Deborah Gonzalez

Deborah Gonzalez, candidate for District AttorneyDeborah Gonzalez, District Attorney of the Western Circuit

2021 – present

Deborah Gonzalez (D) is the District Attorney of the Western Circuit, which includes both Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties.

Gonzalez made history by being the first Latina to serve as DA in the state of Georgia, the first woman elected DA in the Western Circuit and the first Puerto Rican woman elected DA in the whole country.

Gonzalez’s campaign website
Western Circuit District Attorney’s website

Signature Issues

Ending Mass Incarceration – Gonzalez has stated on her website that she will not prosecute low-level cannabis offenses, she will reduce prosecutorial overcharging and also end the use of cash bail.

Transparency and Accountability – Gonzalez promises to develop a public data portal and establish a Data and Accountability Taskforce.

Smart Justice – Gonzalez has stated that she will refuse to prosecute women under HB 481, the “heartbeat” anti-abortion bill. Instead, she will address racial disparity and establish restorative justice programs in Juvenile & Superior Courts. She says she will be “smart” on prosecuting serious crime, and elaborated on this issue in a comment to APN.

Other Issues

Productivity – Gonzalez has faced criticism, even a lawsuit, for low productivity in her office. In August 2023, she shot back by releasing a report on her work during her first term. In the report, she states that her office has served over 20,000 subpoenas, resolved over 5,500 felony cases, 3,300 misdemeanors and that she obtained guilty verdicts in 59% of trial cases.

Open Assistant DA Positions Gonzalez admitted to facing a “serious shortage of Assistant District Attorneys” during her first term. She said this was due to a nationwide prosecutor shortage and uncompetitive salaries in the Western Judicial Circuit.

A graph of turnover rate in the DA's office compared to that of all ACC employees.
This graph of employee turnover in the DA’s office (blue line) relative to the ACC government as a whole (yellow line) was presented at an ACC Commission work session on May 9, 2023.

Gonzalez has responded to a 2023 article in Classic City News about the shortage of prosecutors in her office:

“Though budgeted for 17 assistant district attorneys, the DA’s office that is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties reportedly is currently down to operating with as few as three prosecutors.”

DA’s response: This is incorrect information, the DA’s Office has never fallen to three prosecutors. We currently have five prosecutors and three Assistant District Attorney Apprentices.

“In an apparent move to shore up the staffing shortage, Gonzalez recently brought aboard five unpaid apprentice prosecutors, but all of them reportedly failed the bar exam.”

DA’s response: This is almost entirely false. The only truth in it is that the position of apprentice prosecutors does exist. Our office has three Assistant District Attorney (prosecutor) Apprentices, all of whom are currently studying for the bar exam and will be taking it in the coming months. All three of these Assistant District Attorney Apprentices are paid positions.

It is a common practice in District Attorney Offices to hire recent graduates who are pending bar results to begin training them to be excellent prosecutors, and it is not a practice unique to our circuit. These apprentice ADA positions were created with ARPA funds for the Case Analysis and Pretrial Evaluation (CAPE) Unit, which is tasked with addressing the case backlog created from the pandemic court shut down. This unit does not practice in front of the judges.

The DAs office does currently have a class of interns, ranging from undergraduate students to masters students to law students, these internships are unpaid-perhaps this is where the confusion arose. This is not a new practice in the Western Judicial Circuit DAs Office, nor is it unique to our circuit.

“Two veteran ADAs resigned over the past week.”

DA’s response: Two resignations did take place in the last two weeks (these prosecutors are not included in the staffing numbers provided above.)  Neither of these resignations were from veteran ADAs, both had under two years of prosecution experience.

These corrections were also sent to Classic City News, which they published as a “letter to the editor” rather than correction of the original story.

Our office acknowledges that we are in a staffing crisis, we wrote candidly about it in our most recent monthly newsletter, saying the following:

“It is no secret that our office has been facing a serious shortage of Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs). While all other departments in our office, Investigators, Victim Services, External Relations, and Administration are fully staffed, hiring attorneys has been a challenge that we continue to face.

There is a statewide and nationwide prosecutor shortage, making the hiring process extremely competitive. This shortage has been discussed heavily by the National District Attorney’s Association, the American Bar Association, and Fair and Just Prosecution, all with the same conclusion- there are more vacancies than there are attorneys. All 50 judicial circuits in Georgia have vacancies, and small our circuit happens to have noncompetitive pay in an extremely competitive market. We have recently hired two attorneys, and have a few more in process, but we are still in a severe ADA deficit.

DA Gonzalez spoke in front of the Mayor and Commission earlier this month about our difficulty hiring due to the comparative ADA salaries of nearby counties. We have been candid about the fact that attorneys can go 30 minutes down the road and make tens of thousands of dollars more than what our county allows us to offer. This has led to an unsustainable situation.

Without competitive salaries, we are unable to recruit and retain highly qualified ADAs, ADAs with experience evaluating complex evidence and prosecuting serious crimes, ADAs with specialized knowledge, and ADAs who are able to fairly, justly, and humanely carry out this important and often difficult work. The work of these ADAs is essential to the overall goal of the office: keeping the community safe.”

Juvenile Justice – Gonzalez ran on ending the practice of charging juveniles as adults, except when legally required. This promise was repeated in her “day one” memo. Yet, in her first ten months in office, she prosecuted not one but two minors as adults. She spoke about her decision on WUGA.

Since then, Gonzalez has announced the creation of a Juvenile Restorative Justice Diversion Program in collaboration with the Georgia Conflict Center. This could help many juveniles stay out of the traditional justice system in the future.

Interviews

Gonzalez did an interview with APN on May 24, 2023.

[En español] Gonzalez was interviewed by Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens on January 23, 2020.

In the News

September 26, 2021 – Gonzalez has received a grant from the Vera Institute of Justice to redesign ACC’s Diversion program to make it more accessible for low-income residents and to reduce disparities for people of color.

“[Gonzalez] hopes to double participation in [the ACC Diversion] program by 2022, and will put in checks to monitor that the diversity is increasing.”

Experience

Gonzalez was an attorney specializing in media, technology and entertainment through her legal firm D Gonzalez Law Group, LLC and Letterbox Legal. In 2018, she served one term as state representative for district 117, serving on the Judiciary non-Civil committee.

Election Results

2020 Special Election

Deborah Gonzalez (D) – 48.4%
James Chafin – 35.0%
Brian Patterson (D) – 16.7%

2020 Special Election Runoff

Deborah Gonzalez (D) – 51.7%
James Chafin – 48.3%

Gonzalez v Kemp

Gonzalez’s fight to become DA went far beyond the ballot box; in fact, it went all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court. When Governor Brian Kemp tried to cancel this election using an unconstitutional law passed in 2018, Gonzalez sued him and won. This paved the way for her electoral victory later that year.

Video

Deborah Gonzalez was sworn in on December 17, 2020 on the steps of the ACC Courthouse.