Atlanta attorney Adam M. Sparks last week sent a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp on behalf of Athens Attorney Deborah Gonzalez urging Kemp to appoint a District Attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit before May 3, thus assuring that an election for the open District Attorney office will be held on Nov. 3.
Sparks, with the law firm of Krevolin & Horst, told Kemp that “Waiting beyond May 3 would deprive voters and candidates alike of their First Amendment rights” under the U.S. Constitution.
The District Attorney office became open when Ken Mauldin stepped down unexpectedly effective Feb. 29, putting in Kemp’s hands a decision on a replacement. If Kemp appoints someone after May 3, no election will be held for the spot until 2022. The Western Judicial Circuit consists of Oconee and Clarke counties.
Sparkes notes that the procedures specifying how a vacant District Attorney position is filled are not set in the Georgia Constitution but rather are based on a statute passed in 2018 that, in Sparkes’ words, “impinges on the constitutional rights of voters and of potential candidates for the office of district attorney throughout Georgia.”
“Ms. Gonzalez does not want to litigate this matter, the likely constitutional infirmities of the statutory scheme notwithstanding,” Sparks said.
“Even so, she reserves all options at her disposal should the anticipated election not occur due to delay in exercising the Governor’s vested appointment power,” Sparkes wrote.
If Kemp makes the appointment on or before the May 3 deadline, a special election would be held on Nov. 3. Gonzalez and acting District Attorney Brian Patterson have declared their intent to run, both as Democrats.
Oconee County also will hold a nonprimaried special election on Nov. 3 to fill the vacancy on the Board of Commissioners created with the death of Post 3 Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes.
Philip Ashford, a local realtor and business owner, announced this week his intent to run for that seat as a Republican. Former banking executive Amrey Harden has declared his intent to qualify as a Republican as well.
“I am a lifelong Oconee County resident with deep family ties to Oconee County since the 1820s,” Ashford said in announcing this candidacy.
Ashford said he received a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Economics and Management and a master’s degree in Geography, Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing Specialization, both from the University of Georgia.
Ashford is an instructor in the University of Georgia College of Engineering and a realtor with Nichols Land and Investment Company Inc., 2500 Daniells Bridge Road.
He also owns and operates Aerial Insight LLC, a firm specializing in producing digital aerial photogrammetry products for architectural, civil engineering, and land planning applications. The firm is registered at 1141 Crystal Hills Drive, Ashford’s home address.
Ashford noted that he has served on the now disbanded Oconee County Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee and has “assiduously followed infrastructure planning, land development, and efforts to protect rural spaces in Oconee County.”
Ashford is married to Jordan Daniell Ashford, daughter of Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell, who is seeking re-election to that position.
Harden, former president and CEO of Oconee State Bank and former mayor of Watkinsville, announced on April 1 that he intends to run as a Republican for the position.
Qualifying will be from Aug. 17 to 19 at the Board of Elections and Registration Office opposite the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
Gonzalez And Letter
Gonzales and Patterson were campaigning late last year and early this year with the expectation that Mauldin would retire at the end of his term on Dec. 31.
When Mauldin reversed course, Kemp announced that he would accept applications for the position. Patterson applied, but Gonzalez did not. The deadline was Feb. 20.
Patterson, who had been Mauldin’s chief assistant district attorney, became Acting District Attorney on March 1, following statutory succession procedures.
In his letter to Kemp, copied to David Dove, executive counsel to the Governor, Sparkes said that delaying the election “delays democracy and the opportunity for the voters of the Western Circuit to express their opinion through the democratic process.”
Sparks said that “there is simply no reason not to exercise the appointment power without delay, and in any event by the end of this month.
“Waiting beyond May 3 would deprive voters and candidates alike of their First Amendment rights and in light of the circumstances described above could only be seen as calculated to have precisely that effect,” Sparks said in ending his letter.
I am deleting a comment from Unknown.
It is a political criticism, and I think anyone who wants to make such a statement must sign a name.
If your google address does not display your name, you must sign it or I will not publish the comment.
It is interesting that Deborah Gonzalez is complaining about Gov. Kemp rushing the appointment of a new District Attorney during this pandemic when she did not even apply for the position.
I expect she did not apply because she lacks the necessary qualifications to fulfill the day-to-day duties of a District Attorney. While she is licensed as an attorney in Georgia,
she does not regularly litigate civil or criminal matters in a court room.
A quick visit to her Facebook page or website will explain the political rhetoric of her campaign, but the problem is that serving as District Attorney is not the same as serving
as a state representative which is focused on policy and politics.
What about the practical reality of being tasked with the duty to prosecute criminals and litigate cases? While she may have experience dealing with policy issues, it does not seem
practical to have a District Attorney that does not know how to litigate cases. Does she even know the mechanics of a criminal prosecution?
For victims, it is essential they have confidence in the District Attorney who is charged with seeking justice on their behalf, but that seems impossible when considering Ms. Gonzalez
since she lacks the experience or knowledge for the job. In the same way, it is important for our law enforcement officials (i.e. police chief and sheriff) to have experience in the
day-to-day activities of law enforcement, not just new and unique policy ideas. Who wants a sheriff who has never actually been a law enforcement officer?
While nobody is arguing that accountability courts and prison alternatives are not helpful, it seems Ms. Gonzalez forgot that Clarke and Oconee already has several accountability
courts and Clarke has a Diversion Center. It seems quite naive for her to think that it is appropriate for her to treat the role of District Attorney as a platform for pushing her
social justice platform. While being mindful of those issues is an aspect of the District Attorney's responsibilities, it appears O.C.G.A. 15-18-6 in stating the duties of a District
Attorney is more focused on serving as the chief prosecution officer for the applicable counties.
Ms. Gonzalez is simply unable to fulfill these statutory duties since she has little to no experience in actual criminal prosecution? How is she possibility prepared to: (1) prosecute
all indictable offenses (O.C.G.A. 15-18-6(5), argue appellate issues from Athens and Oconee Counties (O.C.G.A. 15-18-6(6), and advise law enforcement officers concerning evidence issues,
warrants, and other matters regarding the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses (O.C.G.A. 15-18-6(7)? Her campaign material talks about prison reform, accountability courts
and the like, but nothing on the prosecution of criminals.
While Ms. Gonzalez’s “vision” might be interesting to some extent, the real question is what makes her most qualified for the role of District Attorney? How does she plan to do a
job that is mandated by the law when she lacks actual experience in that field? It is obvious she is pursing this position as a means to pursue her progressive agenda from the
inside instead of though legislation! While the criminals may appreciate her new proposed approach to “criminal prosecution”, is that really what the rest of us law abiding citizens want?
If anyone wants to read the letter sent to the Governor on the issue, it is available at the following link: https://bit.ly/2Kd56GP.
A concerned citizen.
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