CHARLES TOWN – The race for prosecuting attorney this year will likely be decided in the primary election this year because the two candidates who have thrown their hats in the ring – incumbent prosecutor Ralph Lorenzetti and challenger Ruth McQuade – are both Democrats. It remains possible that an independent could enter the race by gathering enough signatures by August, however.
Lorenzetti, who has served as prosecutor for the last four years, argues that he has modernized the prosecuting attorney’s office and staffed it with competent individuals.
“I’ve been doing this job for a while, and I think I’m good at it. I have a really good staff. We have all areas covered,” he said.
“Four years ago, when I took over, Mike Thompson was a very good prosecutor – excellent in court, could write great briefs and things – but I think he turned on a computer once as a prosecutor,” Lorenzetti said. “Since I’ve come here, we’ve purchased a software program. Our grand jury cases are all scanned into the computer. We have all of our discovery on CDs for the defense council.”
“The idea is to eventually go almost paperless. We’re not there yet, but it is a goal that we have within sight now.”
Lorenzetti said his goals are “to make the victim as whole as they can be, to punish the perpetrator, but also to be reasonable and understand that you can’t just throw somebody in the lockup and forget about them.”
McQuade argues that the prosecutor’s office needs significant improvements, particularly in more aggressive enforcement of drug laws.
“We’re not being as aggressive in enforcement as we could. There are some serious problems in Jefferson County in terms of drug abuse, child abuse and all of the things that go with the abuse of drugs,” McQuade said. “Drugs are generally the root of really all crimes … I don’t think that this office does enough to address that.”
“I believe we have all the ingredients in Jefferson County to have the best prosecuting attorney’s office in the state. I just don’t think that we’re utilizing all the resources that we have,” said McQuade, who was a federal prosecutor for 20 years. “I think we’re underutilizing our law enforcement. We’re not coordinating a lot with them. I don’t think we’re as active with many of the task forces – including the federal task forces – as we should be.”
“It’s not just convictions. It’s really: have they done any high-profile cases that really have a deterrent effect?” McQuade said.
Lorenzetti argues that the emphasis on big cases misses the important daily tasks of a Jefferson County prosecutor.
“Ms. McQuade has experience as a federal prosecutor. Those are usually big cases. Yes, she has some experience with that, but she hasn’t dealt with the day-to-day – 20 cases a day… I’ve done that for many years now,” Lorenzetti said. “I have experience in the local scene dealing with the community, dealing with the magistrates, judges, law enforcement.”