MONROE – Union County District Attorney Trey Robison was naturally interested in a career in law enforcement. His father was a police officer. His grandfather was a highway patrolman.
Robison initially became a night clerk for the FBI’s Oklahoma City office before taking on specialized training at Quantico, Virginia. He was later assigned to the Philadelphia field office.
But trial work lured Robison away from law enforcement and into the courtroom.
He enjoyed the competitive nature of the work, including thinking on your feet, presenting an argument and persuading a jury to your point of view.
Robison worked in the Union County District Attorney’s office from 1996 to 2002. He eventually wound up practicing law with Caldwell Helder Helms & Robison PA in Monroe from 2003 to 2010.
Gov. Bev Perdue appointed Robison to replace John Snyder as district attorney, beginning Jan. 1. 2011.
Over time, he’s put down roots. He and his wife, Rebecca, have three sons.
He met recently with Union County Weekly to discuss why he should be re-elected in 2018.
Exhibit A: Managing a team
Robison was a line prosecutor for more than six years in Union County, back when it was part of a larger district that included Stanly, Anson and Richmond counties.
He enjoyed the work, describing it as “the day to day grind of keeping the wheels of the justice system turning.”
The difference in what he does now compared to what he did then is that he’s more of an administrator now. He’s in charge of an office of more than 20 people.
“Each of those 20 people are a valuable state asset and tax money is spent on those assets,” he said. “It is my job to guard those assets and pull as much productivity as I can.”
Being a fan of baseball, he’s likens himself not as a pitcher but as the manager sitting in the dugout setting the lineup and calling the pitches.
“My job is to get people into positions to succeed,” Robison said.
Exhibit B: Overseeing key cases
The Union County District Attorney’s office has overseen numerous successful homicide prosecutions, including a triple homicide in Marshville.
Perhaps the most famous case was the one that involved the death of 3-year-old Kilah Davenport. Her step-father Joshua Houser, was convicted of felony child abuse and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
The smoking gun in the case was a hair sample taken from a hole in a wall matching Kilah’s DNA.
“That was an absolutely tragic situation,” Robison said. “She was just the cutest little girl.”
Her death led to stiffer penalties for child abuse in the form of the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act.
Exhibit C: Going after drug dealers
Robison has been taking part in a series of panel discussions, dubbed the Safe School Initiative, to educate the community about how they can recognize the opioid problem and address it.
Robison said the number of opiate and heroin overdoses has become so frequent that law enforcement officers carry NARCAN or Naloxone.
“Government is not going to solve this problem,” he said. “We are not going to arrest and prosecute our way out of this. This is going to require a grassroots level effort to get a hold of this thing.”
That’s not stopping his office from making a concerted effort to prosecute drug dealers for murder if they can trace a fatal overdose back to them.
Exhibit D: Focusing on jail cases
Robison reprioritized the DA’s office to put a greater emphasis on jail cases.
While there are people in jail charged with serious crimes and given high bonds, there are also people charged with less serious crimes who don’t have the financial means to bond themselves out of jail.
“Every day they are sitting in the jail, they are costing taxpayers money,” Robison. “Not only are they costing taxpayers money sitting in the jail, we are depriving them of their liberty.”
That’s why jail cases take the highest priority under his watch.
“When you are actively depriving someone of their freedom, it is incumbent upon us to get those people into court as quickly as possible, for better or for worse,” he said.
Exhibit E: Specializing his prosecutors
He’s designated some attorneys to very specific jobs.
“I resisted this for a good while because I didn’t want anyone to get pigeon-holed,” he said. “I realized I needed to specialize people in order to provide better service to crime victims, quite frankly.”
He has prosecution teams devoted to drugs, violent crimes and property crime. He also has prosecutors dedicated to traffic safety, child abuse and sexual assault, as well as white-collar crimes and fraud.
“I’ve seen to it that they receive specialized training and they have developed expertise in those areas,” he said. “I will tell you that we are doing a better job serving the victims of crimes in those cases than we were before.”
Exhibit F: Honing in on white collar crimes
Robison added a white collar and fraud prosecutor to address a growing number of such cases, particularly those involving identity theft. He’s also seeing more vulnerable victims, especially older folks.
After all, con artists know exactly who they are targeting.
“I wanted someone in my office who had an interest in this work and an aptitude for this work to take hold of those cases, and shepherd them through the system,” Robison said.