AG hopeful says he’ll make crime fighting top priority

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Scott Newton says the race for Mississippi attorney general isabout having the necessary experience to make fighting crime theoffice’s top priority.

As a former special agent for the Federal Bureau ofInvestigation and an assistant U.S. attorney, the Republicanbelieves he has the needed experience.

“My experience is incredibly well-suited for the job,” Newtonsaid during a stop in Brookhaven Tuesday.

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As an FBI agent in Utah, Newton said he participated in a $520million corporate fraud case involving a energy company and didwork with the “Unabomber” case and “Operation Disconnect,” theFBI’s largest undercover effort aimed at telemarketing fraud. As anassistant U.S. attorney, Newton said he has criminal trialexperience with narcotics and white collar crime and in civilmatters.

Newton, who had to step down from the federal attorney post torun for state office, said there is a lot of difference betweenputting on a suit to go into a courtroom and putting on abulletproof vest to break down a crack house door.

“I’ve done both,” Newton said.

Newton, who faces Democrat Jim Hood in the November generalelection, is sixth-generation Mississippian. He is familiar withthe Copiah and Lincoln county area.

“I spent my childhood just out from Lake Lincoln,” said Newton,recalling spending time at his grandmother Katie’s home andwatching the lake be built.

Citing FBI totals, Newton said Mississippi has thesecond-highest murder rate in the country and the 12th-highestincident rate involving rapes. He said the AG’s office priorityshould be fighting crime to ensure the public is safe from violentcrimes and drug trafficking.

Newton proposed satellite AG offices around the state to helplocal law enforcement agencies with their investigations and toprovide a closer resource to counties and municipalities needinginterpretations of legal issues.

“By doing that, it allows us to offer better accountability tothe public,” Newton said.

Newton said he would also ask the legislature for a five-yearmandatory enhancement to felonies involving firearms.

“That’s aimed directly at drug trafficking,” Newton said.

Other aspects of Newton’s vision include implementing avulnerable victims unit to protect children, senior citizens andthe poor, an emphasis on child support collections and creating anunsolved crimes unit.

Similar to a victims assistance coordinator with districtattorneys offices, Newton wants to implement a victims advocateprogram in the AG’s office. He said it would keep victims informedabout their cases and provide knowledge of assistance programs helpthem and their families.

“I feel, all too often, the victim is left out of the process,”Newton said. “We need to lend a compassionate heart tovictims.”

While the increasing costs of housing state inmates under newtruth in sentencing laws is drawing more attention, Newton said hisideas should not mean there has to be a choice made betweenprosecuting crime or releasing criminals.

Newton said the pressure is on the legislature to find ways tohouse inmates. He believes it can be done and pointed out thatthere is enough space in Mississippi’s regional jails to allow thestate to house some of Alabama’s prison population.

“If we can bring in inmates from out of state and house them, wecan certainly prosecute our own (criminals),” Newton said.

On the civil side of the law, Newton said the AG’s office canplay a significant role in the state’s tort reform efforts. He saidit is important to uphold tort reform measures passed last year andwork with the Supreme Court on other possible changes.

Newton maintained that people should continue to have to rightto seek legal remedies when they have been wronged.

“I’m not talking about closing the doors of the courthouse topeople who have been injured,” Newton said.