Prosecutor to try the other side

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2008

COURTLAND—Jack Randall isn’t moving. He’s not pulling up his stakes in Southampton County, he’s not changing his church membership, and he’s not withdrawing from the community organizations he supports here.

There are changes to come for Randall, one of two assistant commonwealth’s attorneys in Southampton, but in a real sense, they involve only a few short steps, from one side of the courtroom to another.

Still, Randall’s plan to leave the prosecution’s side of the courtroom to work for a Suffolk law firm represents a pretty drastic change.

When he starts work Aug. 18 as an attorney for the Suffolk firm, Stallings & Bischoff, P.C., a big part of his job will be defending the clients he might have been called to prosecute as suspects in his current position. Instead of working for Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke, it’s likely that Randall will argue cases against him.

Randall says he’s &uot;sure it will be kind of uncomfortable the first five or six times,&uot; he faces off against his current boss, but he’s looking forward to the challenge that the new job will present.

&uot;To me, it’s just the challenge of being a good attorney,&uot; he said this week. &uot;I like being a prosecutor; I enjoy it. It’s just time to go after that next challenge.&uot;

Randall came to Southampton straight out of Regent University’s law school in November 2004. He had earned his law degree after taking classes there part-time while serving as a Virginia Beach police officer.

He was steered toward the practice of law by &uot;some good mentors&uot; in the Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, he said.

During his time in Courtland, Randall has benefited from the guidance of his boss, he said.

&uot;Eric expects a certain level of performance. He’s been a good boss. He lays the ground rules and has a high level of integrity, in my opinion.&uot;

For his part, Cooke also has good things to say about his departing employee. &uot;Jack has been a tremendous asset to this office, and all of us are sorry to see him leaving. He has a tremendous sense of humor. He’s very enthusiastic, willing to jump in with both feet.&uot;

In an office with only three attorneys to argue cases, the news of Randall’s departure was tough to swallow, if not a complete surprise.

There were 507 felony indictments initiated in Southampton Circuit Court in 2007, according to Cooke, and prosecutors concluded 1,187 felony cases during the period, including cost cases and probation extensions.

In addition to all the Circuit Court cases for Southampton and Franklin, the local Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office handled 132 misdemeanor appeals, about 200 domestic assault cases and 175-200 other cases in General District Court, Cooke said on Friday.

Cooke began looking for a new lawyer for his small Southampton County staff a couple of months ago, with the idea that he would be expanding his legal workforce by a third in the 2009 fiscal year.

It’s a position that has been available for nearly a year, as Cooke worked to make space in the old courthouse to house a new attorney.

Now, he’s looking to fill that position, as well as the one being vacated by Randall. Throw in a statewide hiring slowdown, which means he has to wait 90 days to replace Randall, and Cooke is pretty sure that he and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Edwards will be loaded with cases for a while.

It’s a situation they’ve got some experience with, considering the fact that Randall’s own position sat vacant for months before he was hired to work in Southampton.

In his closing weeks as a prosecutor, Randall hopes to wrap up some cases for Cooke and to do whatever he can to ease the transition for a man whom he considers to have been integral to his legal training.

&uot;It has not been an easy job,&uot; he said. &uot;But I’ve enjoyed it 100 percent.&uot;