The two contenders on their way to an August election showdown for the office of district attorney general met Wednesday, April 23, at Southwest Tennessee Community College.
But District Attorney General Amy Weirich and former Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown were not in the same room at the same time as they each spoke to a group of 60 high school students at the college’s first criminal-justice career day on the Macon Cove campus.
The two met briefly in a hallway outside the auditorium as Weirich left and Brown arrived.
Neither mentioned to students of the New Consortium of Law and Business what is expected to be one of the most hotly contested races in the August county general election. Weirich, a Republican, and Brown, a Democrat, are running opposed in their respective May primaries.
Each offered basic views of the criminal justice system.
“This is an interesting field you have picked,” Brown began. “It’s probably the one that’s most central to what it is to be an American,”
For Brown, a defense attorney before he was elected a Shelby County Criminal Court judge, the roles of defense attorneys and prosecutors were a dominant topic.
“Your objective is not to get a client off who may or may not have done the crime. Your job is to make sure that if the state gets a conviction … they did so beyond a reasonable doubt, exercising due process of law,” he told the students. “If you are on the other side of things, the enforcement side of things, your job is not to get a conviction. Your job is also to ensure that truth and justice dictate the outcome of the proceedings and due process of the law follows. What we do in criminal justice is we keep the system honest.”
Weirich described the job of her office as “to pursue the guilty and to protect the innocent.”
The same group of students were at the Criminal Justice Center Tuesday and talked with Weirich briefly after sitting in on a criminal court trial. Weirich recalled asking one student what he had seen that day and the student replying wearily, “A lot.”
“That’s a day in the life of 201 Poplar,” she said. “I’m so thankful that you got to have that experience to watch the criminal justice system at work. That’s what goes on every day at 201 Poplar.”
Brown talked of a “dynamic tension in this country ever since it became a nation” between those preserving the status quo and those who want to guard against unnecessary government intervention.
He complained social media has eroded privacy in the U.S. in the last 15 to 20 years.
“They call it the information age, though I might say it’s the gossip age,” he said. “You don’t think that it’s a problem to put your business in front of everybody. Well, that’s eroding this thing called privacy, which is a great part of what you will be involved with if you are in the criminal justice system.”
Weirich said the district attorney general’s office has changed in her 23 years as a prosecutor.
“There’s a lot more females today in the DA’s office than there were when I started,” she said. “We play a very important role in prevention and in intervention. There’s a lot that I do on a weekly basis to try to keep people from ever coming to 201 Poplar. … We have to continue to do that.”