Opinion: Why we’re pressing a complaint against Fulton District Attorney

GOP state senators say criminal prosecutions lagging as resources go toward “politically motivated” cases.
A Georgia Senate panel will look into overcrowding, a backlog of cases and dangerous conditions at the Fulton County Jail, where 10 inmates have died this year. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A Georgia Senate panel will look into overcrowding, a backlog of cases and dangerous conditions at the Fulton County Jail, where 10 inmates have died this year. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

“I need help. I’m here begging you for help. Dangerous people are going to get out [of jail]. I don’t know how to make it more clear.”

That’s what Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told the Fulton County Commission in September 2021 when she asked the commissioners for an additional $5 million to process unindicted murder suspects in Fulton County jail. And the commissioners followed through, voting to give Willis an immediate $780,000 to hire 55 additional staff members, staff that ultimately cost the county that full $5 million.

In 2020, the year before Willis took over as DA, the Fulton County District Attorney’s office spent a little more than $1.55 million. By 2021, that number had increased to $2.68 million and by 2022, it had ballooned to $3.33 million, nearly double what it spent in 2019. Her office has already spent $2.85 million in 2023.

However, it is not clear whether DA Willis was genuinely concerned about the budget for processing the backlog at Fulton County Jail. A year after Willis demanded $5 million in additional funding, the ACLU of Georgia found that 515 inmates had been in the jail 90 days or longer without an indictment, 83 people had been held in custody at Fulton County Jail for more than one year without indictment and 7 people had been held for over two years without indictment. Willis’s lack of action on these suspects has had deadly consequences. In August, inmate Christopher Smith died at Fulton County Jail after being held without bond, awaiting trial for three years and 10 months.

But what we do know is that Fani Willis has found plenty of resources to prosecute politically motivated cases and for seemingly lavish expenditures. The same year that Fani Willis came hat in hand to the Fulton County Commission demanding more resources to process murder cases, she spent $736,196 in office renovations and furnishings. This year she spent $793,825 on “equipment” from two car dealers, Wade Ford and Branden Motor Co., and in 2022 and 2023 she has spent $548,977 on “professional services” for special prosecutor Nathan Wade to assist her in her case against Donald Trump.

At the same time the ACLU concluded that “people continue to be incarcerated for inordinate amounts of time at Fulton County jails while awaiting a grand jury,” Willis did empanel a special purpose grand jury to investigate her political adversaries. It is clear DA Willis has found the resources for creature comforts and pet projects while the Fulton County Jail continues to get worse.

County Commission Chairman, Democrat Rob Pitts, put it best when he told Atlanta Magazine “Our system is broken and until our justice partners get their act together, the overcrowding will continue. Cases are so backlogged that many suspects languish in jail for days, weeks, and even years. Everyone knows that processing those accused of crimes would free up much-needed jail space.”

What’s more, the Fulton County District Attorney is required by Georgia law to empanel a grand jury to inspect the condition and operations of the county jail and make presentments as to the general sanitary condition of the jails and the treatment of the inmates as the facts may justify. The Georgia Senate is aware that only two such inspections have taken place in the last 10 years and when an empaneled grand jury attempted to inspect the jail earlier this year it was canceled because the booking of Donald Trump took precedence. This complicity is in despite of the fact that inmate Lashawn Thompson perished in Fulton County jail in 2022 as a result of severe neglect and bedbug infestation and the sanitary conditions of jails is a primary concern of grand jury investigations of county jails.

Anytime someone brings up the humanitarian disaster at the Fulton County jail and suggests her relentless pursuit of Donald Trump is exacerbating the issues at the jail, she claims her office can “chew gum and walk” at the same time. But that rings hollow when she’s paid Nathan Wade more than half a million dollars to chew the gum with Donald Trump and she still can’t do easy walking such as processing the jail backlog or ensure a grand jury is able to investigate the jail’s conditions as required by law.

That is why on October 1, we notified appointed members of the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission (PAQC) of our intent to file an official complaint once their official procedures are in place and provided them with a copy of the same. The PAQC was created by created by Senate Bill 92 passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor earlier this year to discipline prosecutors who are not doing their job. We believe Willis’ complicity in the humanitarian crisis at the Fulton County jail, along with her dogged pursuit of political prosecutions raises to level of a “willful and persistent failure to carry out duties” as codified in SB 92.

As the PAQC reviews Willis’ use of resources and her dereliction of duty, her own words about the allocation of resources are perhaps the most instructive. When asking for that additional $5 million to prosecute murders, Willis said without the funds “We don’t get to as many cases, we half do our job, we skip steps and we’re all in danger. I’m not supposed to say that, but that’s the truth.”

We couldn’t agree more, Ms. Willis. When you allocate your resources towards political prosecutions, office renovations and cars you “half do your job, you skip steps and we are all in danger.” And thanks to SB 92 that is sufficient cause for the PACQ to justify your removal from office.

State Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Gwinnett

State Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas

State Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia

State Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega

State Sen. Shelly Echols, R-Gainesville

State Sen. Sam Watson, R-Moultrie

State Sen. Russ Goodman, R-Cogdell

State Sen. Chuck Payne, R-Dalton