Ready to roll: New federal prosecutor will handle Chattanooga cases under Berke initiative

Ready to roll: New federal prosecutor will handle Chattanooga cases under Berke initiative

October 20th, 2013 by Beth Burger in Local Regional News

Meredith Edwards, the new federal prosecutor funded by the Chattanooga, speaks to a Times Free Press reporter at City Hall in this file photo.

Photo by Maura Friedman /Times Free Press.

Meredith Edwards

Age: 31

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

Law school: Santa Clara University School of Law

Years of experience practicing law: 2

Meredith Edwards started working as Chattanooga's designated federal prosecutor this week as part of Mayor Andy Berke's public safety initiative. Edwards will be instrumental in prosecuting cases coming out of the High Point Initiative. The goal of the program is to remove violent drug offenders from the streets.

Edwards graduated from law school in 2011. She previously worked in wealth management in Chicago. Edwards, who had a caseload of more than 120 cases as a special assistant attorney in the U.S. attorney's office in San Jose, Calif., said she has tried one case.

Q: What made you want to accept a position in Chattanooga? That's far away from California.

A: It truly was, initially, the position. It is what I have been working for and at the end of the day my goal was to work in violent crimes as a federal prosecutor. This particular position, though, is very unique because it's so focused on the relationship with a particular city. And ... Mayor Berke's High Point Initiative - I'm just honored to be included in it. It's something I believe in. It's so nice to be under leadership - both under Mayor Berke and [U.S. Attorney] Bill Killian - [who] really believe in it and are doing something about it. It's an honor to be part of it. That being said, once I came for my interview I just am thrilled to be here in Chattanooga. I am just obsessed. It's really so charming. There are so many awesome things about this city that I just feel so lucky, not only to have the position, but in a place I feel so lucky to be in.

Q: Tell me what you know about the High Point Initiative.

A: I know that it's had tremendous success in the majority of the places where it's actually been carried out, but it takes a lot of work from a lot of different agencies ... state and federal, investigative and local police department. And it takes time. But at the end of the day, I think everyone benefits from it on every level. The most importantly, the community itself.

Q: Do you think this program has the potential to be effective here?

A: Absolutely, otherwise I would not be here. It's what I believe in.

Q: Will you be deciding which defendants to try at a federal level?

A: I won't have the final say in anything, but my role is to focus on the cases that are coming from the city of Chattanooga. By funding this position, essentially, Mayor Berke has ensured someone is there, that someone being me, to focus on those cases and there just wasn't the manpower, and he made that happen. The Chattanooga branch is in charge of nine different counties. So this really is a focused look at the city.

Q: What factors will weigh into your decision? Who else will be weighing in?

A: It will still be - no matter what - the federal prosecution guidelines will be considered. So we'll be looking at any subject's criminal history, the extent of it, what it includes and obviously looking for violent felonies. There are various factors on there, but I think that will be one of the most important - a person's crimes of violence, potential to commit them in the future, gang affiliation and other federal interests. There's always going to be supervisory approvals. That's to be expected.

Q: I didn't know if there [were] designated people outside the U.S attorney's office who might weigh in too, in helping you decide which cases to try; whether it's someone at the police department, David Kennedy or whoever.

A: The logistics haven't yet been worked out. The City Council just voted on Tuesday, so now everything is going to be able to come into play and the real details will play out, but at this point we've got the people in place. And how it will all be worked out will be worked out soon.

Q: Do you feel that you have sufficient experience with gang-related and/or drug-related cases to deal with the challenges that will inherently come with this position?

A: I definitely do. I feel like I received phenomenal training and guidance when I was in San Jose. I am nothing but impressed by the level of professionalism and experience at the U.S. attorney's office here. They already set up a mentorship program so I'll be continuing to develop and I have plenty of resources for guidance.