Mobile County candidates for district attorney tout their backgrounds in effort to win open seat

The two candidates replacing outgoing Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich have sharp contrasts in their legal backgrounds, and they are each touting their experiences ahead of the November 8 election.

Republican Keith Blackwood, 41, of Mobile; and Democrat Moshae Donald, 36, of Mobile County, are vying for the top prosecutor job during Tuesday’s general election.

It’s the first time there has been an open seat for the DA’s position since 2010, when Rich defeated Democrat Don Foster to win the job she’s held for the past 12 years. Rich, who announced her retirement from the job in January, was the first woman to serve in the position.

Open seat elections are a rarity in the district attorney’s race. Before Rich, John Tyson Jr. spent 16 years as Mobile County’s top prosecutor.

The district attorney’s term is six years.

Blackwood joined the District Attorney’s Office in 2008 and is the current chief assistant district attorney under Rich. He handily defeated Republican Buzz Jordan during the May primary following a heated primary campaign.

“I have dedicated my career to serving the public, and I have an almost 15-year track record of not only being tough on crime, but being fair and doing things the right way,” said Blackwood. “I’ve been recognized nationally for my prosecution of capital murder and complex cases in Mobile County. In addition, I have the administrative experience as chief assistant to successfully run this office.”

He added, “My record reflects my leadership ability, and shows that I am the leader this community needs as district attorney.”

Donald, a native of the Toulminville neighborhood of Mobile, has her own law practice in Mobile and touts her background as a prosecutor and public defender for municipalities in Mobile County. She has been the city attorney in Prichard since 2020 and is the legal counsel for the Mobile Housing Authority. Donald also serves as a network attorney with the Alabama Education Association.

“My legal practice and professional experience has been varied,” Donald said. “I have been a prosecutor as well as the criminal defense attorney; I have been a family law attorney as well as guardian ad litem for abused children; I have been a public defender and a teacher.”

She added, “This spectrum of experience will enable me to approach 21st century problems with fresh solutions that will keep us all safe and rehabilitate communities that need a fairer shot.”

Blackwood said his experience in the District Attorney’s Office is the biggest difference he sees with Donald.

“To my knowledge, I’m the only candidate in this race that has tried a felony jury trial, and I’ve tried just about every kind of criminal case there is,” Blackwood said. “I’ve been on the front line in the courtroom giving victims a voice and holding defendants accountable my entire career. I have faced the worst of the worst violent criminals and successfully asked jury after jury to conviction.”

Donald said she believes Blackwood’s background with the District Attorney’s Office should be his undoing in this race.

She blames a backlog of murder cases and violent crimes within the Mobile County justice system on the District Attorney’s Office and believes there is nothing “indistinguishable” between Blackwood and Rich.

Donald said she offers “a change” and a new perspective on prosecuting crime in Mobile County.

“Reversing the homicide and violent crime rate in our community will take new leadership, community engagement, and tough prosecution,” she said. “If elected to be the new district attorney, Mobile County can expect a new day of increased public safety and a change in the right direction.”

Blackwood has said that the backlog of cases, stemming from the courtroom closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been reversed somewhat since January, when the District Attorney’s Office focused on prosecuting cases at a faster rate than before.

Blackwood said on his campaign website that if elected, he will reallocate experienced prosecutors to address all cases, and bring them to a quicker resolution.

Donald said if elected, she has a “full umbrella of programs” to roll out that include establishing a fentanyl task force, prioritizing prosecution of violent crime, establishing veterans and mental health diversion programs, and de-emphasizing low-level drug offenders like marijuana possession.

She said she will move non-violent charges related to mental illness, homelessness, and substance abuse to diversion and community-based solutions, while pushing the murders, rapes, and robberies to the front of the priorities.

Blackwood said if elected within, he plans to expand the district attorney’s already-established Youth and Family Services Division, formerly known as the Helping Families Division, to give it a presence in Mobile County’s schools.

The purpose of the program is to improve outcomes for at-risk youths and families by creating a network of support among schools, nonprofit agencies, and local government. The program aims to reduce risk factors associated with bullying, truancy, violence, alcohol, and drug use, among other things.

The current fentanyl crisis is a top priority for both candidates. Blackwood said he plans to visit every school in Mobile County to talk about the rise of the deadly drug that is contributing to a record number of overdose deaths nationwide.

Blackwood said the District Attorney’s Office, under Rich, has already started a fentanyl task force, and he plans to maintain it if elected.

“Fentanyl presents a paradigm shift in the world of illicit drugs because it is so deadly, and I will continue to aggressively pursue those that bring fentanyl into our community and those that kill others by providing it,” he said.

Donald said she considers fentanyl production and trafficking “violence” and acknowledged its lethal impact on people who use it.

Doctors legally use fentanyl to treat severe pain and other advanced-stage cancers. But when it’s used in an unregulated setting or illegally manufactured, a tiny amount – 2 milligrams, for instance, or an amount that can fit on the tip of a pen – can kill someone.

The drug has long been described as 50 times more powerful than heroin, and 100 times more powerful than morphine.

“The criminals who traffic this lethal drug prey on our community’s most vulnerable people, and my fight against those who bring fentanyl to our community, in any form, will be relentless,” Donald said.

The district attorney’s race will likely be the most watched contest in Alabama for a top prosecutors’ job.

According to campaign finance records, Blackwood has raised over $285,000, the most of anyone running in a district attorney’s race this year.

Donald has raised nearly $80,000, which represents the third most raised by a Democrat running in a district attorney’s contest in Alabama this election season.

She trails, among Democrats, Lynneice Washington, the district attorney for the Tenth Judicial Circuit in Jefferson County’s Bessemer Cutoff Division, and Danny Carr, district attorney of Jefferson County.

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