HAZARD – Cordell “Buddy” Williams has been a prosecutor in Perry County for the past 12 years, and is now hoping he can parlay that experience into a successful bid for the office of commonwealth’s attorney in Perry County.
A native of Hazard, Williams has worked as assistant commonwealth’s attorney and, for the past few years, as assistant county attorney under John Carl Shackelford. He is currently making his second bid as a candidate for commonwealth’s attorney, this time as a Republican. He lost in the 2006 Democratic primary to current Commonwealth’s Attorney Teresa Reed.
Williams noted during an interview on Monday that he believes his past experience has prepared him for the job of commonwealth’s attorney.
“I think I’m the most experienced person to be doing this job,” he said.
But Williams did suffer a potential setback in his campaign in March after he was charged with driving under the influence by an officer with the Hazard Police Department. He declined to comment on the case this week, but during an earlier interview with the Herald in March, he proclaimed his innocence and said he was prepared to take the case to trial if need be. According to court records, he is currently set for arraignment in the case at 10 a.m. on Friday.
Despite the charge, Williams pressed on with his campaign, and said his ultimate goal is a simply-defined one, and that is to use the prosecutor’s position to make a difference.
“I understand that we are dealing with our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, and our mothers and fathers,” he said in a statement. “I believe in trying to help others, and my desire to serve as commonwealth’s attorney is not based upon any political aspirations … or any agenda to punish people, but rather with my desire to utilize my experience and my background to make a difference in Perry County.”
One of the biggest issues facing a commonwealth’s attorney in Perry County, who serves as the state’s chief prosecutor in the county, remains the ongoing drug problem. More than 60 people were pronounced dead from drug overdoses in Perry County alone in 2010 and 2011, according to the coroner’s office, and many more are making their way through the legal system.
Williams said he views the office not only as one in which the prosecutor serves to prosecute felonies and send everyone to jail, but rather, in some cases, determine which cases involve people who can be helped with alternative measures. He noted that he is a believer in drug rehab for some drug offenders, but especially in faith-based rehabilitation.
“I’m for anything that helps, and that certainly includes all rehabs, but I am a big fan of these faith-based rehabs,” he said. “I think people need something more than these 12-step programs, more than what amounts to babysitting if we just sit there and watch over them.
“It helps to have God. You have to turn and ask God for help. And I think almost everything in this county crime related, one way or another, is tied to drugs. I don’t think, and I’ve said for years, there’s not a family in this county that’s not been touched by the drug problem one way or another.”
But it will also take determining which defendants can use that sort of help, he added. Those who may have been in court multiple times and continue to break the law may not fit that criteria, whereas first-time offenders might.
“There’s going to be some people, that no matter what we do are bound and determined to end up in jail, and that’s where they’re going to end up,” Williams added. “Those we can’t help. But you have to know the ones you can help. Present people with an alternative to the lifestyle they’ve had.”
With the massive case load going through the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, plea deals are also a part of the job. But making plea bargains, Williams said, should be done “to make sure that any plea that is reached serves everybody’s interest, and the public’s interest.”
There is one type of case, however, that he said he would not consider offering a deal.
“Child abuse, child sexual abuse, I just don’t believe you can ever deal with them any other way than just how the law prescribes you should deal with them,” he said. “I would rule out plea bargaining at any time with child sexual abuse.”
Kentucky is also one state in which the death penalty is still on the books. There are currently 37 people on death row in Kentucky, and one death penalty case currently ongoing in Perry County, stemming from the death of Dr. Dennis Sandlin in 2009. Williams said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the death penalty, but did not rule out seeking that punishment if elected.
“I don’t know that I can personally support the death penalty,” he said. “I hope I’m never faced with that circumstance. If ever am, I’ll try to deal with it as best as I know how, as best as my faith tells me.”
Ultimately, Williams says he has the experience it takes to successfully run the commonwealth’s attorney’s office in Perry County, and adds that his work in the past 12 years shows that. In a statement released to the Herald this week, Williams claims that he has handled more criminal prosecutions than the other candidates combined, and has developed a relationship with law enforcement personnel and other members of the community that the other candidates do not have.
“Both myself and my wife are from large and extended families who have extensive ties to Perry County, and which include our medical community, our legal community, our teaching community, and our coal mining community,” he said. “None of the other candidates have this combination of family and community involvement, nor are they able to utilize these family resources to assist in helping Perry County.”