By Michael Gordon, The Charlotte Observer
Spencer Merriweather will be Mecklenburg County’s next district attorney – if current office-holder Andrew Murray has anything to say about it.
And Murray, it turns out, has plenty.
The county’s two-term, Republican top prosecutor is President Donald Trump’s nominee to become the next U.S. Attorney for Western North Carolina. He is expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate later this year.
Asked by the Observer about his possible replacement, Murray said he has told “anyone who will listen” – including the office of Gov. Roy Cooper – that Merriweather is “by far” the best qualified member of his staff to take his place.
Cooper, who will choose Murray’s successor, is not required to select another Republican. Both he and Merriweather are Democrats.
Merriweather, a homicide prosecutor who has been with the office for 11 years, acknowledged Monday that the pending vacancy “is certainly something I’m interested in.”
If he is picked to finish out Murray’s term, Merriweather would have the advantage of holding the job for several months before voters elect a DA to a new four-year term next year.
Already, a potential Democratic rival appears to be emerging in Toussaint Romain, a veteran Mecklenburg public defender and former registered Republican.
Romain’s profile rose sharply after he served as an informal street mediator during the unrest and violence that arose last September following the police shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott.
Romain told the Observer on Tuesday that he is interested in the district attorney’s job but remains in the “exploratory stage” on whether to formally enter the race.
In the meantime, he appears to be taking steps that make a decision to run appear likely, including what he described as a series of meetings with prosecutors from around the country to discuss the latest reforms and innovative practices in criminal justice.
“I’m considering the things that could be done and what I can offer in that role, if I were to proceed to it,” said Toussaint, a Mecklenburg public defender for about a decade. “But there’s nothing formal for me now to announce.”
Merriweather is a Mobile, Ala., native and the son of retired public school educators. He is a UNC Chapel Hill law graduate and former student body president at Princeton University who interned at the Mecklenburg District Attorney’s Office while in college. As a prosecutor and supervisor, he has handled murders, habitual felons and sex crimes, working with Murray and his longtime predecessor Peter Gilchrist.
If appointed, Merriweather would become the first African-American district attorney in the state’s largest court district. He would assume the role at a time when prosecutors and police are under greater public scrutiny for how they do their jobs.
Merriweather says growing up in south Alabama allows him to empathize with critics of the court. “I know what it’s like to feel mistrust of the criminal justice system,” he said.
At the same time, he said he’s proud to be working where he is, particularly given the chance to watch Murray at close hand.
“Andrew and I politically don’t have a lot in common,” Merriweather said. “But I look at the way he’s made decisions, and the ways he’s stepped out of the box, stepped out of what may be considered political orthodoxy to put justice for all people first … I work with an entire office of people dedicated to that cause.”
Asked if he had been contacted by Cooper’s office, Merriweather says he has had “little to no” conversations about his future at this point.
“I hope I will have some contact in the weeks ahead,” he said. “But I don’t want to get ahead of the game … I already have a job.”