By Joe Johnson
Amid the uncertainty of who will be the next district attorney for Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, one candidate on Sunday said he would become interim DA for the Western Judicial Circuit the day after the current DA’s resignation becomes official on Feb. 29.
Five-term DA Ken Mauldin on Wednesday unexpectedly announced that he had submitted to Gov. Brian Kemp his letter of resignation.
The move initially created confusion on how Mauldin’s decision would affect the November elections because it effectively cancelled the Democratic primary that had been scheduled for May 19 between Chief Assistant District Attorney Brian Patterson and Athens attorney and former state representative Deborah Gonzalez.
As a result of Mauldin’s decision to resign at the end of this month -- 10 months before his term was set to end -- Kemp has until May 3, or six months prior to the November general election to appoint his replacement who, if they sought to be elected in their own right, would run against Patterson and Gonzalez in a Nov. 3 special election.If Kemp appoints Mauldin’s replacement after May 3, the appointee will remain in office based on the results of the next general election in 2022.
In his letter to Kemp, Mauldin urged the governor to promptly appoint his replacement so that there can be an election this year
Patterson said by virtue of being next in the line of succession in the DA's office, he will become interim district attorney on March 1, the day after Mauldin’s resignation takes effect.
“While I was surprised by Ken Mauldin’s decision to retire at the end of this month, I look forward to showing voters how I will lead by serving Athens Clarke and Oconee counties as interim district attorney beginning March 1,” Patterson said. “I am ready to run the office on Day One because of my nearly 18 years as an actual prosecutor here and my proven experience in criminal courtrooms.”
Patterson noted that he had personally prosecuted more than 100 felony and misdemeanor cases to a jury verdict and have litigated more than 150 appeals in the appellate courts.
“No matter when there is an election, I am prepared to make my case to voters,” he said. “In the meantime, I intend to do my job at the highest level and to serve this community every day as interim district attorney.”
In a YouTube video released Friday afternoon, Gonzalez said that if Kemp appoints Mauldin's replacement after May 3, it will amount to "the ultimate form of voter suppression."
She said, "In a clear attempt to shut down democracy and block criminal justice reform, a process is now underway that could cancel the election for district attorney for Georgia's Western Judicial Circuit and delay it for up to two years.
"Thanks to an obscure law passed in 2018, the choice whether to suppress the votes of over 150,000 people in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties is now in Gov. Brian Kemp's hands," said Gonzalez, who has been campaigning on a platform of criminal justice reform.
She noted that the 2018 law was passed when a "progressive woman of color" was running for district attorney in Douglas County and challenging the establishment.
"We cannot allow this law, designed to perpetuate a race-based good-old boy network in Douglas County to steal an election from people in another Georgia district," Gonzalez said.
In his own statant released Sunday, Patterson said he was committed to keeping the two-county judicial circuit safe and equitable.
“I chose to run for district attorney because I love our community and I am committed to keeping it safe, while safeguarding the individual rights and liberties of all persons,” he said.
“I value the democratic process and welcome the opportunity to make the case to voters that I am the right choice for district attorney because of my extensive, lengthy experience as a real prosecutor,” Patterson added.” I believe that I have the proven experience, leadership, and commitment to be the next district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit. I am especially proud that right here in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, we have successfully implemented pioneering criminal justice reform that serves as a model for the rest of the state while making our community’s safety our top priority.”