A welcome and a farewell

Beth Heckert takes the reins at the DA's office as Mark Huddleston steps down

We join the legal community in welcoming Beth Heckert as the new Jackson County District Attorney and bid farewell to Mark Huddleston, who retires after 32 years with the office and two decades as DA.

Heckert, who joined the office 23 years ago out of law school and rose to be Huddleston's chief deputy, won the top job last May in an election pitting her against former State Rep. Rob Patridge and fellow Deputy District Attorney David Hoppe. She was sworn in Monday and hit the ground running, making changes in caseload assignments and making plans to increase training and upgrade technology.

During the campaign, Patridge was critical of what he said was a strained relationship between the DA's office and law enforcement. In addition to staffing changes, Heckert has instituted mandatory ride-alongs with police patrols for her deputies, a move that should help foster communication between officers and prosecutors.

Heckert will be taking on a high-profile murder case soon as Jordan Adam Criado goes to trial on charges of killing his wife and four children in 2011.

The district attorney is ultimately responsibility for all cases prosecuted by the office, but courtroom action is not always the primary focus of the top job. Managing a staff of busy attorneys, many of them relatively inexperienced, is a big part of the DA's duties, and we are confident Heckert will ably handle the position.

She takes over from Huddleston, her predecessor and mentor who has served quietly but effectively since being appointed by Gov. Barbara Roberts in 1992 following the death of District Attorney Bill Juba. He joined the office as a deputy district attorney in 1980.

A member of the county's child abuse task force, Huddleston played a major role in creating the Children's Advocacy Center, a private, nonprofit organization that allows children to report abuse in a home-like environment. He served as a member and chairman of the center's board of directors.

He worked to pass a criminal justice levy in 1994, was a member and chairman of the county's Public Safety Coordinating Council and served on the advisory council for the Jackson County Narcotics Enforcement Team.

We wish him a well-deserved retirement.

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