Updated: Jul 4, 2020
By Joe Johnson
Acting Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brian Patterson on Friday said he welcomed the chance to compete in a special election in November in which voters in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties will choose their top prosecutor.
Under a 2018 state law, if Gov. Brian Kemp were to have appointed a replacement for Ken Mauldin, who retired as DA in February, within six months of the election, the general election would have been pushed back two years, but Kemp failed to make the appointment by the May 3 statutory deadline, effectively cancelling the election and potentially leaving Patterson in place as DA until the next general election in 2022.
Athens attorney and former state representative Deborah Gonzalez, joined by four voters from the judicial circuit, subsequently filed suit against Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, alleging that voters were being disenfranchised by having their ability to choose a new district attorney this year taken away, and that the 2018 law is unconstitutional.
Gonzalez had called Kemp’s failure to make appointment an interim DA "the ultimate form of voter suppression."
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark H. Cohen agreed and granted a preliminary injunction that paved the way for the special election, stating that “the failure to conduct an election for the office of District Attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit violates the Georgia Constitution and thus the Fourteenth Amendment, Plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if the Court declined to enter a preliminary injunction due to the denial of their right to vote in the upcoming 2020 election.”
The judge said in his ruling that if Kemp still wanted to appoint someone as DA, that person would have to run against the other candidates in the Nov. 3 special election.
Patterson on Friday said he was “excited” at the prospect of competing in his own right for the position he now holds by default.
“As I previously announced, I intend to qualify for district attorney whenever an election is held because I love our community, and I am committed to keeping it safe, while protecting the individual rights and liberties of all persons,” the acting DA said.
“I believe that I have the proven experience, leadership, and commitment to be the next district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit having served as a real prosecutor in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties for more than 18 years. I am especially proud that our circuit has led in implementing true criminal justice reform, including accountability court programs.
“There will be a very clear choice for the voters based on the relative qualifications and ideas of the candidates,” Patterson said. “As the chief assistant district attorney and now acting district attorney, I have actual experience leading the district attorney's office and handling its responsibilities. I am also a seasoned prosecutor having tried over 100 felony and misdemeanor trials to a jury verdict and having litigated over 150 appeals in the appellate courts. Many of the cases that I have prosecuted and tried involved the most serious offenses committed in our community. I believe that our community needs a district attorney who is actually qualified for the position and is fully prepared to do the work of the prosecutor's office. I am looking forward to making my case to the voters this fall.”
Gonzalez, who is running on a platform of judicial reform and is supported by the socially progressive Athens For Everyone, is currently an attorney with no criminal law experience. Her legal practice focuses on art, music, entertainment, digital, and social and online law.