By Joe Johnson
A third candidate has tossed their hat in the ring for the special election to determine the next district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit.
James Chafin, a veteran prosecutor in the circuit that includes Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties announced Tuesday on his campaign’s website that he was running to be the DA for those two jurisdictions.
“Our area deserves a district attorney who is qualified, experienced, and has earned the public’s trust,” Chafin said in his announcement. “For 21 years I have dedicated my practice to being a trial lawyer. For the last 14 years, I have been right here in Clarke & Oconee Counties representing this community in some of the most serious criminal cases before the court. I believe a district attorney should be elected based on their commitment to serving the public with integrity, not the political party they belong to.”
In a special election scheduled for Nov. 3, Chafin, who is deputy chief assistant district attorney, will face off against acting District Attorney Brian Patterson and former state representative Deborah Gonzalez, who has a legal practice in Athens.
Like Chafin, Patterson is a seasoned prosecutor who has tried over 100 felony and misdemeanor trials to a jury verdict and litigated over 150 appeals in the appellate courts.
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.
The special election is being held because longtime DA Ken Mauldin resigned on Feb. 29, 10 months before his term was to end, and Gov. Brian Kemp failed to appoint a replacement by the May 3 deadline, cancelling the Democratic primary in which Petterson and Gonzalez would have gone toe-to-toe.
According to his website, Chafin’s current focus within the district attorney’s office is on prosecuting serious violent felonies, criminal street gang cases, crimes against women, and crimes against children.
It said his campaign will focus on eradicating gangs in the community, seeking community-based rehabilitation for youthful offenders, and holding violent criminals accountable.
Chafin graduated from the University of Georgia in 1995 and went on to law school at Mercer University. He has practiced law for over 21 years as a trial lawyer and has taken part in over 100 trials. Since 2006, he has been an assistant district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit and “has been an integral part of all aspects of the criminal justice system from juvenile court to being a special victims prosecutor," the website notes. Chafin is currently the deputy chief assistant district attorney for the circuit and focuses on prosecuting serious violent felonies and gang cases.
He and his wife, Patricia, are members of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, where Chafin has served as a deacon since 2016. The Chafins have a daughter, Charlotte, two dogs, Bailey and Butler, and a cat, Nancy.