Ed Glassman

Innovative North Carolina District Attorney Applies Creative Thinking Outside the Box to His Job as a Prosecutor and to His Personal Life

I interviewed C. F., a former local North Carolina District Attorney (Prosecutor) because I had heard amazing things about him, that he was a very creative person who applied creativity to the operation of his job and office. I wasn’t disappointed.

He told me one reason he became a District Attorney was because it promised to be an outlet for his creative mind. Indeed, the District Attorney’s office provided him with the options he wants to be creative and help people charged with victimless violations.

“In my job, creativity is important in handling cases and deciding on charges,” he said. “For example, I started a creative program to get people caught with small amounts of drugs for their own use to give up drugs. We stopped prosecuting them for drug possession, a felony, and started charging them with possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor, providing they obtained assessments and cooperated in recommended treatments, paid a $500 fine and court costs, performed 72 hours of community service, and were not arrested again for any violation.”

He pointed out that creativity helps him manage his office and caseloads, as well as manage the work his staff does. Creativity is also important during a trial,” He said. “I need to think quickly and creatively about my responses, and anticipate what witnesses will say.”

He fostered the creativity of the people who work for him by giving them lots of discretion in what they do. “I encourage them to use their creativity and make their own decisions,” he said. “I am open to their suggestions and ideas. I direct projects to allow them lots of freedom, lots of self-direction.”

He said the biggest factor in fostering his creativity is his vivid and active imagination. “My mind is always running at 100 mph, and takes off quickly. I like to work on more than one thing at the same time. My mind loves to create. I love being creative in cooking, inventing new recipes, and writing poetry and books. I love designing homes. I go into an existing house, and immediately start redesigning it in my mind. I have also designed cars and accessories,” he said.

When he was 7-years-old, he said, he started generating new ideas for products. “I sent them to companies, some of which used my ideas,” he said. “I stopped doing this when I learned a company had made millions on one of my ideas, and didn’t acknowledge me.”

He likes his work because it constantly changes. “It’s like a flowing stream,” he said, “rather than a static pond absorbing only what enters it. I work with many different kinds of people, and I never know what to expect from one day to the next.”

He likes creating new ways to do things. “I once drafted guidelines on how to prosecute obscenity cases,” he said. “These guidelines led to calls from District Attorneys across the nation. Instead of letting a jury decide community standards on obscenity, which is very expensive, I listened to the community. High school students who wrote me were thrilled they had a voice in influencing a community issue.”

And he is dedicated to community work. “I work with United Way [a charity]. I help prepare breakfast at the homeless shelter every other week. We need people to plant seeds in their community, and not just harvest the fruits of the labor of others,” he said.

He thinks having options and choices is important. “Lots of teenagers don’t realize their loss of options when they have children, quit school, or commit a crime,” he said. “It’s a life decision they see with tunnel vision. It’s a ‘me now’ approach instead of a step-by-step upward approach. One way to keep kids out of the court system is to listen and respond to them where they are. Their creativity needs to be nurtured and encouraged. We need to listen to them when they are creative. Society can change through peaceful creativity. Creativity can be employed in everything we do.”

No disappointment here. A creative prosecutor? Is this a rarity? I don’t know. Do you?

Ed Glassman is a retired professor from the University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and a former columnist for the Chapel Hill Herald and the (Raleigh, North Carolina) Triangle Business Journal.

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.