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Shooting a key topic in candidate forum

7/10/2012

By GORDON JACKSON
The Brunswick News


The shooting death of a Brunswick woman by Glynn County police two years ago was one of the main topics during a candidates' forum Monday at the College of Coastal Georgia.

Incumbent District Attorney Jackie Johnson defended her office during the debate with Republican challenger Jonathan Miller, a former assistant district attorney.

Miller said he would have recused the office and let another prosecutor handle the case in the shooting death of Caroline Small.

Small, 35, was shot by police June 18, 2010, after she led them on a 30-minute, low-speed chase from Glynn Place Mall to the Wavely Pines subdivision. She was shot when attempting to drive free of patrol cars, which had hemmed her Buick Century in against a telephone pole.

"Those are the kind of mistakes that should not have happened," Miller said of Johnson failing to recuse herself and other prosecutors in the office.

Johnson, however, said a grand jury looked at the evidence and ruled the shooting was justified. She said she even had Rick Currie, the district attorney in the Waycross Judicial Circuit, look at the case to ensure it was handled properly.

"I don't control the results. I control the process," she said. "Ultimately it's up to the jury to make a decision."

Johnson said she has spent much of her campaign correcting inaccurate claims and false accusations by Miller, whom she said she fired.

Miller claims he resigned to run against Johnson and denied doing anything inappropriate to warrant being fired. He said he made an inquiry on behalf of an 85-year-old man. That inquiry concerned a convicted sex offender who was taking care of the elderly man in a residence near a church.

Miller said the real issue is the management of the office. He said the office's teamwork was "destroyed" after Johnson was appointed district attorney two years ago by Gov. Sonny Perdue when Stephen Kelley resigned to accept an appointment as Superior Court judge.

Johnson said the four district attorneys she's fired were not doing their jobs. She said some even had adversarial relationships with law enforcement.

She said the office was losing about $40,000 a month when she assumed office. She has cut the budget by having her staff work smarter, harder and more efficiently. Some of the cost savings are a result of not replacing employees.Using technology and working more efficiently has helped.

Miller criticized her for authorizing the purchase of four new cars instead of using the money to hire a more experienced attorney to mentor some of the younger prosecutors in the office.

Johnson said fuel costs are a major expenditure in the judicial circuit. The new cars are gas saving Ford Fusions, which replaced Crown Victorias.

The forum, sponsored by the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce, Golden Isles Home Builders Association and Golden Isles Association of Realtors, also featured five candidates seeking the State Court judge seat.

Bart Altman said he would deal with backlogs by starting court 30 minutes earlier. The older cases either need to be prosecuted or dismissed.

Grant Buckley said he would hold court more often to reduce the number of older cases and believes he can accomplish his goals without the need of asking for help from a part-time judge.

Wallace Harrell III said the backlog in cases is unfair to civil litigants and those accused of crimes. Mediation and electronic filing will help reduce the backlog of cases.

Vince Sowerby said he would keep the courtroom open longer and schedule more cases. He said a senior judge could help with the backlog.

Alan David Tucker said the state court is at the point where one man can't handle the caseload and supports adding a part-time judge.

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