Stewart won’t seek re-election

Plans to go into private practice

Posted 11/25/19

All good things must come to an end and in the case of the local district attorney’s office, covering Harnett and Lee counties, the same holds true.

Vernon Stewart has served the people of …

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Stewart won’t seek re-election

Plans to go into private practice

Posted

All good things must come to an end and in the case of the local district attorney’s office, covering Harnett and Lee counties, the same holds true.

Vernon Stewart has served the people of District 11A as its chief prosecutor for nearly 10 years, but Stewart says he will not be seeking another term.

“At the end of my current term on Dec. 31, 2020, I will be retiring as district attorney for Harnett and Lee counties,” he said in a press release. “At that point I will have served as the district attorney for 10 of the 35 years I have practiced law.”

When asked about the decision, Stewart said he had a goal of spending 10 years in the office and now wants to establish a private practice.

“Upon my retirement from public service it is my intention to return to the private practice of law within the Dunn/Erwin area of Harnett County. I am tremendously grateful and appreciative for the opportunity to serve as the district attorney for this district.”

Stewart has a lot to be proud of among achievements accomplished during his tenure. He developed strong relationships with law enforcement and said he made every effort to help the victims of crime, implementing programs he thought were in the best interests of residents in both counties. He established the state’s first Veteran’s Treatment Court, a recovery court giving veterans from across the state a second chance, in Harnett County and Project Safe Neighborhood, a federal program which brings federal, state and local law enforcement and community resources together to reduce gun violence, in Lee County.

“[I’m] working with such a great staff of attorneys and legal assistants,” Stewart said. “There’s a large number of really great aspects of this job.”

But there have also been challenges. With 35,000 court case filings in a single year in Harnett County, having the resources to handle large caseloads has always been a juggling act, he said, and was perhaps the most challenging part of being the district attorney.

The manpower to handle those cases is vital to success, he added.

Changing laws, including more stringent guidelines for notifying victims, have also added challenges to a staff with limited manpower.

“The most challenging part is continuing to handle the caseload with the resources we have,” he said. “Most prosecutor’s offices throughout the state experience the same difficulty and lack of resources to handle the rising caseload, so we’re not really peculiar to other counties... It’s still a very big challenge within Harnett and Lee counties.”

As far as what he will do after his term ends, Stewart said he’s looking forward to starting his private practice again. He said he wants to continue serving residents, just in a different fashion.

“I’m looking forward to returning to the private practice of law and continuing to help people from that perspective,” Stewart said. “There will be a transition, I will have to get in a different mindset. It’ll be moderately difficult, but I’m going to take it at a slow pace. I’m not going to rush into [it], I’m going to graduate into it.”

Stewart said he hasn’t decided exactly where the practice will be located, but he has started searching.

“It’s been a good run,” he said. “It’s been a great run. I’ve got 13 months to go and it’s my intention to go at it 100%, till the last day I leave here. I don’t want to leave anything undone. I want to leave it in good shape.”

Rick Curl can be reached at rcurl@mydailyrecord.com or 910-230-2037.

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