NEWTON N.C. – A Newton attorney who announced he is running for district attorney said he will be involved in the courtroom and work to take politics out of the district attorney’s office.
Scott Reilly announced his plan to run for district attorney for the 25th Prosecutorial District on Wednesday in front of the 1924 Catawba County Courthouse. He was flanked by red, white and blue campaign signs emblazoned with the slogan ‘Tried and True.’
“I believe the issue is simple,” Reilly said. “Should the office of district attorney be an administrative position or should our district attorney be a litigator, one who goes into the courtroom and tries cases every day and fights for victims of crime?”
David Learner, a Burke County attorney, is the only other person who has announced he will run against District Attorney Jay Gaither. The filing period for the primary election starts Monday and runs through Feb. 28. The primary election is May 6.
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Reilly, 51, has practiced law in the 25th District for 25 years, a news release from his campaign said. He began his career in 1989 as an assistant district attorney focusing on the prosecution of sex offense cases. In 1994, he opened a private practice in Newton and has since concentrated almost exclusively on criminal cases. Reilly’s priorities if he is elected will include narcotic, domestic violence and sex offense cases.
“I am running for this office to propose a new policy, a new philosophy," he said. "I’m running for the office of district attorney because I believe that our current justice system is broken, and I feel so strongly, I have such strong feelings about what we must do — what I must do — to make the office more effective, more efficient and more fair. My decision to run for district attorney reflects no personal animosity or any disrespect whatsoever to our current district attorney. My issues with him are not personal.”
Reilly said he thinks only a district attorney who goes into the courtroom and tries cases every day can be an advocate for victims, responsive to law enforcement and uphold justice in a fair, honest and ethical manner.
“I would want to be there in the courtroom every single day making sure that things are running efficiently, making sure things are running effectively,” he said.
“I think all of you know that I am not a politician, but it is time to take politics out of the district attorney’s office,” Reilly said to applause from about two dozen supporters who attended the announcement. When politics enter into the workings of a DA’s office, he said, “You end up with an adulterated, broken-down system that has failed in its mission to protect its citizens. That’s a system that I pledge not to have.”
Reilly said he will not take part in negative campaigning that has been a part of past elections. “There’s been a lot of smear campaigns, and there’s been a lot of ugliness. Well, ugliness is something that we will not participate in,” he said.
After his announcement, Reilly vowed to refrain from saying anything about his opponents. “They can run their campaigns. I’m going to run my campaign on what I can do for the good of this district,” he said.
Reilly’s representation of Elisa Baker in the Zahra Baker case is his most well-known case, but he said he fought for Elisa Baker in the same way he fights for all of his clients.
The cases that stand out most in his mind, Reilly said, are the ones where he worked with victims of sex offenses. He said he took the time to establish a rapport with those clients, gained their trust and worked to convince a jury of the perpetrator’s guilt.
“When (victims) come in and tell their story and a jury convicts and that victim feels no shame, she feels like justice has been done, that’s when I felt the best, felt that I was actually being a lawyer and I was actually helping someone,” he said.
Reilly grew up in Jamestown. He earned his undergraduate degree from Lenoir-Rhyne and completed his study of law at Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich. He lives in Conover with his wife Beth. Their family includes his children, Matthew and Meagan, and her children, Tom and Isabella Zaliagiris.