Following long-time District Attorney Jim Woodall's retirement announcement last year, two Assistant District Attorneys threw their hats in the ring for Woodall’s spot: Jeff Nieman and Kayley Taber.
The two will face off in the Democratic primary election on May 17, and the winner will run unopposed in the general election. No other parties had candidates run in District 18, which includes Orange and Chatham counties.
Since graduating from North Carolina Central University School of Law in 2006, Nieman has worked as an Assistant District Attorney in the Chapel Hill area for 16 years. During this time, Nieman has also served as Vice-Chair of the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, Chair of the Orange County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and an adjunct law school professor at NCCU.
Nieman said he chose to run for District Attorney because he felt the position would give him the best opportunity to positively impact his community.
“The actor in the criminal justice system that has the ability to have the most impact on how the local criminal justice system works is the DA,” Nieman said. “I think the DA can be an agent for positive change.”
Nieman said his priorities for improving the community include reducing the criminal penalties for children, eliminating racial disparities in the criminal justice system and ending the criminalization of poverty.
In 2017, Nieman co-founded the North Carolina Driver’s License Restoration Project to provide resources to those who had their license revoked because they were unable to pay a fine. He has testified in federal court as an expert on how license revocation for financial reasons disproportionately affects people of color.
“The financial burdens that the criminal justice system puts on people can have a racially disparate effect,” he said.
Nieman has over 100 public endorsements listed on his website, including several members of the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Camille Berry said she chose to endorse Nieman because of his compassion and humility.
“It’s really tough when you’re running to remember that you are human and that you don’t have to be perfect,” Berry said. “I’m grateful that he understands that.”
Taber, a graduate of UNC’s law school, has been an Assistant District Attorney for more than 23 years, including 15 years managing district staff in Chatham County.
After working under two grant programs to prosecute sexual assault cases, Taber has primarily prosecuted violent felonies, including assault, homicide and abuse. In 1997, she created the Domestic Violence Unit in Lee, Harnett and Johnston counties to support victims of domestic violence, the first program of its kind in the state.
Taber said she hopes to use her extensive experience to improve the future of prosecution in the district.
“I feel like it’s my duty to file for office and make myself available to utilize that extensive experience to help train and mentor new lawyers in prosecution,” Taber said.
Taber’s policy proposals include ending childhood trauma, continuing Orange County programs aimed at eliminating racism in the criminal justice system and expanding services for victims of sexual trauma.
Despite having similar priorities, Taber said she hopes to differentiate herself from Nieman using her experience with victims of trauma.
“Because I understand and can appreciate where they have been, I have a better ability to craft a path forward for them out of the criminal justice system,” Taber said.
Both Taber and Nieman have pledged not to prosecute women who seek abortions in the district if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
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