Guilford County District Attorney Doug Henderson has decided to hang up his prosecutors’ hat at the end of the year and return to his previous life as a private practice attorney working with his wife Cathe at the Greensboro firm of Henderson & Henderson.
When asked about his decision not to run for another four-year term as district attorney, Henderson chuckled.
“I’m old,” said the 68-year old district attorney who will have served for 14 years in that capacity when he turns the office over to someone else in December.
Henderson added that he’s really looking forward to working with his wife in private practice again, just as he did before becoming DA. He said he was proud of what his office and staff had accomplished over the years and added he would miss his co-workers greatly.
“I think we’ve got the best people in the state,” Henderson said of his office.
As district attorney, Henderson runs the office that oversees the prosecution of criminal cases filed in Guilford County. He serves as a representative of the state in all criminal cases and in many juvenile cases. In addition, the district attorney’s office is responsible for preparing the criminal trial docket and advising law enforcement officers in the district.
When asked what he would not miss about the job, Henderson said he had nothing bad to say about the position. He said some of the crimes he and his team have prosecuted over the years have been hard to stomach due to the nature of those crimes, but, as far as the job, and the staff he gets to work with on a daily basis, he had no complaints.
“I’ll miss it all,” Henderson said.
Former Guilford County Pretrial Services Director Wheaton Casey worked with Henderson for many years, and Casey said she was sorry he’d decided not to run again after the excellent job he’s done over the years.
Casey wrote in an email, “Doug is fair and honorable and expected the same from those who worked in his office. He is well respected by court personnel, law enforcement and other government officials.”
Casey added, “He has had to make some hard decisions when determining what could be prosecuted and what could not, but all of his decisions were based on the law and the evidence regardless of political or public influence, the fundamental basis of our justice system. He has always been a team player, open to changes that could improve efficiency and improve communication among the courts and other governmental departments. Losing someone as knowledgeable, honest and principled as Doug is a great loss for Guilford County.”
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes has worked with Henderson for the past 13 years, and Barnes – who’s seeking a seventh term as sheriff this year – said he was very sorry to hear that Henderson wouldn’t be on the ballot. The sheriff said his department has always had a very good relationship with Henderson and the DA’s office under him.
Barnes and Henderson did have a major public dispute in 2016 over Henderson’s decision not to file charges against former Guilford County Animal Shelter Director Marsha Williams and two other shelter employees after state investigators, in August 2015, released findings of widespread animal abuse and neglect at the shelter. But Barnes said that was really the only major quarrel the two men have had over the years.
“I had my opinion and he had his,” Barnes said, noting that Davidson County did prosecute Williams, who pled guilty to a charge of animal cruelty.
Barnes also said Henderson has been easy to work with and added that the DA’s office has always been supportive of the Sheriff’s Department’s special law enforcement initiatives.
“If we had a major sting operation, we would have a discussion with his office,” the sheriff said. “We worked great together.”
Barnes, a Republican, said Henderson’s only real drawback is that he “happens to be from another party.”
For the last decade, Henderson has served on the Guilford County Jail Population Advisory Committee. As part of those committee discussions in 2008, Henderson was instrumental in getting additional positions for the Pretrial Services office, which helps keep the court system flowing smoothly and by doing so reduces the jail population and saves the county money. After the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted to expand the Pretrial Services office by six positions, nearly doubling its size, Henderson said that move had made a great deal of difference.
“That is the best money you ever put out there,” Henderson told commissioners at one committee meeting about a year after the new Pretrial Services workers were hired.
Over the years, Henderson has been supportive of programs that fight recidivism through alternative to incarcerations. One idea Henderson preached over the years was that when people are facing court action, or are threatened with jail or a prison sentence, that’s the best time to convince them to seek help because the court system and the prospect of incarceration can provide a very strong motivation for a person to change.
Henderson graduated from Northeast High School in Greensboro and attended Guilford College, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in history. He got his law degree from North Carolina Central University.
He’s been active in the local legal community and is a past president of the Greensboro Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
In 2005, former North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley appointed Henderson as DA to replace former Guilford County District Attorney Stuart Albright, whom the governor appointed to Superior Court.
As a young man, Henderson followed in the steps of his father, Worth Henderson, a highly renowned defense lawyer who, along with a partner, founded a legal practice in 1923 and opened shop in downtown Greensboro. Worth Henderson retired in 1982 and passed away in 1996 at the age of 98.
In December, when Doug Henderson steps down, he and Cathe plan to once again practice together at Henderson & Henderson, a firm that specializes in criminal trials, traffic violations, juvenile law, estates, wills, real estate law and personal injury.