Standing for JusticeDistrict Attorney Mike Bonfoey looks back on his career
After more than a decade of service as district attorney in seven western counties, Mike Bonfoey will be retiring at the end of his term this year.
Bonfoey has served as district attorney for the 30th Prosecutorial District covering Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Graham, Swain, Clay and Cherokee counties since 2003.
Since he will turn 65 this summer and his term runs out at the year's end, it seemed like the perfect time to step away from the courtrooms and find some time to relax.
"At some point, time becomes more important, and I thought this would be a good time to consider doing other things," he said.
Hiking, playing golf and spending time with his family, including his wife, Kelley, are among the activities he has on his mind.
"One of the things I know I'm going to do is enjoy where we live and spend a lot more time outside," Bonfoey said with a smile.
Over the years, he said the most difficult aspect of his job is learning that even a district attorney has no control over the unpredictable world of crime and government decisions.
"It can be a variety of things including when we have budget cuts from the legislature, and we have to do more with less. That is difficult," he said.
Being district attorney also means always being on-call for work. There have been many times when he and his prosecutors have been awakened in the middle of the night to head to a crime scene or talk to investigators and officers who have questions about a certain case.
Though vacations and time off are a must in his office, there also must always be someone there to take care of the never-ending court dockets.
"Everything keeps going on. Crime doesn't take a day off. No matter what we are doing, we have to respond to it and deal with it," Bonfoey said.
Being district attorney means spending long hours in the office, staying abreast on all the changes in law and keeping up with a staff and prosecutors in seven rural counties, not to mention overseeing the multiple major cases across the district.
Though crime has not changed much over the years, he said the number of homicide cases has increased drastically in counties like Graham and Swain. And in general, financial crimes have been on the uptick recently. Though the drug of choice may change as time goes by, substance abuse is behind the majority crimes in the district.
But with an ever-growing caseload of sometimes 70,000 new cases each year, it's impossible for him to know the details of every case. That's why he has learned to put plenty of trust in his assistant district attorneys. To Bonfoey, the employees in his offices across the district are not only trustworthy, but have made his job enjoyable.
"The best part about my job is the people that I come in contact with in the office — my staff, my prosecutors, judges, clerks, probation officers — just everybody," Bonfoey said. "There's a lot of bad things that happen in our communities, but there is a tremendous number of good people that you can come in contact with and that is the best part, dealing with those folks."
His prosecutors, such as Jeff Jones and Rachael Groffsky, appreciate his support.
"I've worked in other offices and I've always appreciated Mike's confidence in his people and the opportunities he gives them to lead in their jobs," Jones said.
"He's given me every opportunity in the world to succeed here, and I am most appreciative of that. He's just been wonderful to work for," she said.
From multiple murder, sexual assault, driving while impaired and drug cases in the past 11 years, there aren't any specific cases that seem to stick out in Bonfoey's mind. What he remembers are the people impacted because of the crimes of others.
"What I think about are the victims of the cases more than the individual cases," he said. "Homicides where people have lost a loved one and sexual assault cases where the victims are children. That's what I remember are the pain and the loss that they have suffered, especially the children because their childhoods have been robbed."
As he eases out of his role in the court system, Bonfoey hopes there will be some changes that legislators and future district attorneys will facilitate. First, he said he would like to see assistant district attorneys and court system employees get a salary increase.
"My ADAs work extremely hard. They work way beyond 40 hours a week and they are very often in here on weekends working on cases," he said.
"The pay that prosecutors in North Carolina receive is nowhere near what the national average is and they should be compensated appropriately for the job they are doing," he said.
He would also like to see a decrease in the amount of trials there are for petty crimes.
"I would eliminate jury trials for infractions," he said. "I think there are a certain levels of misdemeanors you don't need a jury trial for and I would like to see that changed somewhat."
But one of the biggest changes he would like to see is an end to the severe backlog in blood testing at the state crime lab in Raleigh, which in turn backs up cases in his office for months, sometimes up to a year. He's been pushing for the issue to be addressed for several years.
"The amount of time that prosecutors have to wait for all of the tests that we are waiting for, it's just not good business and that needs to be improved," he said.
"I am really thankful and appreciative of the trust that people have given me to have this job," Bonfoey said. "I've tried during my tenure to make our community a better place to live in the ways I could, and I'll just enjoy being a private citizen again."
Two of Bonfoey's assistant district attorneys, Jim Moore and Ashley Welch, are vying to take over his post in November.
Mike Bonfoey Timeline:
1972: Received his undergraduate degree in history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
1976: Received his law degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill
1976: Worked as assistant district attorney in the 4th District
1981: Entered a private practice in Waynesville and served several years as the town attorney for Waynesville
2003: He was elected district attorney for the 30th Prosecutorial District covering Haywood, Clay, Cherokee, Graham, Macon, Swain and Jackson counties
- President of the Haywood County Bar Association
- President of the 30th District Bar
- Served two terms on the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the North Carolina State Bar