with more overall experience on the job. In this case, Asbell has spent 13 years as a DA, compared to five for Pelfrey (even though the latter had an ad published, with another media outlet, at the outset of her campaign that said she had been the 6A DA for 15 years….she later retracted that information).

But of all the intangibles in this race for DA, I strongly feel that the person leading the new combined District needs to fully understand the nuances of overseeing a multi-county area.

With no disrespect to the job Mrs. Pelfrey has performed in 6A, we need to realize that hers is a single-county District. For five years she has dealt with one courthouse, one Clerk of Court, one Sheriff and a half-dozen municipal police departments.

In District 6B, Mrs. Asbell handles the state prosecution in three courthouses (one in each county), and deals with three Clerks, three Sheriffs, and 16 municipal police departments.

To Tell the Truth….Valerie Asbell has a proven track record, supported by all the available numbers, and has nearly three times the experience of operating a multi-county District. I think the choice is clear of who should lead Judicial District 6.

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207. This column reflects his personal opinion and should not be considered a political endorsement by Roanoke-Chowan Publications.        

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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