Current & Former Criminal Justice Leaders Call on GA Supreme Court to Protect Prosecutorial Discretion and the Will of Georgia Voters

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District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez. Courtesy Photo

Allowing a lower court’s unprecedented ruling against DA Deborah Gonzalez to stand would undermine local control and erode well-settled prosecutorial independence

Special to the Vanguard

A group of 57 current and former elected prosecutors and former U.S. Attorneys and Department of Justice officials filed an amicus brief urging the Georgia Supreme Court to uphold the well-established autonomy and discretion of duly elected Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez. The signatories call for the dismissal of a case that could give the judiciary the power to oversee decision-making vested in the elected DA. Allowing the case to proceed would infringe on prosecutorial independence and endanger the ability of voters to have a say in their local justice system, eroding community trust and thereby undermining public safety.

The case at hand, Miller v. Gonzalez, involves a single private citizen who asked the lower court to determine that DA Gonzalez was “not performing the duties of her office” and to micromanage how her office exercises discretion and uses limited resources to keep the community safe and healthy. The Superior Court denied DA Gonzalez’s motion to dismiss the case, despite the fact that the petitioner brought the suit simply because he opposed DA Gonzalez’s evidence-backed decision to focus her office’s time and efforts on violent crime instead of low-level offenses like marijuana possession or truancy. But as the signatories to the brief note, “no prosecutor has the ability and resources to prosecute every case and every violation of the law,” and “this suit is simply an attempt by a single individual to harness the authority of the court system to prevent DA Gonzalez from making policy decisions with which he does not agree.”

“The people elected DA Gonzalez because of her unwavering commitment to a new vision of public safety and justice. It is deeply troubling that a court would entertain a case that could override the will of thousands of voters to appease the complaints of a single unelected individual,” said Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution and a former federal prosecutor. “District attorneys are uniquely vested with the power to make decisions about which issues and cases to prioritize. For the judiciary to insert itself in the discretionary decisions of a prosecutor’s office sets a dangerous precedent that threatens the essential building blocks upon which our legal system is built.”

The signatories also emphasize that the court’s ruling erodes the integrity of the electoral system and the rights of Georgians to have a say in their local justice system: “Local residents and voters choose the leader that best reflects and furthers their vision for the justice system in their community. If District Attorneys fail to adhere to promises made, or if the public decides it disapproves of them, they will inevitably be voted out of office…. This suit by a single dissatisfied voter asked the court system to step in and force an outcome that is more appropriately pursued through the democratic process.”

“The independence of locally elected prosecutors has been well-settled since the founding of our country, and the courts protected their discretion even as some district attorneys pursued overly punitive policies that damaged communities instead of making them safer. Now, when we have reform-minded leaders chosen by the voters to bring about change, the discretion that judges have respected for decades must continue to be safeguarded,” said Ramsey County, Minn. Attorney John Choi, a signatory to the brief.

“Communities around the country are demanding new approaches to public safety, and they are electing prosecutors who share their vision of justice. If the judiciary can effectively nullify voters’ preferences by blocking a duly elected official’s discretionary choices, people are less likely to trust in democracy, the rule of law and government institutions – making it harder to keep our communities safe,” noted Shay Bilchik, one of the nearly 60 amici and a former DOJ Associate Deputy Attorney General and former administrator of the DOJ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

“The lower court’s decision will create the potential for serious disruptions in our state,” said former DeKalb County, Ga. District Attorney J. Tom Morgan, another signatory on the brief. “It is essential that the Georgia Supreme Court reverse the lower court’s order, affirm DA Gonzalez’s discretion and defend the right to local governance and separation of powers.”

Local counsel for amici includes former Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke of Gautreaux Law Firm.

Read the brief and see a full list of amici here.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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