The following is reprinted from the Oconee County Observations blog
By Lee Becker
Kalki Yalamanchili was emphatic in telling Oconee County Republicans at the party's meeting late last month that he does not want to run as a Republican or as a Democrat in seeking the position as District Attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit.
In his 30 minute presentation, Yalamanchili said repeatedly--at least seven times--that he did not view the office of District Attorney as a partisan one.
He said he has spoken so far before Republicans, but he also has introduced himself at a Democratic Party meeting in Athens-Clarke County and said he intends to do the same at a future Oconee County Democratic Party meeting.
"I really want to get out and do town hall type events, and go meet people where they are," Yalamanchili said. "And remove the filter, of this person's a Republican, this person's a Democrat."
Despite that nonpartisan pitch, Yalamanchile was warmly received by the Oconee County Republican Party, and party Chair Kathy Hurley made it very clear she was supportive of Yalamanchili's candidacy.
To get his name on the ballot in November, Yalamanchili said he will begin in January obtaining signatures on petitions, and Hurley told Yalamanchili at the end of the meeting she would send out his materials to party members and "as you know more about your petition signature drive, we'll make sure everybody is aware of that."
Yalamanchili was preceded by Oconee County Attorney Kevin Epps, who continued his documentation of a long list of prosecutorial problems in the office of District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, a Democrat.
Epps, who said he was a Republican, also made an impassioned endorsement of Yalamanchili, saying that he was not acting as a partisan but as someone who is concerned about public safety in the community.
In principal, Gonzalez could decide not to seek re-election, or she could confront another Democrat in a primary on May 21.
And someone or ones could qualify to run as a Republican in that May 21 primary election.
Yalamanchili said he opted not to seek the nomination of either of the two parties because "For me, this is a position that is nonpartisan."
Qualification of candidates for the District Attorney Office, which serves both Oconee and Clarke counties in the Western Judicial Circuit, will be handled by the Georgia Secretary of State Office.
Yalamanchili said he was told by that office that he will need more than 4,000 signatures of registered voters and that there is no requirement that a percentage of the signature come from Clarke or Oconee counties.
The drive for signatures will start, probably after the first week of January, Yalamanchili said.
I emailed Amanda Deering, Oconee County's liaison with the Secretary of State's Office, on Oct. 27 trying to get my own precise number for the signatures that Yalamanchili will need to get on the ballot, but Deering has not responded.
Though Yalamanchili said he was a novice as a candidate, he did say he ran the campaign of James Chafin in 2020 when Chafin, Gonzalez and Brian Patterson competed in a special election for the then-open District Attorney position.
Chafin ran without a partisan label, but, because it was a special election, he did not have to get any signatures to have his name placed on the ballot. No party primary is used in a special election, and Gonzalez and Patterson both ran as Democrats.
Chafin and Gonzalez were the top two in balloting in November, but neither got a majority, and Gonzalez won in the December runoff.
Oconee County voters overwhelmingly picked Chafin in the November election and in the December runoff, but their votes were offset by votes in Clarke County. Deborah Gonzalez won the runoff with 51.7 percent of the final vote.
That winning percentage was a difference of 866 votes, and Hurley told Yalamanchili at the end of the meeting on Nov. 27 that "we won't lose this election by 800 votes."
Yalamanchili's Individual Voter Report from the Georgia Secretary of State Office shows he voted in Lee, Fulton, Clarke, and Oconee counties going back through 2008.
During that time, he voted in six primaries, with either four or five of them with a Republican Ballot. The file for the General Primary in 2018 lists a Democratic Ballot on the Election History page of the file and a Republican Ballot on the Participation History page.
The file lists three elections with a partisan ballot in Oconee County since the primary in June of 2020, and Yalamanchili has voted with a Republican Ballot in all three of those.
The Democrats generally do not have primary competition in Oconee County, making the Republican Primary more attractive for voters without a strong partisan tendency.
Focus On Staffing
Yalamanchili focused most of his criticism in his comments on Nov. 27 on the staffing problems in the District Attorney Office. Gonzalez has acknowledged those problems.
"Right now we have a problem that we have to face together as a community," Yalamanchili said, "which is that we have a nonfunctioning District Attorneys Office."
"That office is supposed to have 17--17--assistant district attorneys as well as the elected district attorney. Currently they are less than half staffed," he said. "They have less than half of those attorney positions filled."
"And of those people, there are several people that she has hired, and, as far as I know, paying full attorney salaries, who aren't even licensed to practice law in the state of Georgia," he added. "They haven't passed the bar exam, which is the licensing exam for the state of Georgia."
"The purpose of my campaign is to make sure that we're delivering justice for all, for everyone in our community," he said. "The first thing we've got to do in order to be able to do that is address the staffing crisis that is going on right now in that office."
Yalamanchili said he has already started discussions with experienced prosecutors, some of whom have worked in the Western Judicial Circuit prior to Gonzalez taking office, and some of whom she hired but have since left the office.
He said that Gonzalez has said the issue is the salary paid, but "that ain't why people are leaving her office. They are leaving her office because there is a complete and total failure of leadership at the top of that office. And the young folks are leaving because they know there is nobody there that can train them to do their jobs correctly."
"We will have no issue staffing that office," he said.
Yalamanchili worked for five years as an assistant district attorney under Ken Mauldin, who preceded Gonzalez, and he currently is teaching in the University of Georgia School of Law.
