Gwinnett solicitor sues DA for access to funds

Gwinnett’s solicitor general, Brian Whiteside, sued District Attorney Danny Porter. (Photo by Phil Skinner) AJC FILE PHOTO

Gwinnett’s solicitor general, Brian Whiteside, sued District Attorney Danny Porter. (Photo by Phil Skinner) AJC FILE PHOTO

Gwinnett Solicitor Brian Whiteside has sued the county’s longtime district attorney, alleging he refused to cancel an agreement made by Whiteside’s predecessor that sends victim assistance funds to the DA’s office.

The agreement, which was approved by Gwinnett County commissioners, splits court fees that come in to Magistrate, Recorder’s and Municipal courts between the district attorney and solicitor’s offices to pay for victims assistance programs.

In 2018, after Whiteside was elected but before he took office, District Attorney Danny Porter and then-Solicitor Rosanna Szabo adjusted the way the money was divided to give the DA’s office 5% more of the money. Now, the DA’s office gets 65% of the income from those courts, while the solicitor’s office gets 35%.

The DA’s office gets all money from Superior Court fees, while the solicitor’s office gets all money from State Court.

The lawsuit comes less than a month before the Nov. 3 election in which Porter, a Republican, faces a tough reelection bid. Porter’s Democratic opponent in the election is a deputy in Whiteside’s office, Patsy Austin-Gatson.

Adding even more intrigue, Porter filed an ethics complaint against Austin-Gatson earlier this year.

“I suspect there’s a retaliatory aspect to it,” Porter said.

Whiteside, a Democrat, denied retaliation played a role, saying he asked Porter to cancel the agreement but Porter refused.

Porter said because county commissioners voted on the negotiated split, he was not in a position to make any changes to the division of funds.

“He’s not telling the truth,” Whiteside said. “He needs to terminate that contract.”

In a Thursday filing in Gwinnett Superior Court, Whiteside said the agreement “causes irreparable harm” to his office. Whiteside also said it will create a $100,000 hole in his budget.

“What DA takes money from things they don’t earn?” Whiteside asked. “What we work for, we should get.”

Porter said the two offices had split victim funds since 1993. He and Szabo made a non-binding recommendation to commissioners in 2018, he said, that increased the amount for his office.

Porter said the funds pay for five or six victim advocate positions and he rejected Whiteside’s proposal that he forfeit all the money. He said the county would have to continue to pay for victim’s services, regardless of from where the money comes, and that the solicitor’s program is smaller than the district attorney’s.

“The problem is he spent all his money and he’s out of money,” Porter said. “He wants the money for other things."