Brian Patterson, acting District Attorney for Oconee and Clarke counties, told Oconee County Democrats last month that, if he becomes District Attorney on a permanent basis, he will resurrect a number of unsolved murder cases in the two counties.
He also said he will increase the investigation of organized criminal activity and gang activity, continue to prioritize crimes against women and children, and promote alternative court programs to keep people from having a criminal records for lesser offenses.
At the time he spoke, Patterson was Chief Assistant District Attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit serving the two counties, but he moved up to Acting District Attorney on March 1 when Ken Mauldin resigned rather than complete his term.
Gov. Brian Kemp has yet to announce a replacement for Mauldin, whose term expired on Dec. 31 of this year.
If Kemp makes the appointment on or before May 3, a special election will be held on Nov. 3 to fill the District Attorney office. If Kemp delays his decision until after May 3, the election will be pushed back to 2022.
Patterson said that “I share the concern" about the timing of the election, but he did not take a stand on what Kemp should do and said he has not communicated with Kemp other than to apply for the job.
The Oconee County Democrats have announced that Jon Ossoff, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican David Perdue, will speak before the group at 6:30 p.m. on March 19 at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, 55 Nancy Drive in Watkinsville.
Tabitha Johnson-Green is the scheduled speaker for the Oconee Democratic meeting at 6:30 p.m. on April 16, also at the Chamber of Commerce. Johnson-Green is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 10th Congressional District seat now held by Republican Jody Hice.
Patterson’s Focus On Qualification
Twenty-one people attended the Feb. 20 meeting of the Oconee County Democratic Party at the Chamber of Commerce auditorium.
At the beginning of the meeting, Zachary Perry, a law student at the University of Georgia, introduced himself to the group. He is the only candidate seeking the Democratic nomination in Georgia Senate District 46.
Republican Bill Cowsert is the incumbent and the only candidate in the Republican primary.
Elections for District Attorney are partisan, and Patterson and former Georgia House Representative Deborah Gonzalez had both announced prior to Mauldin’s surprise resignation on Feb. 5 that they planned to seek the Democratic nomination for that office in the May 19 primary.
Gonzalez had spoken to the Oconee County Democratic Party at its meeting on Jan. 16.
Patterson spoke for 35 minutes at the February meeting and then took questions for another 30 minutes. He had been invited to speak to the Democratic Party before Kemp made his announcement.
He focused much of his prepared comments on his qualifications for the office. The presentation was methodical, with Patterson returning to the podium frequently to check off points he had made on the pad he left there.
Supervises 17 Assistant District Attorneys
Patterson said he had joined Mauldin’s District Attorney Office in 2002 after having worked as a federal law clerk and then with a law firm in Atlanta where he did both criminal and personal injury cases.
Patterson said he began his work in the District Attorney Office handling Juvenile Court cases, and that, for two years, he handled the criminal cases in Oconee County. He lives at 1021 Spring Valley Way off New High Shoals Road in Oconee County.
He became Chief Assistant District Attorney in 2007 and at present supervises 17 assistant district attorneys, Patterson said.
Patterson said he also tries complex, high profile criminal cases, coordinates appellate legislation, handles civil cases on behalf of the District Attorney, and prepares the Office’s budget.
“I love being a prosecutor,” Patterson said. “And I love being a voice for victims.”
“But as administer of justice you are also responsible for making sure that accused persons are treated fairly and justly in the process and that they are accorded what we call due process rights,” Patterson said. “So not only am I representing the people of the state of Georgia, but my responsibilities are to make sure that accused persons are treated fairly and justly in the process.”
Patterson listed five things he pledged to do as District Attorney. Some of them, he said, he could start as Acting District Attorney.
Patterson said as District Attorney he will personally handle all of the new homicide cases in the office.
“They can be very complex,” Patterson said, “and I think that you ought to expect as citizens and voters that your District Attorney should take ownership over the most serious criminal cases that are referred for potential prosecution.”
