Franklin County prosecutor Democratic nominee Shayla Favor on her vision and historic win

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A county prosecutor’s office traditionally has a mandate to react to crime and to pursue punishment.

Columbus City Councilmember Shayla Favor acknowledged this during an interview with The Dispatch after winning the Democratic primary race Tuesday for Franklin County prosecutor.

But Favor said there’s opportunity for the office to be more “proactive” and reduce violent crime with evidence-based programs that minimize incarceration. She’s part of a nationwide movement of more progressive prosecutor candidates running in recent years on a platform of reducing mass incarceration.

Favor sat down with The Dispatch Wednesday to discuss what this would look like if she can defeat unopposed Republican candidate John Rutan in November. Her plans include implementing more diversion programs in juvenile and adult court and connecting defendants with existing resources in the community when possible.

Favor, a vocal proponent of holding law enforcement officers who commit crimes accountable, said it was too early to comment on how she would handle some high-profile cases involving law enforcement officers. She also acknowledged a potential conflict of interest in a pending lawsuit involving an officer shooting.

According to unofficial vote totals, Favor won the Democratic party nomination to replace retiring Franklin County Prosecutor Gary Tyack with 41% of the vote to Anthony Pierson’s 35% and Natalia Harris’ 24%.

Pierson is deputy chief counsel in Tyack’s office and had Tyack’s endorsement. Harris, a Columbus resident and Delaware City Attorney, was never really in the race.

In the November general election, Favor will seemingly have an advantage over Rutan as Franklin County has become a place where it’s difficult for Republicans to win countywide office, so much so that some county judges and judicial candidates have switched parties from GOP to Democrat in recent years.

How Favor would handle police officer cases 

On the campaign trail, Favor has criticized a lack of transparency in the prosecutor’s office on cases involving police officers and how long it takes for some cases to be resolved.

Favor did not definitively say if Pierson would be shown the door.

“I have always had the greatest respect for both of the opponents in this race. I believe that the work that they do, that we all do, is some of the most important work that folks can engage in in our community,” Favor said. 

Pierson is the lead attorney prosecuting ex-Columbus police officer Adam Coy for the 2020 fatal shooting of Andre Hill. He had the case when he worked at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and then Attorney General Yost sent it back with Pierson to the Franklin County Prosecutor’s office.

Pierson’s departure from the Franklin County office could mean further delays in the Coy case. Asked about this and if she would allow Pierson to continue working on the case, Favor said it was too early to comment on active cases, especially high-profile ones. 

Favor said she does not have a definitive policy yet on how she would handle police cases, specifically whether she would send them to the Ohio Attorney General’s office, another county prosecutor’s office or bring in private attorneys. 

She said she wants to have more conversations in the community about how to handle these cases and was open to a suggestion from a local attorney at a candidate forum that an independent committee select the list of potential special prosecutors. 

A potential conflict of interest in Casey Goodson Jr. lawsuit

Among the supporters surrounding Shayla Favor on Tuesday at a Near East Side watch party where she declared victory was attorney Sean Walton.

Walton is representing Tamla Payne, the mother of the late Casey Goodson Jr., in a lawsuit against Franklin County. Payne and the family of Goodson, who was fatally shot by then-Franklin County Sheriff’s deputy Jason Meade in December 2020, endorsed Favor for prosecutor. Meade are still pending after a mistrial last month

As a City Council member, Favor sponsored a scholarship in Goodson’s name after his death.

Shayla Favor offers a heartfelt thank you to attorney Sean Walton and his wife, Jennifer, at her election night watch party Tuesday night at  Ground X Grnd event space on the Near East Side after Favor won the Democratic primary for Franklin County prosecutor.

A civil lawsuit case Payne and Walton have brought against Meade and the county is also pending in federal court. If elected county prosecutor, Favor’s office would represent the county in that civil case. 

“It is possible that it could be a conflict of interest,” Favor acknowledged in her interview with The Dispatch. 

Asked how she would deal with the potential conflict, Favor said she would need to get up to speed on where the ongoing civil case stands before commenting. 

Favor talks juvenile court diversion

Juvenile crime has come up frequently during this race, including concerns about surges in car thefts and young shooters. 

Favor said just as it is important for the city council to support community programs that give young people productive and safe ways to spend their time, the prosecutor’s office has an opportunity to engage young people who are justice-involved. 

Currently, there is a pilot program run jointly by the prosecutor’s office and the juvenile court that diverts a handful of young teens from the Linden neighborhood who get caught as passengers in stolen cars to programs in Linden. Favor said she wants to expand that pilot and for the office to do more of that type of work in partnership with community groups.

“A lot of the solutions, I believe, to some of the problems that we are grappling with, they exist in our community as it is,” Favor said. 

Evidence-based justice programs 

In discussing how Favor would apply evidence-based justice programs to adult court, Favor discussed, for example, central Ohio’s high rate of human trafficking and prostitution. 

“There’s a need to not to criminalize behavior that either someone was forced into or is relegated to because they’ve come under hard times,” she said. “That looks like us working with the judges that are on the bench to create new specialty dockets. It looks like us working with agencies like 1DivineLine2Health that are based in community that are already doing the one that’s on the ground.”

Holding criminals accountable and utilizing attorneys in the office

Yet Favor also said that if elected prosecutor, she would still hold violent criminals accountable. And to do that, she said she would support the attorneys already in the office. 

“I have said all along that there are some phenomenal attorneys that currently exist in this office that are doing their due diligence every day to ensure that Franklin County residents are safe. I want to be able to come in and support them, ensure that they have the proper resources so they can continue to do their job effectively and efficiently,” Favor said. 

Favor said she has no plans at this time to remove all of the office’s leadership, joking that she’s “not a dictator.”

“Over the coming months,” Favor said, “I will begin to have conversations with trusted advisers and leader starting to think through what a strong transition team looks like” so she is prepared if she wins election in November.

When there’s any administration change, Favor said the reality is some staff will leave, but she hopes she’ll have the opportunity to get to engage every staff member.

Favor could make history as county’s first Black female prosecutor

Favor said on election night her campaign “was for the next generation of little Black and brown girls.”

Favor reiterated Wednesday to The Dispatch this campaign was not about her. 

“I realized early on, actually after the party vote in January (not to endorse any candidate in the primary), that this whole experience was no longer about me. That it truly was a movement about empowering the next generation of young women to break barriers,” Favor said.

If Favor wins in November, she would make history: she would become the county’s first Black prosecutor and the county’s first female prosecutor.

Less than 2% of the more than 2,000 elected prosecutors nationwide are Black women, according to the Reflective Democracy Campaign.

Out of 135 attorneys in the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, 14 attorneys or about 10% are not white. One of Favor’s goals is to increase the office’s diversity by creating a stronger pipeline in the community. 

How is Favor feeling about the November general election? 

Asked about how she’s feeling about November running against Rutan, Favor said she’s excited to continue building relationships countywide and to help the entire Democratic ticket get elected, including President Joe Biden and Senator Sherrod Brown.