AJC photo: Christian Boone
She discussed her quest for office during a recent interview.
“I have gotten calls from South Fulton, North Fulton, Buckhead just begging me to run,” she said.The office under Howard’s leadership is broken, she said. “I believe I’m the right person to fix it.”
An Emory Law School graduate, Willis was hired by Howard and worked for 16 years in the Fulton District Attorney’s Office. During that time she was promoted to to the Major Case Division and later named Deputy District Attorney of the Complex Trial Division.
Willis served as the lead prosecutor in the trial of 12 Atlanta Public School teachers accused of correcting standardized test answers by their students. All but one of the defendants was found guilty of racketeering.
Howard, the first African-American to win election as a district attorney in Georgia, had not faced a serious challenger since 2000. When Willis formalized her candidacy in March, she made it clear that Howard’s conduct in office would be a major issue.
Howard faces federal lawsuits alleging discrimination or sexual harassment by subordinates past and present. The GBI is investigating his use of a nonprofit to funnel almost $200,000 of city of Atlanta funds into his personal bank account.
Last week, he agreed to pay a $6,500 state ethics fine for failing to disclose his role as CEO of two non-profits, one of which netted him $195,000 in city grant money. Howard was accused of 14 violations, which he admitted to in the consent agreement.
Howard charged Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe, since fired, with 11 criminal counts, including felony murder, following the June 12 shooting of Rayshard Brooks. Officer Devin Brosnan faces charges of aggravated assault and violating his oath of office. Both are free on bond.
Critics accuse Howard of politicizing the case, noting that he had 43 prior police shooting cases on his desk that have yet to be adjudicated. The GBI has expanded its investigation and is now conducting a new probe into whether the DA’s office could legally issue grand jury subpoenas to get information about Rolfe.
Willis was the top vote-getter in the June primary but fell short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Howard took on a more aggressive posture ahead of the runoff, singling out her endorsements by two-time mayoral candidate Mary Norwood, a political Independent, and the Atlanta Police Union.
“I don’t see how you can serve as the gatekeeper to criminal justice in our community when you have made a deal with the union not to prosecute police officers,” Howard said at a June debate.
Willis’ response: “I’m dealing with a very desperate man who know he’s losing.”