Top prosecutor for Chester, Lancaster counties not seeking reelection; deputy public defender aims to take his place

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comFebruary 15, 2014 

After three decades of prosecuting killers, drug dealers and gunrunners, Sixth Circuit Court solicitor Doug Barfield will not seek reelection as the top prosecutor in Chester, Lancaster and Fairfield counties.

Hoping to replace Barfield is William Frick who has opposed him in the courtroom, lobbying on behalf of the accused and the indigent. Frick, currently deputy public defender with the Sixth Circuit, says he will run for solicitor when filing opens in March. He said he will run as a Democrat, though he stressed that party affiliations don’t matter.

“I am not sure if it really makes a difference whether you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ by your name,” he said in a news release last week. “This job is about seeking justice and I am not sure how that is a Democrat or Republican thing. I think it’s a Constitution thing.”

Barfield, also a Democrat and Lancaster County native, has been solicitor since 2006. He became solicitor when John Justice died following a battle with heart disease.

Barfield became the first Lancaster lawyer to become the Sixth Circuit solicitor when he was appointed by then Gov. Mark Sanford in October 2006 after Justice died. A month later, he was elected without opposition. He was reelected in 2010. His career started in 1984 when he was hired as an assistant solicitor in Lancaster after graduating law school.

Deciding not to run again “was a very hard decision...but the right decision,” Barfield said. “I’m in my 30th year doing this. I’m relatively young and relatively healthy; I just want to be able to slow down for a bit.”

During Barfield’s tenure records were lost and employees were left without an office after an arsonist set fire to the Lancaster County courthouse in 2008. Three days later Barfield’s office across the street went up in flames.

“Some records were lost and that was a huge issue,” he said. “That set us way back. We moved three times.”

Solicitors moved to the basement of the county’s administration building, then to a facility on S.C. 9. In 2011 county voters said yes to a bond referendum to build a new courthouse that now stands in the city.

During the courthouse construction Barfield still had to prosecute cases, including one he speaks of with pride.

A career highlight, he said, was prosecuting a cold murder case in Fairfield County in which the suspect was arrested 10 years after the crime. Those kind of cases, he said, are his favorite.

“It is not an easy task,” Barfield said. “Every murder case is like a puzzle. It just takes weeks of preparation just to get all the details down, identify all the witnesses, make sure we locate all the witnesses, make sure witnesses respond to subpoenas, make sure they make themselves available; lining up witnesses and putting them in some order that makes sense to the jury.”

Typically, he tries the bulk of the homicides in his circuit.

In 2012, Lancaster County authorities investigated 14 homicides.

In that time, the Sixth Circuit Solicitor’s Office disposed of 5 percent of its cases during the 2013 fiscal year, according to the state Judicial Department. More than 3,130 cases were added to the docket, bringing the circuit’s caseload to more than 8,000. By the end of June 2013 more than 5,300 cases were still pending.

Barfield said his office isworking on the backlog, implementing new computer software that might help better manage cases.

Under a proposed docket management system currently pending in the state Supreme Court, Lancaster County would be assigned a “substantial increase” in the number of court terms scheduled in a year, along with new judges.

Barfield manages five attorneys in Lancaster, two in Chester, two in Winnsboro, a private investigator, administrative staff, victim’s advocates, a paralegal and employees who manage diversion programs.

He said he’s been considering retirement for months. His term won’t expire until the end of the year. That gives him plenty of time, he said, to figure out what he’ll do post-retirement.

“I don’t know yet what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’m not going to sit at home, I promise you that.”

Possible successor

Frick, 38, of Winnsboro, said he has considered running for solicitor for awhile. Though he lives in Fairfield County, he said “Lancaster kind of feels like home.”

During his career he has prosecuted accused criminals as a solicitor and argued on their behalf as a public defender.

His first job in the judicial system was as a public defender in Aiken County. He then became a prosecutor for both Darlington and Dillon counties before he was named the chief juvenile prosecutor for Darlington County. Frick spent three years with the state Attorney General’s Office before he returned to Fairfield County, where he worked as a chief prosecutor for the county.

He later went into private practice. At the same time, he accepted a part-time contract with the Sixth Circuit Public Defender’s Office, accepting cases when needed. The job eventually became full time.

During his 13-year law career, Frick said he has tried cases in at least 33 of 46 counties in the state.

Mike Lifsey, the Sixth Circuit’s chief public defender, has worked with Frick for about five years.

“He’s been my No. 2,” Lifsey said, adding that Frick often assists with managing the office’s budget and attorneys. “The most difficult cases in the office tend to go to me or William.”

Among the cases Frick has tried for Lifsey include homicides and a crossfire shooting in which a 3-year-old girl was killed. Frick defended one of the co-defendants in that case. His client was found not guilty, Lifsey said.

“William’s an aggressive trial lawyer who thinks very well on his feet,” Lifsey said.

Money crunch

The only challenge Lifsey said he foresees for Frick is dealing with finances. The Sixth Circuit, comprised of more-rural counties, faces has a funding disadvantage when compared to other court circuits, such as the 16th Circuit covering York and Union counties.

Lifsey’s office this year received $58,000 from Chester County; $127,000 from Lancaster; and $52,000 from Fairfield. Chester County gave the prosecutors more than $71,000; Lancaster, $189,000; and Fairfield, $54,000.

By comparison, the York County Public Defender’s Office received $1.6 million in county money, and the solicitor’s office received $3.3 million, not including funding for juvenile and adult drug court programs, victim services and criminal domestic violence court. State money is distributed on a per-capita basis, except for certain funds that are divided up evenly among all state judicial circuits.

Barfield’s office hasn’t seen any funding decreases from the three counties, though his requests for more money have typically been denied in recent years.

Frick’s experience managing a private practice should help him adapt, Lifsey said. “You really have to hire good people. You’ve got to get bang for your buck with your employees. An experienced staff can do more with less.”

Frick is a member of the Fairfield County School Board, and father to a 9-year-old daughter.

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