By Joe Johnson
After making critical remarks about Oconee County and its residents last month, the woman who serves as district attorney for Oconee and Athens-Clarke counties has issued an apology.
In a joint statement issued on Wednesday.
Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez and two Oconee County commissioners addressed the DA’s emailed remarks that she was the “most hated woman” in that county “because of the work I am doing.”
The statement further indicated that Gonzalez felt safer walking in one of the perceived highest crime areas in Athens than in Watkinsville, where “white supremacists are out to get me.”
Gonzalez wrote about being escorted to her car by people who feared for her safety and made her promise to never be in Oconee County alone.
“On the one hand, Gonzalez said, “I take it as a badge of honor, because if they were not upset then I would be doing what every one of my predecessors had done. Perpetuate a racist system designed to oppress black, brown, and poor people.
“On the other hand,” I understand the reality of the division of our circuit and the sad state of affairs – I am a Latina, WOC, female elected DA – the first of my kind in GA. I am being dehumanized and demonized for my values and work toward criminal justice reform
After her historic election in December 2020, Gonzalez aired her grievances in a fundraising email that was issued soon after Dec. 16 holiday dinner for the Oconee County Democrats in which a Democratic former Watkinsville city councilman was assaulted.
The gathering also celebrated Gonzalez completing her first year in office.
Wednesday’s joint communique contained strains of contrition by the DA for remarks about her Oconee constituents.
It stated, “In recent weeks, unfortunate written comments regarding Oconee County by District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez became widely publicized. In an effort to reduce tensions and ensure that the important work of the justice system continues in an effective manner, Commissioner Chuck Horton, Chairman John Daniell and DA Deborah Gonzalez recently met to discuss the situation. All participants agree that we had a very frank and healthy conversation regarding both our individual concerns and our common interests.
“We discussed recent statements made by the District Attorney regarding what she considered to be extreme and threatening language directed at her on social media, as well as a recent alleged assault by a white male resident of Clarke County on a white male attendee at an Oconee County Democratic Party event. District Attorney Gonzalez deeply regrets the unfortunate choice of language used in a recent email she sent regarding these matters. While DA Gonzalez only intended to single out the actions of a few, she understands why Oconee County was offended by these comments. It was not her intent to cause such offense, and DA Gonzalez apologizes.
“We also discussed whether splitting the Western Judicial Circuit was in the best interests of the residents of Athens-Clarke and Oconee Counties. While no consensus exists, we agree the decision to make a change in the circuit should not be based on the election of an individual District Attorney,” the joint statement noted.
Splitting the counties into separate judicial circuits became a topic of discussion because Gonzalez’s liberal philosophy of criminal justice reform in Athens-Clarke clashes with viewpoints of the mostly-conservative residents of Oconee County.
“In our conversation, it was apparent that despite some very real disagreements over policy we had one shared goal that was of primary importance: ensuring the safety of the people in both counties. In order to work most effectively towards this shared goal, Oconee County Government and the DA’s Office will have quarterly scheduled meetings to review operations and discuss any individual concerns going forward.”
The statement was signed by Gonzalez, Daniell and Horton.