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Julie Garcia and Kristy Sprague spar in DA debate

At the debate, Garcia said it was her commitment to open government and willingness to ask questions that created a rift between her and Republican leaders.

"The Republican party leadership in Essex County is a train wreck," Garcia said. "I find it very difficult to relate with them on any level. In fact, I think when any party is in control for a long period of time, this is the kind of government that is created."

Both candidates agreed that party politics have no place in the DA's office.

Sprague argued Republican leaders simply chose the better candidate, seeing poor performance by Garcia in the last four years.

"They asked her to do her job, and she didn't do it," Sprague said.

Garcia said her record is above average and that allowing plea deals is sometimes a better exercise in justice than always pursuing a conviction. She pointed to the progress she and her staff have made tackling drunk driving, both by tough prosecution of the crime and strong prevention efforts against underage alcohol use.

Sprague, on the other hand, said Garcia avoided taking felony cases to trial, instead choosing to leave them in her staff's hands. She also asserted Garcia paid far too much attention to DWIs while letting other, more pressing issues fall through the cracks and making deals with repeat offenders.

"Unlike my opponent, I am not afraid of going into the courtroom and fighting for victim's rights," Sprague said. "I'm not a talker, I am a doer - I lead by example and I train new attorneys how to win cases successfully."

In her closing remarks, Garcia said the election was as much about transparency in government as it was about choosing a good DA.

"I committed to you before I asked for your commitment to me," she said. "I know the people that live in this county, and I hope I've earned your trust."

Sprague finished by saying she is the more qualified candidate and the more able prosecutor.

"Maybe my opponent is doing the best she can, but I can do better," she said.

Both candidates are set to face off in a Republican primary Sept. 15. Sprague defeated Garcia for the Republican endorsement in June. Garcia, in turn, gained the endorsement of Democrats.

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