The District Attorney is responsible for overseeing criminal prosecution in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. The closest margin between the two candidates was in the far west Cherokee County, where Bonfoey beat Forga by only 176 votes. In the two candidates’ home county — Haywood — Bonfoey brought in 11,364 votes to Forga’s 8,866. Bonfoey took nearly 54 percent of the vote overall.
Bonfoey, 57, has been the District Attorney for three and a half years. Gov. Mike Easley appointed Bonfoey to fill the vacancy left when sitting DA Charles Hipps passed away. Although Hipps’ term did not expire until this year, an election was held for the position in 2004, just 18 months after Bonfoey’s appointment. Bonfoey was uncontested in that election.
Forga, a 43-year-old private practice attorney in Waynesville, challenged Bonfoey largely on the platform of improving courtroom functions. Pending Superior Court filings rose dramatically after Bonfoey took office in 2003. Case filings from 2003 to 2005 rose 27.1 percent. However, cases pending rose 116.5 percent.
Forga blamed over-scheduling within the DA’s office and trial calendars coming out with more cases than any attorney could realistically prepare for as part of the problem. She zeroed in on better communication between the DA’s office and defendants’ attorneys as keys to decreasing the current caseload.
As a result, Forga appealed to some voters who were looking for change within the office.
“I’m not real happy with the way things have gone,” said Donna Cormier, a voter at Jackson County’s Cullowhee precinct. “I’ve watched the candidates closely.”
Others voted for Forga based on personality and party lines.
“I was 100 percent for Charles Taylor and Donna Forga,” said Frances Adamson of Haywood County’s Bethel community. Adamson said she knew Forga personally and said she agreed with Taylor’s voting record about 95 percent of the time.
But while personality was of issue in the election — Forga has earned respect for being a self-made woman who earned her law degree late in life, and Bonfoey is known throughout the district for his intensity — time spent punching the judicial clock may have been the ultimate deciding factor.
Prior to becoming District Attorney, Bonfoey was an Assistant District Attorney for six years and then went into private practice for 20 years. During that time he served as the Waynesville Town Attorney and represented the Cherokee Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise, while also taking individual criminal and civil cases such as divorce and business disputes.
Forga has been practicing law for only six years. Prior to that she earned a business administration degree at Haywood Community College and her undergraduate degree in literature and English from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She then spent two years working as an AmeriCorp Vista with Mountain Projects and before receiving her law school degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.