Editorial: 2015 A Successful Year for Northern Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, Says DA Parks White
Greetings from your District Attorney’s Office!
Last year marked my third year in office as your District Attorney, and we have continued to make steady progress towards the goal of restoring integrity to the Office of the District Attorney, and delivering justice to all citizens of the Northern Judicial Circuit. The year was abundant with its own unique set of challenges as well as accomplishments. I am writing today to tell you about how far we have come.
In 2015 my dedicated staff had their best year yet trying cases in the Superior Courts of Elbert, Franklin, Hart, Madison and Oglethorpe Counties.
ADA Brian Atkinson was named the Northern Judicial Circuit’s ADA of the year for his steadfast commitment to the causes of justice and victims’ right.
Brian acted as first or second chair in seven serious jury trials, obtaining guilty verdicts in almost all, and was responsible for resolving almost 500 new criminal cases. Brian, who has been a member of the State Bar of Georgia since 2013, has now acted as lead counsel in a murder trial – an accomplishment not shared by any member of his law school class.
His successful trial verdicts included a DUI case against an Atlanta attorney who stated explicitly that he was “a former federal prosecutor in charge of a misdemeanor docket” and that our refusal to reduce his client’s DUI case was unreasonable and inconsistent with “how they do things in Atlanta.”
Brian also assisted in matters that went before the Court of Appeals, where our office experienced great success in seeing convictions affirmed and rulings unfavorable to the State overturned.
Chief Assistant Geoffrey Fogus followed up his year of being named ADA of the year by the District Attorney’s Association with another stellar year of not only success at trial, including guilty verdicts for meth manufacturing, child molestation (against a defense attorney who claims the distinction of being named “Top 40 under 40” by the National Trial Lawyers Organization), false imprisonment against a violent man who held a woman against her will, gang members, a felon in possession of a firearm, and several DUI cases.
In addition, Geoffrey continued his work with our partners in law enforcement, providing more than 20 training sessions to law enforcement on sexual assault investigations, road check requirements, the rules of evidence, and courtroom testimony.
Geoffrey has made his role as Special Victims’ Prosecutor a fully realized position, working directly with investigators and the Harmony House during ongoing investigations to ensure that the best possible case was made against sexual predators.
Senior ADA Sam Small, a former Air Force Judge Advocate General, took command of the Madison County docket and managed to resolve more than 700 cases. He had great success at trial, obtaining a guilty verdict against a co-conspirator in an armed robbery, and sending a notorious drug dealer (with four prior trips to prison) back to where he belongs on what we hope will be his final stay for Methamphetamine Trafficking.
ADA Nicole Roddenbery, who joined the office in December 2014, and has already demonstrated her mettle by putting in long hours in anticipation of trying a complex gang case in Elbert County that ultimately settled on the eve of trial.
Nicole brings to the office a wealth of knowledge, having previously interned for many semesters in the Dekalb County and Cobb County D.A.s’ offices, where she worked under ADA Mike Carlson, co-author of “Carlson on Evidence,” and assisted with the research and editing of his book.
This past year Nicole tried cases in both Elbert and Oglethorpe Counties, and assisted in the trial of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde – who killed a man in South Carolina, stuffed his body in the trunk of his vehicle, drove his body into Elbert County, and set fire to his car and another truck, while threatening two volunteer firefighters with an assault rifle.
ADA Adam Wilkinson, who joined the office in 2014, has already demonstrated remarkable trial proficiency by obtaining guilty verdicts against burglars, a man who threatened the lives of members of law enforcement, a drug dealer, and a domestic abuser.
ADA Michael Coveney, who joined the office in 2015 as our dedicated Drug Court ADA, has already tried a vehicular homicide and a DUI, and has taken charge of our newly established welfare fraud and recovery unit.
We fully implemented our new mandate that no case could be pending in our office for more than 90 days without being drafted for indictment or formally accused.
We conducted 20 sessions of Grand Jury to move matters onto our dockets more rapidly. By reducing the time offenses spend in the warrant stage prior to being filed in Superior Court, we are able to ensure criminal cases arrives on a trial calendar earlier, which provides us with more opportunities to address the cases in Superior Court before too much time passes.
The tenacious hard work of my staff has resulted in the resolution and disposition of more than 8,000 Superior Court over the last three years cases circuit wide, and thousands more traffic offenses and misdemeanor offenses in various county Probate Courts over the last three years – numbers unparalleled by any other DA’s office with a staff of only six ADAs.
I personally secured convictions at trial in two separate murders, as well as an aggravated assault and arson case that involved the murder of a South Carolina man.
Additionally, I have worked closely with all of my assistants in preparing many of the dozens of cases we tried last year.
Our conviction rate at trial was better than 90%. Even in negotiations we were tough, sending recidivist felons to prison for as long as the law would allow us to ensure that they will not return to our communities and continue to break into homes and hurt the innocent.
While prison is not the only solution, and many individuals must be given the opportunity for rehabilitation and to make restitution while on probation, we sent 24% as many people to prison as the Atlanta Circuit, which has more than 100 Assistant District Attorneys. We continued to provide comprehensive services from the outset of many criminal investigations through the final judgment and beyond.
On appeal, every conviction that was challenged by the defense was affirmed by the appellate courts. We made new case law relating to DUI prosecutions, shutting down a cottage industry created by an Atlanta defense attorney who has been successful against Atlanta solicitors by misrepresenting the law and the rights of DUI defendants.
To assist the Georgia State Patrol during investigations into vehicular homicide cases and serious injury cases, we developed a template search warrant for blood which has been disseminated statewide.
Kristie Cross, our Victims’ Assistance Program Coordinator, has assembled a staff of dedicated victims’ advocates who shepherd victims through the complexities of the court system and work endlessly to provide them with guidance and assistance during the process. Her compassion for the victims of serious crime was recognized by almost every law enforcement organization when we applied for additional grant money to help extend better services to our victims without adding additional cost to the local taxpayers.
Over the last three years we have closed more cases than we have opened. We have made every effort to continue to improve the quality of justice delivered by the District Attorney’s Office.
We have partnered with our various law enforcement agencies to assist at every turn to stop the trafficking of drugs through our community.
The newly constituted narcotics unit, which is being headed by a member of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, has resulted in the arrest of more significant, higher level drug dealers. Law enforcement should be commended for their efforts, as we have seen investigative files that have grown better and more thorough – which reduces the amount of time law enforcement officers have to spend in the courtroom and frees them up to continue to be proactive in their investigation of new cases.
Much work remains to be done. In the year to come we will continue to seek assistance from the counties to establish alternative courts for the prosecution of misdemeanor cases, which will hopefully allow for my staff to spend more time working to prepare the more serious matters.
We will also continue to strive to expand our drug court to allow individuals who have addiction issues to receive treatment and allow them to be afforded a path to becoming productive citizens. My staff is dedicated and extremely hard-working, but our mission is too big and too important to perform with a skeleton crew.
No other D.A.’s office in the State of Georgia has so few people who are required to do so much – and we hope that you will contact your commissioners and let them know that you don’t want your community prosecutors to have to carry in excess of 400 cases at any given time.
Public safety is not discretionary spending – it’s one of the few legitimate purposes of government. We will follow through on our commitment to restore integrity to the Office of the District Attorney.
And we mean it when we say, “Justice is coming.”
D. Parks White
Northern Judicial Circuit