Emphasis On Nonpartisan
Yalamanchili said the District Attorney Office under Gonzalez is "a place that is focused on political outcomes and political posturing" rather than prosecuting crime.
"The District Attorneys Office shouldn't be a place for partisanship," he said. "There is nothing partisan about keeping your family safe, your friends safe, your neighbors safe. There is nothing partisan about making sure the rights of all the people in our community are protected. Those are issues that cut across political divides."
"People have asked me, 'Why are you running as a nonpartisan candidate?'" Yalamanchili said. "'Wouldn't it be easier to run with a party affiliation?' It would."
"But for me," he continued, "this is a position that is nonpartisan. It's a trust, and it's a place for public service. For me its important that I run in this way in order to drive those points home when I'm talking to folks."
"When I say these are not partisan issues I mean that," Yalamanchili said later in the meeting. "I mean that. It is not some trick I'm trying to play on somebody or anything like that."
Near the end of his talk, Yalamanchile quoted former District Attorney Mauldin, a Democrat.
"He said, when a victim walks in the door, they do not come in the door with a sign around their neck that says Republican or Democrat," Yalamanchili said. "They come in the door because they have been the victim of a crime, and that's all that matters."
"And that's the truth," Yalamanchili said. "And that's the truth about what the job should be. And can be again."
Petitions And Voting
Yalamanchili said in response to a question from the audience that he will attempt to get more than the 4,000 signatures he said he was told by the Secretary of State Office that he will need.
"There's going to be somebody that signs the petition that moved from Oconee County to Jackson County between the time that they signed and the time that the petition gets submitted," he said.
"It's naturally going to happen like that," he said. "So we're going to shoot to hit a number over so that we're not in any jeopardy of coming up short."
In 2022, Melissa Eagling and Ryan Repetske ran as Independents for the Oconee County Board of Education, and the certification of their petitions was challenged by the Republican Party appointee to the county Board of Elections and Registration, Kirk Shook.
The Board of Elections and Registration did identify problems with some of the signatures, which were then rejected, and the Board notified the Secretary of State of the rejected signatures.
As of early October, that case was labeled as "open in investigations" and the Secretary of State Office would not release any "case materials until final adjudication from the State Election Board."
In a column if the Aug. 25, 2022, edition of The Oconee Enterprise Party Chair Hurley was very criticalof the petition process and of the Independent candidates, saying “there is no vetting of an Independent candidate like there is when one runs as a major party candidate.”
Epps' Three New Issues
Epps spoke for 40 minutes before Hurley turned the podium over to Yalamanchili.
Epps, who filed a writ of mandamus on behalf of Jarrod Miller of Athens against Gonzalez in March saying she was not performing her job, also spoke at the Oconee County Republican Party Meeting in August.
Epps focused on three recent issues in his comments at the Nov. 27 meeting.
Epps said Gonzalez had not responded as required by law to open records requests, had a Marsy's Law violation involving an automobile accident Oconee County, and an additional Marsey's Law violation involving a bicycle accident in Clarke County.
Details of all three of these are on a web site Epps maintains called Citizens Concerned About The Athens-Clarke/Oconee County District Attorney's Office.
In the open records case, Miller filed a complaint against Gonzalez on June 7 seeking to compel disclosure of various pending open records requests.
As Epps explained at the November meeting, the complaint claims that Gonzalez instructed a former assistant district attorney to destroy records of text messages in violation of the law.
That case is under appeal, Epps told the Republicans at the meeting.
Marsy's Law Violations
The automobile accident in Oconee County that Epps said involved a violation of the first Georgia Crime Victims Bill of Rights (Marsy’s Law) was on Aug. 4, 2022, at the Oconee Connector intersection with SR 316.
A hearing on the alleged violation was held Nov. 1 before Judge Eric Norris at the Oconee County Courthouse, and Judge Norris has issued a ruling saying that a violation took place.
The second Marsy's Law violation Epps discussed followed the death of bicyclist James V. Jones after he was hit by a car in Athens.
Judge Lawton E. Stephens ruled on Nov. 21 that the District Attorney's Office violated the rights of the wife of Jones by not properly informing her of a plea hearing in the case.
Epps Endorsement of Yalamanchili
"I have not yet met a single crime yet that Deborah Gonzalez cares about," Epps said after he had reviewed the three cases. "Rape. Murder. Homicide. DUI. A fellow going out and shooting dogs in the middle of the street. He wasn't even supposed to have a gun."
"I'm doing it because every day I go home to my little girl, who turns one tomorrow, and if she is raped, or killed, or touched inappropriately, I have no confidence that the woman who sits up there is going to do a damn thing about it," Epps said, referring to Gonzalez.
"We are fighting for the soul of our community. The soul," he said."You want to talk about crime statistics? Let your house get broken into. Let your friend get raped. Let your friend get murdered. Let your husband die."
"Then decide if you are going to go out and vote," he said. "That's why you need to elect Kalki. A man that knows what justice is. A man that knows the system. A man that knows what an accusation is, a true bill, a grand jury's time. A real victim and gives them a chance."
"The defense attorney's have found Christmas," Epps said. "They get anything they want. They get to state the facts of major death cases. No one gets to do this, you all."
"But I don't have to convince you all, right?" Epps continued. "I need you all to go convince people for me. I need you to go convince people for Kalki."