Gwinnett candidate sues District Attorney for libel, slander

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter was sued for libel and slander by his opponent in the November election. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

The Democratic candidate for District Attorney in Gwinnett County has sued the Republican she’s challenging for the seat, alleging he committed libel and slander when he made comments about an ethics investigation that was opened last week.

Patsy Austin-Gatson said the sitting District Attorney, Danny Porter, was “trying to destroy my reputation.” Porter last week filed an ethics complaint about Austin-Gatson and two others, including her husband, saying that they had campaigned on county time and used county resources. Austin-Gatson and the others are all current employees of the Gwinnett solicitor’s office, though Austin-Gatson is on leave.

“I’m not going to sit back and tolerate it,” Austin-Gatson said of her decision to file suit. “He’s acting like a bully.”

Porter said he had not yet seen the suit, which was filed Monday in Gwinnett Superior Court. But he said Austin-Gatson made herself a public figure by running for office, and could not prove actual malice.

Last week, Porter said he filed a complaint after hearing persistent rumors that Austin-Gatson, Travis Gatson and Curtis Clemons — a former candidate for sheriff — has abused their positions as part of campaigning. He said an incident in Hall County that was documented by an investigator there prompted him to file the complaint.

David Emadi, the executive secretary of the state ethics commission, confirmed the investigation. All three people have denied the accusations.

Austin-Gatson’s complaint said Porter acted “maliciously and with reckless disregard for the truth” when he spoke to TV stations about the investigation and posted a statement on his Facebook page that he also sent to news media.

“Danny Porter doesn’t have the right to accuse people of crimes in public,” Austin-Gatson said.

The DA’s race is on the ballot Nov. 3.