By Joe Johnson
A career prosecutor has announced his candidacy to become the next district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit, which is comprised of Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties.
Brian Patterson, who has served as an assistant district attorney since 2002, is challenging former state representative Deborah Gonzalez, who announced her candidacy in July.
Both are running as Democrats and will face off in a May 19 primary.
No Republicans have joined the race as of Monday.
Patterson, who currently serves as the judicial circuit’s chief assistant district attorney, is highlighting his experience in the courtroom.
“In 17 years as a prosecutor, I have tried over 100 felony and misdemeanor cases to a jury verdict, and I have litigated over 150 appeals in the Georgia Court of Appeals and the Georgia Supreme Court,” Patterson said.
He said, “I believe that real prosecutorial experience matters in the office of the district attorney. It is vitally important to me that we continue to innovate and improve upon all facets of our criminal justice system.”
“I have devoted my professional career to serving and protecting our community and to treating all persons justly, fairly, and equally and with dignity and respect.” he said. “I promise to apply my 17 years of actual experience as a prosecutor to keep our community safe and to protect the individual rights and liberties of all persons.”
Gonzalez, a media and entertainment lawyer who spent 14 months representing Georgia’s District 117 in the statehouse following a November 2017 special election to fill a vacancy.
She has no experience as a prosecutor, but noted that while serving in the General Assembly she was a member of the committee that handles bills related to criminal justice also on a criminal justice task force for the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.
“The experience Patterson touts is of a prosecutor not a district attorney,” Gonzalez said. “His experience is limited in the narrow perspective of a prosecutorial culture that has been proven to be inefficient, ineffective, and in the past.”
She noted that Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties have had just two DA’s in the last 48 years, with Patterson serving his career under one of them – Kenneth Mauldin, who has been DA since 2000 and this summer announced he would not be seeking reelection.
“(Patterson) offers nothing beyond the status quo,” Gonzalez said. “I, on the other hand, bring a myriad of different experiences and perspectives to the position to bring about needed reform and change in our community.
“Athens and Oconee counties do not need more of the same type of prosecution that it has experienced for 48 years,” she said.
“The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect a different result. The results in our community after these 48 years is one that is dire – at least for those in our community who are marginalized, oppressed, and of color” Rodriguez said. “Recent research that has been done on Athens’ courts, jails, and juvenile system bear this out. If we want different results, we need different leadership in the District Attorney’s office.”
While acquainting herself with the DA’s office and community needs over a 10-month period, Gonzalez said she identified several problems.
“The community wants a new approach – one more in line with the progressive ideals it values: reduce mass incarceration, do not criminalize mental illness or drug addiction, do not curtail the rights of women by prosecuting under House Bill 481 (the so-called heartbeat anti-abortion law); ensure transparency of the office, etc.” she said.
Patterson acknowledged he was a law-and-order candidate, but said he was aware of critical issues facing the local criminal justice system and that he had plans to address yhem.
He promised to do the following if elected:
* Champion the rights of crime victims and always give them a voice in the criminal process under the Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights and Marsy’s Law;
* Continue to focus prosecutorial efforts and resources on holding recidivist offenders and serious, violent, dangerous offenders accountable in a significant way;
* Expand the use of alternative court programs such as pretrial diversion, drug court, mental health court, veteran’s court, the diversion center, the day reporting center, and residential substance abuse treatment programs to divert certain non-violent offenders away from the prison system without sacrificing community safety;
* Focus on the treatment, rehabilitation, and supervision of juveniles to reduce future crime in our community;
* Support law enforcement in crime safety measures and to solicit their input, while exercising independent oversight over their decisions and actions;
* Personally review and consider all officer involved shootings;
* Combat criminal street gangs through a dedicated gang prosecutor;
* Personally prosecute all new murder cases, based on his “significant experience” handling such cases;
·* Create a Cold Case Unit to solve and prosecute cold case homicides and other serious unsolved crimes;
·* Consider the death penalty only in the most heinous and vile murder cases pursuant to the strict application of Georgia law with the input of the victim’s family;
* Be fiscally responsible with taxpayer money and seek cost savings when without jeopardizing community safety.
Patterson said that when choosing a district attorney, voters should consider the candidates’ experience and leadership skills.
“I have served as the chief assistant district attorney since 2007,” he said. “In that leadership role, I have been responsible for supervising 17 Assistant District Attorneys, prosecuting complex, high profile crimes, including murder and public corruption, coordinating all appellate litigation, and developing budgetary priorities.
“Prosecuting criminal cases and leading a prosecutor’s office are not abstract concepts to me,” he said. “I routinely interface with crime victims and their families, witnesses, law enforcement, judicial officers, experts, corrections, and community stakeholders in fulfilling my oath to uphold and defend our laws and the Georgia and federal constitutions."