Going back to the 1990s, Patterson said, the Western Judicial Circuit has between 30 and 40 unsolved murder cases.
“That’s a lot, in my opinion,” Patterson said. “I believe that there are real opportunities to go back, review all those cases, and then try to go rework them to bring justice to those families and to bring answers to our community.”
“Another thing I feel strongly about is taking a more targeted approach to organized criminal activity and gang activity,” Patterson said. “This has become an issue throughout the state of Georgia.”
Crimes Against Women and Children
The fourth pledge Patters made was to “continue to prioritize crimes against women and children.”
Patterson said Mauldin had “formed a special victims unit before anybody was talking about special victims” and “I believe in that work. They are very, very difficult, but it is important that those vulnerable victims continue to be some of the highest priorities in our office.”
Patterson’s fifth pledge was to continue the development of alternative court programs.
Already existing are courts dealing with mental health problems, drug problems, and problems for veterans, he said.
“It is an opportunity for people who’ve never been in trouble to have a path forward and not have it on their record,” he said.
Patterson saved until the end of his presentation a discussion of the election.
“I announced my intention to be a Democratic candidate for District Attorney and I had expected that there would be a primary in May, based on what Mr. Mauldin had said,” Patterson said.
“I share the concern about how the appointment might affect the timing of the election,” he added. “I didn’t make the law and, what I would tell you as voters is that no matter when there is an election I will be prepared to make my case as to why I believe that I’m qualified to be your next District Attorney.”
Gonzalez has been vocal in calling on Kemp to make his appointment on or before May 3 so there can be an election in November.
Gonzalez also said she would not apply for the appointment.
In response to questions, Patterson said he did not know of Mauldin’s decision until five minutes before Mauldin informed all of his staff before the announcement.
“I have not communicated with the governor,” Patterson said. “I did submit an application for the job.”
“When do you think it should happen?” one of the audience members asked Patterson in response.
“I don’t know how to answer that because it’s not really within my control,” he responded.
Gonzalez, in her presentation to the Oconee County Democrats at the January meeting, said the criminal justice system at present “disproportionately affects a certain part of our population” and that racial disparities exist in how the District Attorney Office handles cases.
Several questioners asked Patterson to respond to that charge, particularly as it relates to sentencing of African-American male youth.
“I don’t believe that’s accurate in the Juvenile Courts of Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties,” Patterson said, “and I watch the dockets down there. And I don’t see that on the docket.”
“The prosecutor does not sentence anybody,” Patterson said. “A judge authorizes and imposes a sentence. What the prosecutor does have authority to do is enter into plea bargains.”
“The Office of the District Attorney never considers the race of the defendant in prosecuting a case,” Patterson said. “We have a very diverse office of prosecutors and investigators and victim advocates and we strive to treat everybody fairly and justly in the criminal court system regardless of the race.”
“We always need to be thinking about how we can improve the way things are done and strive toward serving the community in a better way,” Patterson conceded in response to another question.
A questioner asked Patterson to share his “thoughts” on the death penalty.
“Seeking the death penalty is an awesome responsibility, and the prosecutor takes a sworn oath to uphold and defend the law,” Patterson said. “One of those possible penalties is the death penalty.”
“The only crime eligible for the death penalty is murder,” Patterson said, “and before you can ever make a decision about that you have to receive the input of the family and it should only be applied in the most heinous and vile cases based on the strict application of Georgia law.
“If someone tells you that they would never seek the death penalty under any circumstances,” Patterson continued, “then they are telling you that they would be willing to violate their oath as a prosecutor, because, under the Georgia Constitution and the Crime Victim Bill of Rights, victims and victim’s families have a right of input into what ought to happen.
“And so you could never make a judgment without first listening to what the family has to say,” Patterson said.
“It is an awesome responsibility,” he repeated.
The video below is of the Feb. 20 meeting of the Oconee County Democratic Party.
Patterson began his presentation at 10:35 in the video.
He made his comments on the possibility of an election at 42:57.
He started taking questions at 46:36 in the video.