AUGUSTA — The divide could hardly be wider in the race to be the next top prosecutor in Kennebec and Somerset counties.
Republican Darrick X. Banda, 36, of Manchester, is running on the slogan, “Prosecutor, not Politician” — a direct dig at his opponent.
Democrat Maeghan Maloney, 41, of Augusta, is a politician as well as an attorney, who opted against running for the re-election to a Maine House of Representatives seat so she could concentrate instead on becoming district attorney.
The two seek to finish the final two years of the term left open by Evert Fowle, the Democrat who left the office in February to become a district court judge.
The successful candidate in the Nov. 6 election will be sworn into office after Jan. 1, 2013, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Even before Maloney and Banda squared off, the race already had split the Democratic Party when members chose to nominate Maloney over acting District Attorney Alan Kelley, who was Fowle’s deputy and hand-picked successor. Gov. Paul LePage, however, refused to appoint Maloney to the job temporarily, saying the 61-year-old Kelley, a Republican-turned-Democrat, should have up for consideration too.
Maloney last week announced she had the endorsement of three previous Maine attorneys general — Andrew Ketterer, James Tierney and Janet Mills — as well as two Somerset County commissioners.
Banda, who spent five years in the office as an assistant district attorney, has won the endorsement of David Crook, a Democrat who was Fowle’s predecessor as district attorney. Banda also points to a good deal of bipartisan support from law enforcement officers and fellow attorneys.
This is the first time Banda has run for public office, but he said he has a clear idea of the district attorney’s role.
“The district attorney is essentially a lawyer of the people,” he said. “Victims of crimes don’t have lawyers per se, and the district attorney is the closest thing we have.”
His primary interest, he said, is in keeping the community safe. “Who are the people we need to be keeping in jail?” he said.
Maloney sees the district attorney’s role as requiring political advocacy.
“In addition to being an effective prosecutor of criminals, the district attorney needs to be an effective advocate in the Legislature for laws and programs to address these crimes, as well as seeking adequate funding for the office to carry out these policies and help keep the citizens of Kennebec and Somerset Counties safe,” she states on her website.
In a recent interview, Maloney said, “You can never be passive. You have to always be on the forefront to see we have the best laws possible to protect people.”
Banda said current alternative sentencing programs work well for some offenders, and he would strengthen probation enforcement.
Banda envisions himself as a working district attorney who does trial work.
“I want to be accessible to law enforcement officers and accessible to victims,” he said. “This is essentially a law firm with 10 litigators and 15 to 20 other staff members. The district attorney needs to have trial experience to manage those lawyers and get in there and try a case when necessary.”
Banda, a Maine native who lives in Manchester, is a 1994 graduate of Bangor High School and a 1998 graduate of the University of Maine, where he completed the Army ROTC program.
He was a summer intern to the Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and received his law degree from the University of Maine School of Law in 2001. Banda was commissioned in 1998, then spent six years in the Maine Army National Guard before being discharged honorably in February 2007.
From 2003 to 2008, Banda was an assistant district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties, primarily serving as the supervising prosecuting attorney in Augusta District Court. Banda then went to the defense bar, joining attorney Daniel Lilley in Portland.
Maloney shares an office on Drew Street with her husband, Christopher Maloney, a naturopathic doctor.
She is a former Maine assistant attorney general, and she tried cases in Kennebec and Somerset courts. She also served as a deputy district attorney — the equivalent of an assistant district attorney — in Portland, Ore., where she was promoted to lead a forfeiture unit.
She is a Harvard Law School graduate with 15 years’ experience. Maloney, too, is a Maine native and was valedictorian and class president at Leavitt Area High School in 1989. She won a fellowship to do domestic-violence prevention in Singapore, where she worked on behalf of the Association of Women for Action and Research with the government and court system “to try to get it as favorable to victims as possible.”
Maloney is completing a two-year term representing House District 57, which is part of Augusta.
Both candidates had a cordial conversation during a recent meeting about how construction of a new courthouse immediately next to the current one — and to the district attorney’s office — will affect court proceedings for the next year and a half or so.
The election winner will face immediate challenges involving office personnel.
Kelley, the acting district attorney, has been a prosecutor with the office for 33 years. Fowle had been with the office for 27 years; and one of the longer-serving assistant district attorneys, Paul Rucha, just left to join the attorney general’s office. Another assistant district attorney, David Jackson, plans to leave next month.
“The end result is the three most experienced prosecutors in the district will have left within a year,” Kelley said. Kelley counted himself among that number, because the new district attorney gets to appoint the assistant district attorneys.
Kelley was eligible to retire last year. “When Evert took the judgeship, any thoughts of retiring at that point I gave up out of concern for the future of the office,” Kelley said. “When you dedicate 33 years to something, you care about it.”
Banda already has requested that Kelley remain on board, but Kelley has yet to respond. Maloney said she would like to keep the entire office staff, including Kelley.
Kelley also said other workers in the district attorney’s office have told him they are seeking other jobs.
“In terms of what the district attorney’s office will look like Jan. 1, there certainly will be some significant changes in personnel,” Kelley said.
He has received a number of applications responding to an ad for an assistant district attorney, and he said he expects two to be hired shortly.
The district attorney also oversees a budget of almost $940,000 that comes from the two counties. That money pays for expenses such as support staff, victim advocates, domestic-violence investigators and office supplies.
Salaries and benefits for the district attorney and assistant district attorneys are paid by the state.
Maine’s eight district attorneys earned $90,000 to $98,000 in 2011, plus benefits of $15,000 to $21,000, according to information posted on maineopengov.org.
Betty Adams — 621-5631