The resignations and vacancies in the Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office has “slowed down the process of ‘catching up’ from the backlog of cases,” according to the Grand Jury report, which was presented to Superior Court Chief Judge Eric Norris on Sept. 7. 

Gonzalez inherited a backlog of cases that accumulated during the pandemic when the state mandated a judicial hiatus. During the employee shortage, Gonzalez asked for help from the State DA’s Office. The two trials associated with the murder of Joey Jackson were prosecuted by Sheila Ross of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia

Since the beginning of the year when many assistant district attorneys resigned, Gonzalez has hired a number of replacements. 

“One thing that stands out about the personnel within the DA’s Office is the amount of diversity within the staff,” according to the Grand Jury report, which states that Gonzalez has been “implementing a new vision for her office.”

This includes looking at reforms within the judicial system and bringing more transparency to the office. Additionally, she hired a new community outreach staff member who serves as a grant writer for federal, state and foundation grants. 

Gonzalez told the Grand Jury that money for resources is one of her greatest needs. During a tour of the Oconee facilities, the office staff “expressed a need for a full-time administrative assistant.”

“We have to make do with victim advocates to answer the phones and other administrative tasks,” Gonzalez said in a public statement earlier this year. 

“[Gonzalez] said that she recognized the difference in culture between Oconee County and Clarke County,” according to the Grand Jury report. “It appears there has been a lot of change in the DA’s Office over the past eight months, both physically and philosophically.”  

Members of the Grand Jury toured the jail for an hour-and-a-half over the summer. The jail, they wrote, operates under a no-contact visit policy. Instead, inmates are afforded the opportunity to have video visitation. The only contact, face-to-face visitation allowed is with their attorneys. 

“The committee was impressed with the overall state of the jail as it relates to cleanliness, security and safety,” according to the report. “The jail tour committee was greatly impressed with the execution of policies put into place to mitigate COVID-19, as the sheriff stated no inmates had contracted the virus.”

For more on this story, see the Oct. 14 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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