HAZARD – Hazard attorney Chris Paul has spent the past 13 years working as a prosecutor in the county attorney’s office, but is now hoping to take that experience into circuit court as the commonwealth’s attorney for Perry County.
Paul is a former reporter for the Hazard Herald, where he worked from 1986 to 1989 before moving to Lexington. He graduated from the University of Kentucky law school in 1993 and later moved back to Perry County, where he also worked as assistant commonwealth’s attorney under the late Steve Tackett. In 1999 he began his career as assistant county attorney, handling prosecutorial duties in Perry District Court.
Paul said during an interview last week that his experience qualifies him for the office of commonwealth’s attorney, and unlike Teresa Reed, the incumbent and his opponent in next week’s Democratic primary, he has worked mainly in prosecution throughout his career. He said during an interview in February shortly after he filed for office that he doesn’t believe Reed’s record of working as both a defense attorney and prosecutor in the past decade “gives people a lot of confidence in a prosecuting attorney.”
“I feel I’ve done a very good job as assistant county attorney in the last 13 years,” he said. “I haven’t been a defense attorney and prosecution back and forth like Teresa Reed has.”
Though Paul noted that he did briefly work with the public defender’s office and as conflict counsel, defending criminal defendants wasn’t something that appealed to him.
“I did it for a while, but I always felt uncomfortable representing criminals,” he said. “I feel more comfortable prosecuting them than representing them.”
Paul said if elected he would be “tough but fair” when prosecuting felony cases in Perry County, and would be a tougher prosecutor than Reed, who he claims is rightly perceived in the local legal community as being too soft on defendants.
“I think you can be tough and fair, and I think people that have dealt with me know that,” he said.
In addressing the county’s drug problem, Paul said a law approved by the 2011 General Assembly (House Bill 463) has made it more difficult for prosecutors by, in part, dialing back penalties for some drug crimes, and installing an assessment system when assigning bail to defendants.
“House Bill 463 made it a whole lot harder on prosecutors,” Paul remarked. “Not only are you having to fight the drug problem, but you’re having to fight the law in some ways because [the law] made it more defendant-favorable.”
The county’s main issues with drug abuse rests with prescription pills, he continued, adding that as a prosecutor in circuit court he would take a tougher stand on plea bargains, especially when dealing with first-degree trafficking cases, which call for a maximum of 10 years in prison for each count. Only in extraordinary cases in which a defendant cooperates with authorities, he noted, would he consider a plea of less than five years to serve in such a case.
With a large caseload moving through circuit court, many of the cases are traditionally concluded with a plea bargain. Paul said in considering a plea agreement in cases that are not drug related, the victim’s and the investigating officer’s opinion would weigh greatly on any plea he offered or accepted.
“If the victims are not happy with a five or 10-year sentence, and the defendant is looking at 10 to 20, I don’t have a problem taking that to a jury if the victim thinks a five-year sentence is too light,” he said. “You can’t always go along with the victims, but I try to.”
There are currently only a handful of murder cases working their way through the judicial system in Perry County, one of which Teresa Reed has filed notice to seek the death penalty. That case involves a man accused of gunning down a Perry County physician in December 2009. Paul said he believes it was prudent in that case to seek the death penalty, and while every case is different, he added that if elected he would seek the death penalty against a defendant if the crime warranted it.
“I don’t know if it deters people, but as long as Kentucky has the death penalty and there’s an appropriate case, I don’t have any problems doing that,” he said.
Paul remarked that if elected he would also like to glean input from the residents of Perry County by instituting a community outreach program similar to one that Hazard Police Chief Minor Allen began early this year. He noted that these are the people who are suffering every day in terms of dealing with theft, robbery and drug crimes.
“I can see doing that as commonwealth’s attorney, going around the community and meeting with people and asking their input,” he said.
Ultimately, Paul said he would be a tougher prosecutor on the drug problem than Reed has been the past five years, or than former Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hansen before her. He favors continuing working with the Perry County Drug Court to help some offenders, and he sees himself as the best candidate for the job.
“I just ask the people of Perry County for their votes,” he said. “I think I’m the better prosecutor and the better candidate.”