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Metro's DA candidates trade barbs over how best to handle domestic violence

Domestic Disturbance

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With little more than a month left before the start of early voting in the Democratic primary, the three candidates vying for Metro Nashville district attorney have made plain what they offer to voters.

Having spent the past 13 years as an assistant DA under Torry Johnson, who endorsed him upon announcing his retirement, Rob McGuire touts his experience as a career prosecutor. To lead the DA's office, he says, "you have to be intimately familiar with how it actually works."

Diane Lance is pitching a "well-rounded perspective" gained from working inside and outside of the system — in the DA's office, in the nonprofit community and most recently in Mayor Karl Dean's office.

And Glenn Funk says 25 years as a criminal defense attorney has taught him how to spot "the difference between a bad person and a good kid in trouble" — wisdom imparted to him by the only other DA Metro Nashville has ever known, the late Tom Shriver. 

So far those bios have provided the only real differences among the three. But the candidates are starting to show some small but substantial disagreement on a topic of recent controversy: domestic violence.

The controversy grew out of the Domestic Violence Safety and Accountability Assessment, a 185-page report that Lance supervised (and that Metro unsuccessfully tried to keep private). In examining how the city handles the problem, it portrayed the system as less than sympathetic to victims, from hours-long waits for police to impersonal treatment by the DA's office.

Last week in response, Funk released a three-pronged Domestic Violence Action Plan that laid out how he would address those concerns. Under its terms, a domestic violence advocate from the DA's office would meet with victims within 24 hours of an incident — a service the plan concedes is impossible at current staffing levels, but one Funk says his office would "devote the necessary investment to achieve." The plan also advocates increasing the office's domestic violence team from four prosecutors to six and mentions a planned Domestic Violence Resource Center.

Lance is cordial on Funk's plan. But she says it has a "tremendous amount of overlap" with recommendations that came out of her report. To her, Funk's ideas represent "agreement that my team and I were going in the right direction." She cites her part in devising and implementing those recommendations as one of her key credentials.

"I'm not just saying we should," she says. "I worked to change the actual system. I have not just worked in the actual system as it is, thinking about 'it would be better if, wouldn't it be great if.' I actually dug in, figured out where the problems were — obviously, with the support of my team and the encouragement of Mayor Dean — and came up with solutions and changed the actual system that we have all been working within."

Many of those solutions, Lance notes, have already been implemented. For instance, a Domestic Violence Executive Committee, which includes the DA, was formed to monitor the execution of the report's recommendations, and 10 to 12 victim advocates are being added. She says those are just two among "countless major leaps and bounds."

Where Lance is reticent, McGuire is more critical. He says the plan shows Funk's lack of experience, a point he's hammering to prospective voters. He's quick to point out he's the only candidate who has prosecuted a case, domestic violence or otherwise, in the past 15 years.

"It sort of struck me as, this is a plan written by somebody who hasn't ever prosecuted domestic violence cases," he tells the Scene. "Which is accurate."

Funk's action plan, he says, is a combination of "things that the mayor has already said are going to happen" and "things that don't really have much ability to work."

Instead of dealing with "what the reality is in a very complicated issue." McGuire says, it's irresponsible to propose unlikely ideas — like contact between the DA's office and victims within 24 hours. As Funk's own plan acknowledges, he explains, that can't be done under current staffing levels. Even if it could, he says, the number of domestic violence arrests each year would make it unworkable for an office tasked with prosecuting more than just those cases.

"It's just a complete misunderstanding of how we do what we do," McGuire says. The more responsible approach, he argues, is to direct more emphasis toward domestic violence using the office's current resources. He says more attention should be given to getting domestic violence cases to court faster, and ensuring that victims come to court.

In an email to the Scene, Funk defended his plan, which he says "came about after many hours of meeting with DV and victims advocates who have dedicated their lives to the issue, some from inside the DA's office."

"Rob's comments about this critical issue demonstrate in a clear way why I am the the best candidate for DA," Funk says. "His approach is to criticize my bold ideas for important and life-saving changes by saying, 'Let's do it the same way we've always done it.' If he read the 185-page report, he'd know that approach isn't working."

Voters have until May 6 to decide which approach will.

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

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