Husband and wife running for same office, lots of baggage in Clayton

Former Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott took the stand for almost an hour Tuesday in a civil suit she and husband Lee Scott have battled for two years.

The Scotts and their lawyer, John Jones, lost the latest round in a case that is casting a lengthening shadow over the couple's unusual run – she as a Democrat, he as a Republican – for the same District 4 Clayton County Commission seat.

The suit was brought by Earl Randall, who claims he was illegally fired by Jewel Scott when she was district attorney before being voted out of office in 2008.

Randall and his attorney, Bill Atkins, allege Jewel Scott fired Randall, her former chief investigator, because he was running for county commission chairman against her husband, Lee Scott.

Lee Scott, in effect, ordered his wife to fire Randall, according to the lawsuit, which describes a scene in which Lee Scott allegedly pounded a table at a local restaurant and screamed at his wife, telling her he ran the DA’s office and had paid $250,000 to get her elected.

Both Lee Scott and Randall were defeated when Eldrin Bell won re-election as chairman. Jewel Scott’s efforts to get re-elected after one term as the county’s first black DA were damaged by the negative publicity of Randall case and other incidents.

The ruling Tuesday by Clayton County Superior Court Judge Matthew Simmons, finding that Lee Scott had been properly served lawsuit papers and the case can go forward, illustrates why the Scotts “think they’re above the law,” Bill Atkins, Randall’s attorney, claimed after the hearing.

“They [the Scotts] think the law doesn’t apply to them,” said Atkins. “Instead of just submitting themselves to the court, they came in here and wasted about two and a half hours of the court’s time and money.”

Jewel Scott said during a break in the hearing that she thought the timing of the hearing, a week before the primaries, was politically motivated.

“When you’re in the process of change, of trying to make things change, this is how things happen,” she said. She declined comment after the ruling.

Lee Scott, in a telephone interview Monday, had denied that he was involved in a hearing Tuesday morning, even though, according to court documents, he was named as the defendant in the hearing. He failed to appear Tuesday.

In the telephone interview, he said, “The timing of this [hearing] isn’t unfortunate. It’s Clayton County. That’s how things happen in Clayton County. Of course it’s politically motivated.”

The Scotts are not without their supporters. On Saturday, at a political forum hosted by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732 -- an event which neither Scott attended -- voter Sandra Bethany said a married couple running for the same office doesn’t bother her.

“If it’s OK for DuBose Porter to run for governor and his wife Carol Porter to run for lieutenant governor, what’s wrong with this?” she asked. “If they’re the right people, if they’re for the people, it doesn’t matter if it’s a family affair.”

Over the past two decades, as the demographics of Clayton have gone from majority white to majority black, the county has been churned by political change, upheaval and scandal.

Two years ago Clayton public schools lost their accreditation and four members of the school board were removed by Gov. Sonny Perdue. That accreditation has been restored provisionally under a new superintendent and school board.

The former Sheriff, Victor Hill, who fired 27 deputies his first day in office, costing the county a $7-million lawsuit, was defeated for re-election in 2008 but is running this year for state Senate.

Yet even by those standards, the Scotts seem to have more than their share of baggage.

In 2008 Jewel Scott, while DA, was hit with a consent order by the state Ethics Commission for failing to file her 2006 financial disclosure statement in time and was fined $3,250.

For others, especially his family, the case of the late Donnie Hood raises the most questions about the Scotts' candidacies. In January 2006 Jewel Scott as DA pursued charges against Hood, a Clayton County employee of almost 20 years, accusing him of stealing a flag from a police memorial. Two days after she threatened to take away his county pension if he was found guilty, Hood committed suicide.

Hood, whose brother is assistant Clayton fire Chief Jeff Hood, killed himself rather than go to trail, said Atkins, the attorney who also handled his case.

The Clayton County Commission in February 2008 called for the state attorney general to investigate Jewel Scott’s office’s handling of the case. Two and a half years later, Atkins said he is unaware of any action taken by the state..

The Hood family on Tuesday issued a statement denouncing the Scotts' “willingness to abuse authority.” They called for voters to decide if they want “what’s best for the future of Clayton County or the future of the Scotts.”

Clayton County political veteran, attorney and former solicitor Keith Martin, whose lived in Clayton 38 years, knows both Scotts personally. He said he thinks voters will see through the “gimmick” of both Scotts running for the same office.

“I don’t think it will help Jewel Scott having her husband on the ballot as a Republican in this race, any more than it helped when she was running for re-election in 2008 and he was running for county commission,” Martin said.