PROSECUTION TEAM SPEAKS--APRIL 14, 2015 ATLANTA Fulton County prosecutors Fani Willis and Clint Rucker speak as DA Paul Howard (left) and Dr. Bernice King listen, during a press conference following sentencing for 10 of the 11 defendants convicted of racketeering and other charges in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial before Judge Jerry Baxter in Fulton County Superior Court, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool)
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

Fulton DA forum avoids the headlines

Wednesday’s forum featuring the three Democratic candidates vying to be Fulton County District Attorney was perhaps most noteworthy for what wasn’t discussed.

Six-term incumbent Paul Howard wasn’t asked about the GBI investigation into his use of a nonprofit to funnel at least $140,000 in city of Atlanta funds to supplement his salary. And there was no mention of three harassment suits filed against Howard by three female employees.

Fani Willis, formerly Howard’s chief deputy, brought up “the elephant in the room” in her closing remarks. 

“Democratic voters ... you should be very concerned if the current DA is elected, he’ll be removed because of the allegations he’s facing,” said Willis, who once supervised Fulton’s trial division.

RELATED: Howard, former deputies spar in Fulton DA debate

Howard, who predicts he’ll be exonerated by the GBI, touted a 70 percent decrease in crime since he took office. 

“I have never let the community down, and I will not let you down now,” he said 

Christian Wise-Smith laid claim to being “the most progressive” of the three candidates. He repeated vows to eliminate cash bail and reduce mass incarceration.

Wise-Smith strongly criticized his opponents for prosecuting Atlanta public school teachers and principals accused of changing students’ answers on state-administered standardized tests. Willis served as lead prosecutor in the eight-month trial that began in 2014 and ended in 2015 with 11 of the 12 defendants convicted on racketeering charges.

Wise-Smith said Howard and Willis engaged in a “witch hunt.” “They sought conviction by any means necessary in that case and that’s not justice,” he said. 

Willis acknowledged the prosecution was not popular with a segment of African-American voters but said they should remember “there were thousands of children hurt” by the scandal.

“I would not do anything differently,” Howard said. “(The educators) deprived children of their most basic right, and that’s the right to an education.”

The primary will be held June 9. If none of the candidates receive 50 percent of the vote, a run-off between the top two vote-getters would take place on Aug. 11.

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