By Joe Johnson
Though budgeted for 17 assistant district attorneys, the DA's office that is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties reportedly is currently down to operating with as few as three prosecutors.
In her January newsletter District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez addresses the staffing situation:
"It is no secret that our office has been facing a serious shortage of Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs). While all other departments in our office, Investigators, Victim Services, External Relations, and Administration are fully staffed, hiring attorneys has been a challenge that we continue to face.
There is a statewide and nationwide prosecutor shortage, making the hiring process extremely competitive. This shortage has been discussed heavily by the National District Attorney’s Association, the American Bar Association, and Fair and Just Prosecution, all with the same conclusion- there are more vacancies than there are attorneys. All 50 judicial circuits in Georgia have vacancies, and small our circuit happens to have noncompetitive pay in an extremely competitive market. We have recently hired two attorneys, and have a few more in process, but we are still in a severe ADA deficit.
Without competitive salaries, we are unable to recruit and retain highly qualified ADAs, ADAs with experience evaluating complex evidence and prosecuting serious crimes, ADAs with specialized knowledge, and ADAs who are able to fairly, justly, and humanely carry out this important and often difficult work. The work of these ADAs is essential to the overall goal of the office: keeping the community safe."
In an apparent move to shore up the staffing shortage, Gonzalez recently brought aboard five unpaid apprentice prosecutors, but all of them reportedly failed the bar exam.
Two veteran ADAs resigned over the past week.
The prosecutor shortage even forced Gonzalez - an entertainment lawyer with no prior experience prosecuting criminal cases - to recently try a couple cases, which she lost.