By William C. Singleton III
For the Birmingham Times
Mike Anderton, interim Jefferson County District Attorney (DA), was appointed to his current position 11 months ago, and he said he’s not ready to relinquish the job.
Republican Anderton and Democrat Danny Carr are on the ballot in the Tuesday, November 6, general election to determine who will occupy the Jefferson County DA’s seat for the next four years. During the current four-year term, both Anderton and Carr have served as interim DAs. Anderton assumed the seat after Republican Gov. Kay Ivey tabbed him to replace Carr and serve out the remaining term.
“I’ve got more experience doing this job. I’ve got more experience in a leadership role with this office,” Anderton said. “I’m going to do what the law says. When the legislature passes laws, they pass them for a reason. They didn’t pass them and say, ‘If a DA wants to enforce this, he can.’ I’m going to concentrate on what the law says.”
Anderton said he’s not one to give up on offenders.
“One of the things they have to have is hope. When they learn what life has to offer, they have hope that they can support that family,” he said during a forum hosted by Faith in Action Alabama, a multiracial interfaith organization that works toward social change across the state.
“We have to encourage the use of all programs more and more with the department of corrections [and] the board of pardons and paroles, so inmates can begin to assimilate to the outside world while awaiting release.”
That’s why re-entry programs are important, Anderton said.
“We’ve got programs that keep people from going to jail,” he said during the forum. “This is not about throwing people in jail and throwing away the key. This is about taking care of people. If you have a drug problem, we are going to try to get you off dope. If you have an alcohol problem, if you have a mental-health problem, we want to put you in [a program] that will help you.
The focus should be on people who commit violent crimes, Anderton said.
“The violent ones need to go to jail, the people who are shooting up our interstates and shooting up our neighborhoods,” he said. “Folks [in the neighborhoods] are very concerned. When bullets are fired, they have to land somewhere. Somebody has worked their entire life to be able to own a house, and in some neighborhoods they can’t sit on the front porch and have a cup of coffee out of fear of being shot.”
Anderton, who has been with the Jefferson County DA’s office for nearly 35 years, graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech communication and later attended the Samford University Cumberland School of Law. He started his legal career in the Fifth Judicial Circuit in Alexander City as an assistant DA in 1982 and joined the Jefferson County DA’s office in 1984.
During his career as a prosecutor, Anderton has participated in approximately 350 felony and misdemeanor jury trials. He was part of the original 1991 Vertical Prosecution Unit, which was formed to meet the needs of children who were victims of sexual and physical abuse and families of homicide victims. He has served as division chief since 1987.
Anderton said he’s not looking to fill Jefferson County jails with those arrested on simple possession of drugs. He prefers to work with the drug court, but “people have to be held accountable if they violate the criminal law,” he added.
During a recent forum, the candidate also addressed people who can’t afford court fees.
“A lot of times, the courts will impose [payments of] $50 per month, … but there are folks who can’t pay $50 a month,” Anderton said. “But pay something, [show that you’re] trying. I don’t mean you pay $50 this month and then wait 18 months before making the next payment. I’m talking, pay $10 a month, $5 a month, show that you care about fixing things. I’m not going to start running a debtor’s prison. There are people who are less fortunate and can’t handle all of this. This is not a money-making proposition. This is about taking care of people who’ve been hurt and getting the defendant to show some responsibility.”
Anderton has also talked about his goal of reducing recidivism rates for ex-offenders.
“My primary goal is to work with those who have gotten in trouble before, to try to figure out why they have gotten in trouble,” he said. “Is it poverty? Is it lack of education? Is it lack of a job? … Let’s work with those who have recently gotten out of prison or jail, so we can work with them to take care of whatever their needs are. Their needs are just as important. They’re coming out and needing our help.
“What we’ve got to do is make sure they have some hope, make sure they’ve got something in their future they can walk toward with pride and know that when they get there they’ve accomplished something.”
Anderton said, “Recidivism involves those people who have been in the criminal court system, whether they have gone to prison or not. I think part of this is still providing that kind of hope, so that once they leave the criminal court building they know they have services available to them [to help] … reform their lives.”
-This article was updated on 11/01/2018 at 10:09 a.m. to correct that Mike Anderton has been District Attorney for 11 months and not 23 months.