Former Paulding DA pleads guilty, gets 12 months of probation

Dick Donovan had served as the district attorney of the Paulding County Judicial Circuit for more than a decade.

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Dick Donovan had served as the district attorney of the Paulding County Judicial Circuit for more than a decade.

Former Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of unprofessional conduct Thursday and was sentenced to 12 months of probation.

As part of his plea deal, Donovan, 76, has resigned as DA and must surrender his law license. Donovan, who had served as DA since 2010, was indicted in February on charges of bribery, violation of oath by public officer and two counts of false swearing. The state Attorney General’s office agreed to dismiss the other three charges.

Senior Judge J. Stephen Schuster, a retired Cobb County judge, accepted the plea. Schuster presided after Paulding Superior Court judges recused themselves. Donovan was sentenced under the first offender act, meaning his criminal record will be wiped clean if he completes his probation. Under the plea, he waived his right to appeal.

After accepting the plea, Schuster said he and Donovan had known each other since 1979.

“This is not how you or anyone who knows you saw the end of your career,” Schuster told Donovan in the courtroom. “I know today is a low moment and a tough moment. But there is a tomorrow.”

Schuster said Paulding County can now move forward. He praised attorneys on both sides for their professionalism in reaching an agreement and avoiding a trial.

“I never thought I’d be taking this plea from someone I’ve known most of my career, but here I am,” Schuster said.

Credit: Paulding County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Paulding County Sheriff's Office

After serving as a police officer for several years, Donovan attended law school and opened a practice in Hiram in 1981.

In 2019, Jamie White, a victim advocate in the Paulding DA’s office, accused him of sexual harassment. In January 2020, a $300,000 settlement was reached in the civil matter. The GBI said Donovan broke criminal laws when he gave a sworn affidavit regarding his relationship with White.

“Said accused denied ever having said that he wanted to have sex with Jamie White,” Donovan’s indictment states. White provided audiotapes and written notes as evidence for an outside investigator hired by Paulding County.

After the indictment, Gov. Brian Kemp suspended Donovan. Donovan was arrested and spent just over an hour in jail before posting $2,500 bond. He previously denied any wrongdoing.

Matthew Rollins has served as the acting district attorney for Paulding.

Donovan declined to comment after the plea deal. He was represented by attorneys Jimmy Berry, Lawrence Zimmerman and Kyle Winchester. Greg Lohmeier prosecuted the case on behalf of the attorney general.

“As independently elected public servants, Georgia’s district attorneys must fulfill their solemn obligation to uphold the rule of law no matter the circumstance,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said in a news release. “When these same individuals abuse their power with complete disregard for their sworn duties, they harm the very justice system they are put in place to defend and protect. We will not hesitate to hold accountable public officials who violate the law and their oaths of office and hope this case sends a message that public corruption of any kind will not be tolerated here in Georgia.”

Donovan was the second former district attorney prosecuted by Carr’s office in as many months.

In November, Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Mark Preston Jones pleaded guilty to four felony charges and was sentenced to five years, including one in prison. Jones, whose six-county district included Columbus, pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted violation of oath by public officer and one count each of violation of oath by public officer and influencing witnesses.

In September, a Glynn County grand jury indicted former District Attorney Jackie Johnson on charges stemming from her handling of the aftermath of Ahmaud Arbery’s February 2020 shooting death. She was later arrested.

Johnson is charged with violation of oath of public officer, a felony, and obstruction of a police officer, a misdemeanor. She was voted out of office.

In a 2020 radio interview, Johnson said her actions the day Arbery died were meant to avoid conflict. Greg McMichael, one of three men found guilty and set to be sentenced Friday, once worked in her office.

“The one mistake I made in this case was trying to be helpful to the police,” she told Jesup station WIFO-FM. “I was trying to do a good deed and get them some help and guidance to help them do their job. It’s now being used against me.”

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