The three Clarke-Oconee district attorney candidates differentiated themselves during last Thursday’s forum, which was hosted by The Oconee Enterprise. 

Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney James Chafin emphasized his experience and that he is running as a non-partisan candidate.

Athens attorney and former Ga. Rep. Deborah Gonzalez presented herself as a progressive who may not have prosecutorial experience but is running on a platform of criminal-justice reform.

Acting District Attorney Brian Patterson emphasized his experience, his prosecution of violent crimes and his implementation of criminal-justice reform. 

Due to technical difficulties, The Enterprise was unable to live stream the forum. Video of the hour-long forum was posted to The Enterprise Facebook page the same night and will remain up through the election.  

In his introductory remarks, Chafin said he has presented cases in front of more than 100 juries and that politics should be kept out of the courtroom.

“I have learned that if you work hard, seek truth and pursue justice, you can make a real difference in the lives of victims, their families and the survivors of violent crime,” he said, noting that young, non-violent offenders should be given second chances through diversion programs while violent criminals must be held accountable. 

Gonzalez acknowledged that her legal experience is not in criminal law but underscored the need for a non-career prosecutor to implement criminal justice reform and address systemic racism and the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Gonzalez noted that in response to the governor’s failure to appoint a district attorney, a lawsuit she and others pushed through the courts paved the way for this special election. 

“I identified the problem and got the results,” she said. “Imagine what I can do in the DA’s Office.”  

She said the DA’s Office should not just focus on crime statistics but also look at the causes of crimes in order to make communities safer. 

Patterson drew attention to his experience, which includes trying more than 100 felony and misdemeanor trials to a jury verdict and over 150 appeals. Patterson noted that he began serving in 2007 as chief assistant district attorney and has managed 17 prosecutors. 

Patterson, who highlighted the importance of a pre-trial diversion program for first-time offenders and a special victims unit for serious crimes, said that his “overarching promise has been and always will be to fairly, justly and equally enforce the law; to vigorously safeguard the rights and liberties of citizens; to treat all persons with compassion, dignity and respect; and to give a voice to crime victims.” 

For more on this story, see the Oct. 8 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, call (706) 769-5175 or visit the tab on our website. 

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