I didn't know Faye Peterson from Eve when she ran for re-election four years ago. I knew much was being made about the criminal "backlog" (that she inherited). I knew that her white Republican opponent, oddly endorsed by The Clarion-Ledger, had never tried a criminal case, and that he was making a lot out of outdated crime figures.
I sent a writer to interview the supposedly incompetent DA, half expecting incoherent, vague answers. What we found was a strong woman who did not back away from a single question, who could explain what was going on in her office, who could spew specifics and numbers—and not outdated ones.
We endorsed her.
The smears against her got louder, more frequent and much nastier once Mayor Frank Melton took office in July 2005, and we set out to figure out why, and to figure out the truth. Was she corrupt as he told us repeatedly? Was she lazy? Did she never try cases? Could she not work with other agencies?
It is hard to explain how many questions my office has asked that woman in the last two years. We have peppered her with readers' concerns, large and small. We have asked her to prove her own statements. We have asked her to disprove other people's allegations of her.
She is a busy woman, but she responded—probably because the Jackson Free Press was the only newspaper actually asking her to respond to accusations against her, big and small. Peterson seemed to know that we were demanding so much of her time—and calling and texting her at night and on the weekends to keep up with the steady drumbeat from Melton's supporters—because we care about this county, and want the truth out there.
I have asked her, and told her, things that I wish I never had to say to another person, especially a woman. "Did you 'f*ck' Jimmy Jam?" (Alleged by felon Christopher Walker, sitting next to Melton at a press conference.)
"Did you take money from criminals?" (Melton told me this, saying Michele Purvis could back it up; she couldn't.)
"Do you sit at your computer and play solitaire all day?" (A woman lawyer who supports Smith told me that along with an insult about the DA's weight.)
"Are you paying Michele Purvis' campaign debts to get her to endorse you?" ("I can't afford to pay my own campaign debts!")
Then there were the less personal that Adam Lynch has asked her. "What cases have you tried yourself? What cases have you won?" "How many cases have you pled?"
"Do you build relationships with victims' families?" "Why has he indicted for that charge and not this one? "Why did you indict Frank Melton?" "Did you create the court facilitator's job?"
And on and on. Of late, it seems that every time we ask her a question, three more anonymous accusations show up on the Web site, or in my e-mail. And every time we provide those answers to the public, the same ravenous people come up with another reason why she sucks so badly. Then we start over.
Here's the more intriguing part, though: She just answers the questions. One by one, detail by detail, accusation by accusation. I've never in my life seen someone less rattled by such a vicious campaign against her.
When we ask for documentation, she provides it. When we ask in person, she answers. She explains without hesitation.
Let's contrast this with her opponent. I like Robert Smith, I like his family, his mama, his brother Royce. My newspaper is named after the Mississippi Free Press, which his granddaddy, R.L.T. Smith, started with Medgar Evers, Hazel Brannon Smith and others.
But Smith is not ready to be Hinds County district attorney. This was never more apparent to me than the first time he called me to complain about something I wrote about him—that he had defended James Benton, one of the alleged Wood Street Players on trial for the murder of Aaron Crockett, alongside the Donelson brothers. And that he was at Melton's home on the eve of the Batman trial.
These were facts. But sharing them got me a long, whining call from Smith, cajoling me about why I talked about the fact that he defends high-profile suspects for good money.
Then his mama got on the phone and scolded me some more. Months later, she called Adam and scolded him about something we reported about her boy. Then after a DA forum we moderated at Schimmel's, she mildly scolded me some more.
I want to say this nicely. Tough district attorneys do not allow their mamas to speak for them. Even cool mamas like his. Period.
Even after Melton had "Smiley" Walker talk up Peterson's dress tail, as she later called it, her mama never called me. Not once.
Peterson also did not whine, or flinch, about the questions. She answered them, then went back to talking about things district attorneys are supposed to talk about. This stands in sharp contrast to Smith, who has never prosecuted a felony case and who has no real idea how the DA's office is run, as made clear in an interview with Adam weeks ago.
The DA, on the other hand, has tried case after case, winning most of them, often getting criminals to plead to life in prison, helping relieve the strain on the courtrooms. It is notable that the vast majority of the few cases her office has lost have involved (a) interference from Melton, (b) the mayor's friends as defendants and (c) Robert Smith as a defense attorney for one of those friends.
Does this mean that Smith is a puppet for Melton? I pray not, and I choose to believe not. But Melton clearly would like him to be, and is pulling out the stops to get him elected. The question for Smith is: What happens then? When Melton holds a presser with one of his boys talking trash about their former attorney? When Melton publicly ridicules Smith and his dear family (which includes children he seems too scared to name, unlike the DA)? When Melton turns his operation squarely on Smith because he won't do his bidding? When he treats him as he has Peterson?
And Melton will—if Smith doesn't run the DA's office his way. We know this. We've seen it happen to Peterson in disgusting ways.
Hinds County must have a tough DA who won't turn to Mama to bail him out. We need Faye Peterson to keep her office.
Please vote for toughness in the run-off on Tuesday, Aug. 28.
See an archive of DA stories, transcripts and audio at The JFP Noise Blog. Also see Donna Ladd's blog.
I made a mistake in my column above. I wrote:
This stands in sharp contrast to Smith, who has never tried a felony case
It should say "who has never prosecuted a felony case," and I'll go change it now. I apologize.
WOW. Somebody FINALLY said it. I am not surprised that it was the JFP.
"in sharp contrast to Smith, who has never prosecuted a felony case"
somebody might want to ask mr. smith why his campaign finance report that was due on tuesday at 5 still is not posted on the secretary of states web page.
You are right they are not on file with the SOS, so they are probably late.
Faye's is available.
Donna it appears that the CL finally got the message. Today the CL endorsed Peterson for District Attorney http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070826/OPINION01/708260361/1008/OPINION I guess the editors at the CL have been reading the JFP.
Wow, I just seen this column. Very well written piece here. Makes me more sadder that Faye Peterson wasn't able to retain her District Attorney seat. And more afraid about what that says about (some of) the people of Jackson.