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Names thrown, claims contested in DA race

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

One week into a runoff campaign, the two candidates for Clayton County District Attorney are hitting hard, galvanized in aggressive opposition.

Incumbent District Attorney Jewel Scott sent out a mailer calling her opponent, Juvenile Court Judge Tracy Graham Lawson, a "hanging judge." Lawson accused Scott, who is black, of "race baiting" and "lies."

Both women say the other doesn't have the experience to run the prosecutor's office, and both are pretty confident they will win on Aug. 5.

"I have no doubt that this community wants to keep me as the D.A.," Scott said.

"She's got all the votes she's going to get and she's not going to get any more," Lawson said. "I'm very optimistic about the outcome now."

In a three-way race in the Democratic primary, with Riverdale attorney Herbert Adams, Scott took in about 41 percent of the vote.

She won her first term, in 2004, with about 62 percent of the vote, beating the incumbent without a runoff. Seeking re-election four years later, though, Scott only got 10,614 votes, about 700 more than Lawson, who held 38.2 percent of the ballots cast.

Adams, coming in third, had more than 5,000 votes, and though he didn't endorse anyone when he conceded, Adams attacked Scott a lot during the campaign, and it's hard to see how someone who supported him would turn out, in August, with a vote for the incumbent.

Scott, however, said the only reason she didn't take the race outright was the low voter turnout.

"It gave my challenger an edge," said Scott, not saying Lawson's name. "I think [my supporters] recognize that they didn't turnout the way they should, and I think they realize what is at stake."

About 21 percent of registered voters went to the polls on July 15.

The district attorney's race did not draw any Republican candidates in the strongly Democratic county, and the winner of the Aug. 5 primary runoff will be the district attorney, come the first work day of 2009.

Scott said she should be returned to the office in January because of the work she has done in the last four years. "We have the conviction rate to support that we're tough on crime, but we also have that compassionate side. I've been the one implementing the programs. I've been doing the job. I'm the one that's been in the schools. I'm the one who did work in the community with mental issues and awareness, elder abuse, and domestic violence," Scott said.

The incumbent's campaign mailer, sent out right before the July 15 election, claims Scott's experience includes "a 100% conviction rate for murder, rape, child abuse and child molestation cases."

Asked about the statistics on Monday, Scott backed down a bit.

It is not true that everyone charged with murder, rape, child abuse or child molestation has been convicted. In the case of Travon Wilson, a 4-year-old who was shot in a Riverdale park, more than ten accused gang members received plea deals, and two who went to trial, were found not guilty.

In one case, earlier this year, charges were dropped against a former Jonesboro police officer, who allegedly forced himself on two girls. The indictment was done incorrectly -- one of a number of alleged recent missteps by Scott's office, embarrassments which included an incorrect multiple-murder indictment getting thrown out; a missed deadline redirecting a murder case into juvenile court; and the dismissal of a child-murder case, followed by the reversal of the dismissal.

When pressed, Scott rephrased the 100 percent claim, saying instead, "Our conviction rate is solid. There are periods where we've had 100 percent or 90 percent ... We've been severely hampered by the lack of personnel. We've seen a huge increase in crime, and I inherited a backlog of cases."

Lawson said she is unpersuaded, and said Scott went into office without any experience and is leaving the office a mess. "People just want to fix this great county and get us back to where we were," Lawson said. "People are looking, this time, at experience and qualifications to run that office."

Lawson has been a juvenile judge in the county since 1995 and before that she worked for Scott's predecessor as an assistant prosecutor.

Scott has tried to turn both experiences into negatives, describing Lawson, in a campaign mailer, as a "hanging judge" and the "candidate of the old court power gang."

Lawson said her record shows the county court has only given detention time to about 150 children, of the more than 6,000 seen by Lawson and another judge in the last 12 years. Those 150, Lawson said, were considered to be a danger to society and were incorrigible.

"She's just race baiting and it's really getting old," said Lawson, who is white. "It's an absolute and total and complete lie, like most of the things she's putting out."

Scott declined to talk about the "hanging judge" comment on Monday, saying she was just going to talk about her experience.

"I have not run a nasty campaign," Scott said. "I believe they have."