By Morgan Bryce
Improving efficiency, changing culture and engaging more with the community are all goals Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said he and his team have achieved during his first year in office.
“When I took office, how we dealt with victims and law enforcement, expanding our pre-trial diversion program, and how our office operates and does its job were my top three priorities,” Hughes said.
Following is a background on Hughes and details on his office’s accomplishments during the past year.
A 2002 graduate of Montgomery’s Jones School of Law, Hughes began his law career as an assistant district attorney in Montgomery County.
Four years later, Hughes accepted an offer from the state to become Alabama’s traffic safety resource officer, responsible for prosecuting traffic-related crimes and educating police, other prosecutors and judges on impaired-driving laws.
Hughes and his family relocated to Lee County in 2008, maintaining his state resource prosecutor position and adding the duties of the state coordinator position for Alabama’s Drug Recognition Expert Program.
Frustrated by a lack of activity and community involvement from the Lee County District Attorney’s Office, Hughes announced his intentions to run in the March 2016 Republican primary against incumbent Robbie Treese, who had held the position since 2010.
In what many local political experts ranked as a major upset, Hughes defeated Treese by a 14-percentage point margin.
From prosecution of cases to community involvement, Hughes said his office has made major strides. Following are some other major changes Hughes said he and his team have made in the last year keeping case victims more involved in the overall trial process.
“We want to include them in the conversation, get in touch with them on the front end, being available and being in touch and walking them through the process. As a crime victim, no one is more entrenched or committed than them,” Hughes said.
– catching up on a backlog of cases dating back to 2008-09. Last year, more than 1,500 cases were filed, a 45-percent uptick from 2015. Of those, nearly 1,300 were resolved, a 26-percent increase from 2015, too.
“There’s not a case older than 2017 and only a few older cases … we’re simply waiting on other things before we can proceed with them,” Hughes said.
– expanding the pre-trial diversion program to include people who are first offense, non-violent felons, per permission from the case victim and law officer involved. Hughes added that the Lee County Literacy Coalition recently added skill-building and GED courses for program members.
– streamlining waiting times for officers waiting to testify from an average of 6-7 hours to 15-20 minutes in most situations, placing those awaiting trial at the top of waiting lists for their cases to be tried by a grand jury to reduce overall jail time
– increasing the Bad Check Unit’s bad-check recovery rate by 17 percent
– enacting a deadline on plea offers to reduce office workload
– holding informational seminars across the county to educate citizens on the dangers posed to youth today by social media and technology
– launching a DITEP (Drug Impairment Training for Educational Professionals Program) this summer to educate teachers, counselors, resource officers and other school officials to recognize drug use signs from students.
With a year under his belt, Hughes said he is excited about the future of his office and its potential to do good in the community.
“Someone told me a long time ago that your ideal job is where your talents and your passions intersect, and for me, that’s being a prosecutor,” Hughes said. “Years ago, I would come by and visit with (former Lee County District Attorney) Nick Abbott. I knew then that there was not a better place in this state to be the district attorney … the rule of law still means something here, which is extremely rare in this day and age.”