In just six years as a crusading defense attorney, 33-year-old Victoria Burton-Harris has emerged as an eloquent advocate for criminal justice reform, and her campaign to transform the practices and priorities of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office has seized the imagination of many younger Detroiters in this summer of unprecedented protest against police brutality and mass incarceration.
But Burton-Harris is running to unseat an incumbent with a formidable reform record of her own. In 16 years as Wayne County Prosecutor, Kym Worthy, 63, has been a leader in confronting public corruption and police misconduct, a pioneer in implementing diversionary programs for low-risk offenders, and a champion for survivors of sexual assault, targets of anti-LGBT violence and other victims historically overlooked by law enforcement.
Because no Republican candidate filed to seek the prosecutor’s office, the candidate who wins the Aug. 4 Democratic primary is certain to prevail in the November general election. Primary voters should not hesitate to elect KYM WORTHY to a fifth term.
Worthy made her name as a trial attorney in 1993 when she prosecuted Detroit Police officers Larry Nevers and Walter Budzyn for the beating death of Malice Green. The jury’s guilty verdicts marked the first murder conviction of on-duty police officers in U.S. history. She was
elected to a seat on the Detroit Recorder’s Court, now the Wayne County Circuit Court, the following year.
Worthy resigned her circuit court seat in 2003 with the intention of challenging incumbent Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan’s bid for a second term..But Duggan resigned before the election to become the CEO of Detroit Medical Center, and Worthy’s fellow circuit judges appointed her to finish his uncompleted term. She was elected to her first four-year term in 2004 and has since been re-elected three times.
Worthy has consistently campaigned as a reformer, and more often than not, she’s delivered.
Her office was a pioneer in establishing diversionary court programs to address
root causes of crime like substance abuse, mental illness and illiteracy.. She has advocated for improved behavioral health treatment and
launched an elder abuse unit, and says her office has stopped prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses. In 2016, after a string of murders of trans women in Detroit, Worthy partnered with
a non-profit foundation to start the Fair Michigan Justice Project, which brought new resources to the prosecution of homicides and other capital offenses committed against LGBTQ Michiganders.
Worthy also started the county’s Public Integrity Unit, charged with reviewing allegations of criminal activity or misconduct by police or public officials. Between 2015 and 2019 alone, Worthy prosecuted 70 police officers for misconduct and has lobbied for the creation of state and national databases to track officers who move from department to department after allegations of brutality.
Just this week, Worthy released a list of officers proved to have lied on the stand, and whose testimony shouldn’t be allowed in future court proceedings.
She has barred her prosecutors from charging a case based strictly on evidence garnered from facial recognition technology, which studies have shown is more likely to misidentify black and brown faces. (A Farmington Hills man, Robert Williams, was arrested and wrongly charged with shoplifting earlier this year after a facial recognition misidentification, supposedly confirmed by a flawed photo line-up. Worthy apologized, saying the policy was not in place when Williams was arrested, and that it should never have happened.)
Worthy has made some noteworthy missteps in a few high-profile cases,
and Burton Harris says the incumbent prosecutor has done too little to crack down on police misconduct, stem cash bail requirements that penalize impoverished offenders and facilitate new sentencing hearings for juveniles lifers.
Worthy acknowledges that her office, by far the busiest in Michigan, has made mistakes, but points to her Prosecution Integrity Unit’s efforts to minimize and correct them. She says her …