Investigation finds metro Atlanta DA asked staffer for sex

Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan has been accused of sexual harassment by a senior staffer in his office who works as the victim-witness coordinator. He denies wrongdoing.

Paulding prosecutor denies wrongdoing

A metro Atlanta district attorney is under investigation by the GBI following allegations that he sexually harassed a senior staff member for more than a year.

Paulding County Judicial Circuit District Attorney Dick Donovan has denied wrongdoing. But an outside attorney brought in to investigate the allegations determined the 73-year-old prosecutor violated the county’s sexual harassment policy.

Jamie White, Paulding County’s victim-witness coordinator, said in a complaint that Donovan repeatedly bought her gifts, kissed her, told her he loved her and said he wanted to have sex. The behavior began in October 2017 and continued even after she asked him to stop, the complaint said.

The complaint was one of several documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News through Georgia’s Open Records Act as part of a joint investigation.

“If it’s sexual harassment, it’s unlawful,” Donovan said in an affidavit. “But I am very, very reluctant to characterize it as sexual harassment because, again, I have never suggested we have sex, I have never offered to have sex with her, I have never said I wanted to have sex with her, I have never tried to have sex with her. I have never touched her anywhere that was inappropriate.”

But White recorded some conversations with Donovan and those audio tapes tell a different story, according to attorney Michael James Walker, who investigated the allegations. Walker provided the county with a 180-page report detailing his findings.

Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan

“I don’t mind telling you everything still works and I am not out of practice,” Donovan allegedly told White, according to the investigative report. “I can’t think of any experience I would relish or cherish more than to make love to you.”

Walker’s work cost Paulding taxpayers nearly $18,000, documents show.

On Tuesday, the GBI said it has launched an investigation into Donovan, but declined to release specifics. No criminal charges have been filed. Because Donovan is an elected constitutional officer, he cannot be fired. He does not face re-election until 2022.

White accepted money various times from Donovan for a family vacation and for her ill father, both Donovan and White admit. Donovan also had a white gold bracelet, estimated to cost around $600, made as a gift for White, according to the investigative report. But Donovan denied a car purchased for his office was meant only for White to drive.

In October 2017, White was arrested in Polk County and charged with shoplifting at Walmart. She said the incident was a mistake and the result of an item not scanning at the self-checkout counter. Donovan picked her up that evening from the Polk County jail. The charges against White were later dropped after Donovan spoke with investigators.

Two months later, White emailed Donovan to state that she wanted their relationship to be professional, rather than personal. But according to White, the sexual harassment continued.

On April 26, White filed a sexual harassment complaint with Paulding County, records show. On May 2, Donovan gave a sworn statement speaking for just over two hours to a court reporter, who typed the affidavit.

In June, White filed a Charge of Discrimination complaint with the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity, stating that Donovan repeatedly told her he was in love with her and forced her to sit in lengthy private meetings with him. Donovan’s behavior toward her, White said, caused her “anxiety, shame and emotional distress.”

Her attorney declined to comment.

“At all times since Mr. Donovan began this harassment, I have been terrified that I would lose my job if I tried to report his misconduct,” White wrote in the complaint.

Meanwhile, in a separate letter dated June 28, Donovan blasted county leaders for presuming he was guilty and questioned White’s reputation and character.

The Georgia attorney general’s office was informed of the allegations against Donovan, but cited a conflict of interest in representing him. Donovan was instead appointed an outside attorney, Eve Appelbaum.

“We intend to vigorously defend all allegations,” Appelbaum said in a statement to Channel 2.

Donovan was first elected Paulding DA in 2010 and re-elected in 2014 and 2018. His 40-year career has included practicing law in four states and numerous Georgia counties.

Employment attorney Jenn Coalson is not involved with the complaint or allegations against Donovan, but has read the documents. Coalson told Channel 2 the investigative report makes it difficult for Donovan to deny the allegations.

“That is an impartial, outside party who’s come in, spoken to witnesses, looked at the documents, looked at the evidence, and said that we think that something happened here. So that’s going to be a problem for him moving forward, for sure,” Coalson said.

HOW WE GOT THIS STORY

Acting on a tip, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News submitted open records requests to several local and state agencies, including Paulding County and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council.

Reporters then sorted through hundreds of pages of documents provided under the Georgia’s Open Records Act to piece together the story.

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