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DA candidates answer questions via Zoom

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June 9 election will name next District Attorney

  • DA candidates answer questions via Zoom
    Carl Cansino
  • DA candidates answer questions via Zoom
    T. Wright Barksdale

A forum with the two candidates for the office of Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney in the June 9 primary election showed clear differences in the policies of the candidates in addition to the obvious differences of age and the paths of their legal careers.

The May 14 forum was sponsored by the Jones County/Gray Chamber of Commerce and The Jones County News. The Zoom event was live streamed on the Chamber’s Facebook page and now has more than 2,000 views.

Wright Barksdale and Carl Cansino both qualified to run as Republicans, which means the next District Attorney will be selected in the primary.

For anyone who missed Thursday’s forum, it can be watched anytime on the Chamber’s Facebook page as well on The Jones County News Facebook page and website.

Barksdale, 33, is a career prosecutor who has been working in the position for 12 years. He interned at the Baldwin and Fulton County solicitors’ offices and started prosecuting cases as a third-year law student. He was hired as an assistant district attorney by the Paulding Judicial Circuit and has been an assistant district attorney for the Ocmulgee Circuit since November of 2013.

Barksdale took over the duties of prosecutor in Putnam County in 2015 and has been handling both Putnam and Hancock counties since 2017.

Casino is 49 and is a former prosecutor who worked as in the Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney’s office for six years in Baldwin County. He left that office in 2004, opened the Cansino Law Firm and is currently a defense attorney.

He was appointed Millegeville’s municipal prosecutor in 2005 and has served in that position since his appointment. Cansino has a total of 21 years of experience as an attorney.

The forum opened and closed with statements from the candidates. Each had the opportunity to introduce himself and then wrap up at the end of the forum with what they considered the important issues and why they were the best candidate.

The questions were asked by the editor of The Jones County News. Two questions

Two questions appeared to show distinct differences in the views of the candidates. The issues raised in the questions were the death penalty and criminal justice reform legislation.

The candidates were consistent in highlighting what they appeared to view as their strengths. For Cansino, that is his legal experience as both a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, and for Barksdale it is his record as a career prosecutor, work ethic and his strong relationships with law enforcement.

When asked about the death penalty, Cansino’s first response was that he hoped he would never have to use it, but he added that it is sometimes necessary. He alluded to former DAs Joe Briley and Fred Bright, who both successfully prosecuted what he categorized as many death penalty cases.

“In order to be a death penalty case, guilt would have to be a slam dunk, and the case would have to meet certain criteria. You need an experienced lawyer to evaluate the case, and you need the input of the family,” he said.

The candidate said the death penalty is an option for the District Attorney’s office. Cansino was asked if he would make that decision himself, and his short answer was the buck would stop with him.

Barksdale agreed the death penalty should only be used if there was no doubt of guilt.

“If I have any doubt, I’m not going to assess a speeding charge, much less the death penalty,” he said.

Barksdale said he is part of a team currently prosecuting a death penalty case in Putnam County involving the deaths of two prison guards.

“If the crime fits the criteria, I’m going to use the death penalty,” he said. The candidate

The candidate emphasized that he would follow the law.

“I view this as God’s country, and as your district attorney, I’m committed to protect you and your family,” he said. “If the case qualifies, I’m going to do it every time.”

When asked if he would be making the decision himself, he said he would also confer with law enforcement.

“We are in constant communication,” he added. “Until the death penalty is taken away, if the crime fits, I’m going to pursue it.”

The question of their opinions of criminal justice reform also put the candidates on different sides of the issue.

Cansino answered the question first and stated that it was a long time coming. He said it had been proven the prison system in its previous state was not working.

“It was a revolving door of people going back to prison for minor drug charges and probation violations,” he said. He said Gov. Nathan

He said Gov. Nathan Deal and the legislature took a hard look at the cause and came to a commonsense approach of reduced sentences. The candidate said the goal was reducing repeat offenders and seeing less crimes.

Barksdale challenged voters to talk to their sheriffs and law enforcement and ask them what they think of Criminal Justice Reform.

“I believe it had good intentions, but it’s hurt the safety of the community. He said Jones County was currently putting an addition to its jail due in part because of the number of criminals who were released from prison and are now in county jails. “We send people to

“We send people to prison, and they beat us home. We send them to prison for 10 years, they serve a year and a half and then do it again,” Barksdale said. “Criminal justice reform was well intended, but I don’t think they understand the ramifications.”

Other Q&As

What are your thoughts on accountability courts and their success rate here in this circuit?

Cansino said he had clients who had problems with drugs, and there was nothing like seeing them successfully graduate from the rigorous program.

“It can bring tears to your eyes to see a graduate from the program become a productive citizen. I hope we can expand the program to all counties,” he said.

Barksdale said drug court, the common name of the program, is a good way to help people when it can, but he does not think it should be used for career criminals.

“Those people need to be in prison if they prove to be a threat to the community,” he said. Some District

Some District Attorneys see themselves as the chief prosecutor while others are more administrative in their role. What do you see the nature of the role?

Barksdale was asked this question first. He said he was a career prosecutor, a prosecutor’s prosecutor.

“I love my job. I’m going to be involved in prosecutions, and I plan to continue to try cases,” he said.

The candidate said, as District Attorney, he would plan to try five or six major cases a year. Cansino said it was

Cansino said it was impossible to choose between those two roles.

“As the chief prosecutor, the role is both. This is a large circuit, and the DA is the manager of good people,” he said. “If you have good staff, you can concentrate on larger cases. You’ve got to be able to do both.”

This circuit is made up of eight very different counties. The issues in Jones County may not be the same as the issues in Hancock or Morgan counties. What is the issue, as you perceive it, facing Jones County citizens when it comes to our criminal justice system?

Cansino was asked the question first. He said Jones County had an influx of drug trafficking because it is close to Macon, and it is located on a corridor to the north.

“Methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana, Jones County’s biggest hurdle is drug trafficking,” he said.

Barksdale said he was committed to treating all eight counties equally and would do all he could to keep each safe. He said Jones County, Jasper County and Morgan County all face external pressure. “When Bibb County

“When Bibb County criminals cross the line, it hurts the community. As DA, we’re going to prosecute criminals. I’m going to work day and night to make sure criminals know they are not welcome here,” he said.

Gangs are an issue in Baldwin County and Bibb County. With Jones sitting right between, voters here are concerned about keeping that issue out of their community. Bibb County is not in this circuit, but what is your plan to address the gangs in Baldwin County and to ensure that they do not spill over into surrounding counties?

Barksdale was asked the question first. He said he would use the gang statute when possible and the recidivist statute that requires repeat offenders to serve every day of their sentence.

“We have to be aggressive. Gangs are a hot topic. The federal government was able to put Al Capone in prison by using his failure to pay taxes,” he said. “Gang members deal in drugs and guns. We can also use that to lock them up and focus on career criminals.”

The candidate said the good work of the Gray Police Department, Jones County Sheriff’s Department and Assistant District Attorney Dawn Baskin demolished at least one gang in Jones County.

“We have to work hard to fight gangs every day,” Barksdale said. Cansino said no

Cansino said no county is immune to gang activity, but prosecutors have tools, including the recidivist and gang statutes, that give longer sentences.

“There is no easy solution. Gang members use juveniles. We need to look at that statute so we can prosecute them as adults if they are tied into gang activity,” he said.

The May 14 candidate forum is available to view in its entirety on the Jones County/Gray Chamber of Commerce and The Jones County News Facebook pages.