A new progressive challenger tossed his hat in the ring for the Nashville District Attorney’s race next year.
Longtime state and federal court prosecutor Sara Beth Myers announced her candidacy on Wednesday.
For Myers, the last eight years of DA Glenn Funk’s current tenure have been spent on surface-level changes, not systemic changes, she told the Tennessean.
“The role of the prosecutor is to build bridges, not to burn them down. It must include law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels, but it must also include nonprofit organizations, community actors, Neighborhood associations, churches – the places people live in our community, “she said.” These are the most important stakeholders and we need to rebuild a system that is very clearly broken.
Myers quit her job as an assistant U.S. lawyer at Middle Tennessee to run for the DA seat. Prior to coming to the federal level, she worked both in the Tennessee attorney general’s office and under former Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson.
She said she was the “clear choice” against incumbent Funk, believing her approach was truly progressive for Nashville.
Her experience in various courtrooms is key to her campaign, she said.
“I have successfully prosecuted and brought law enforcement officers to justice and this concerns a wide variety of cases,” she said.
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Victims’ rights at the forefront for Myers
“ADs are first and foremost civil servants,” she said.
Part of that service is focused on victims, said Myers, a longtime civil rights attorney.
Earlier this year, Funk’s office agreed to a plea deal with former Metro Nashville Police Department officer Andrew Delke, charged with murder in the shooting of Daniel Hambrick on duty in 2018. He pleaded guilty to a less serious charge in exchange for a prison sentence.
Funk said the case was complicated and taking it to court was not a sure victory for prosecutors. The deal, he said, was in the best interest of the city and still held a police officer responsible for a shooting on duty.
Hambrick’s family criticized Funk for giving them short notice of the last-minute deal ahead of a long-awaited trial.
“When people come to court, they’re the most vulnerable,” Myers said. “When they (DAs) don’t keep victims informed, consult with victims, and provide them with the resources they need, then they are doing a terrible disservice to the people they are supposed to serve.”
Myers is embarking on a race already in the limelight of state lawmakers.
State is closely monitoring Nashville DA
Last month, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill allowing the attorney general to step in and ask the court to remove an attorney from certain cases. Although limited to cases in which the local prosecutor decides “peremptorily and categorically” not to prosecute under a state law, the bill was a clear sign that the state is monitoring how prosecutors use their discretion.
Funk has notably released statements about its decision not to lay charges under anti-abortion and anti-transgender laws which are currently blocked by the courts, as well as withdrawing resources to prosecute low-level marijuana charges. .
He’s not the only one making such statements – Coffee County DA Craig Northcott was criticized in 2019 for his decision not to prosecute same-sex couples in the same way as other married people under the domestic violence laws.
But Myers says that’s okay for her.
She is used to dealing with the legislature through her nonprofit, Advocates for Women’s and Kids’ Equality, she told Tennessean.
“I know when to speak and when not to speak, I’m going to put it that way,” she said.
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Criminal justice issues align
But on some key issues, Myers and Funk are aligning themselves. Funk did not call for the death penalty during his tenure, a policy Myers also said was his goal.
“I won’t look for him,” she said. “It’s really run down, and I don’t think it’s effective at all.”
She also believes in both a strong conviction review unit and police watch groups, she said.
The Community Oversight Board, established by referendum in 2018, has been slow to find its place, but under the leadership of a new mayor and a new police chief, it seems to be gaining momentum in recent months. Part of the Metro government, it operates independently of the prosecutor’s office, but Myers said they were part of the set of community stakeholders needed to make changes in the future.
Under Funk, a new, quasi-independent department to review past convictions has flourished. The Conviction Review Unit has published reports on six cases since its inception in 2017. Two of the convictions were overturned, a high rate of exemptions compared to other review services nationwide.
“No one is above the law. It’s that simple,” Myers said. “It includes law enforcement officers, officials. It includes the DA itself.”
Three candidates for the primary so far
Funk was first elected in 2014 and prosecutors are serving eight-year terms in Tennessee.
Also in the race for the Democratic nomination is former Assistant District Attorney Danielle Nellis, who announced her candidacy in October. Nellis previously worked for Nashville Criminal Court Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton.
The Democratic primary is set for May before the August general election.
Funk touts his work for progressive change as part of his re-election campaign.
In an announcement shared with the Tennessee Democratic Party in October, he cited his decisions to reallocate resources to violent crime. Campaign materials highlight its work on creating a more diverse office and a rehabilitation-focused approach to prosecution.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Career Attorney Joins Race for Nashville District Attorney’s Seat