By Joe Johnson
A filing in Superior Court on Monday morning seeks to have a judicial order for District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez to do the job that is required of her by law.
Jarrod Miller petitioned the court for the order because Deborah Gonzalez “has been unable and unwilling to perform” the duties of her office as required by law, and as a result the administration of justice has suffered in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties.
The Athens resident and business owner notes in the petition that he voted for Gonzalez when she was elected in December 2022.
However, the petition reads, “On day one of taking office (Gonzalez) announced her refusal to prosecute all crimes committed in violation of her statutory duties and oath of office.”
Gonzalez has said that she is committed to achieving "restorative" justice rather than prosecuting offenders in certain cases, such as people who commit crimes as the result of substance abuse.
Additionally, Miller alleges in his petition that the DA has not adequately managed her office, which has led to cases being dismissed for such reasons as they were not properly prepared, or there was an insufficient number of prosecutors to handle the caseload or a lack of qualified attorneys for the job, causing the administration of justice to suffer.
"Mr. Miller wants the curtain to be pulled back so that the public can see what's really going on," said attorney Kevin Epps, who filed the application for a court order on Miller's behalf.
One case cited by in the application involved a rape that resulted in a mistrial because of prosecutorial misconduct. During an Oconee County trial in 2021, a judge declared a mistrial when it was found that former Assistant District Attorney Robert Schollmeyer had withheld evidence that was favorable to the defendant.
Gonzalez on Monday afternoon said that she hadn’t had the chance to review the petition.
“At this time, I have no other comment other than to say I received it and will be reviewing it,” the DA said in an email to Classic City News.
Epps said Miller “believes that Ms. Gonzalez has caused the Western Judicial Circuit to come to a grinding stop because of her inability to carry out her duties as district attorney.”
The DA's office is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases in the Western Judicial Circuit, of which is comprised by Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties.
In Oconee County alone, the petition asserts, some 150 cases are in jeopardy of being dismissed because they have not been presented to a grand jury within the statutory timeframe.
The attorney said that Miller had sought his advice on how to hold the DA accountable, and they decided that filing a petition for a writ of mandamus was the best way to proceed. Should a judge issue a order regarding the petition, the DA would need to comply or be held in contempt.
The case 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.
Problems with the DA’s office is something with which the local judges already are familiar.
They all signed off on an Oct. 17 letter to Gonzalez in which they identified problems with the DA’s office that needed to be addressed.
“With so many cases waiting to be tried, it is imperative that the Court not be further delayed by the State’s lack of preparation and/or failure to follow proper procedures,” the judges letter reads.
An attorney who recently resigned from the DA’s office told Classic City News that there were only three prosecutors in an office that is budgeted for 17 assistant district attorneys.
Gonzalez has said her office is short staffed due to attorneys leaving for better paying positions in other judicial circuits.
However, the attorney who recently resigned said people have left to take jobs that actually paid less because they were unhappy with the way Gonzalez ran her office.
The petition and relevant documents can be viewed at lawsuitagainstda.com