Updated: Mar 14
By Joe Johnson
Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez believes that an attempt by an Athens businessman to secure a judicial order concerning how her office functions is related to a push by Georgia lawmakers to establish oversight for local prosecutors who they deem to be too political.
“This attack on my office is part of a broader, politically motivated campaign to undermine prosecutors who have been elected by their communities to pursue smart justice that moves away from the failed “tough on crime” strategies of the past,” said Gonzalez, whose office oversees criminal prosecutions in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties.
After taking office in 2022, Gonzalez has operated under the philosophy of “restorative justice,” which holds, among other things, that misdemeanor drug offenses should not be criminally prosecuted when the offenses stem from addiction. Such offenders need treatment and not punishment under restorative justice.
On Monday businessman Jarrod Miller filed an application in Superior Court that requests a judge’s order compelling Gonzalez to prosecute cases that she is required by law to do. The application claims that the DA “has been unable and unwilling" to carry out the duties of her office as required by law.
“These attacks, in the form of power-stripping removal petitions and impeachments, among other things, are happening in Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Iowa, and Georgia to name a few,” Gonzalez said. “They have nothing to do with making our communities safer and everything to do with deflecting attention away from our refusal to seriously address the causes of crime.”
State Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens), recently co-sponsored proposed legislation that would create a commission overseeing prosecutors with the ability to discipline them for, among other things, "willful and persistent failure to perform his or her duties." Similar language is found in a proposed Senate bill that is co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens).
“My community elected me based on my promise to fight for a safer and more just future,” Gonzalez said. “I will always strive to be better in implementing new approaches, and I am proud of the work our office does every day, fighting for victims and a more just legal system. I will continue to hold myself accountable to my community and resist efforts to strip them of the leadership they have duly elected to carry out this job.”
Miller’s application that seeks an order concerning Gozalez had initially been assigned to Judge Lisa Lott, but since the judicial circuit’s judges have recused themselves from hearing the matter, Lott has up to 30 days to assign the case to a judge from a different circuit. That judge will hold a hearing to hear arguments and then decide on whether to rule on the petition or send the matter to a jury to decide.