0

Judge Graham-Lawson challenges DA to debate

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A contender for the district attorney's seat, in the upcoming primary election, has challenged the incumbent to a debate.

Tracy Graham-Lawson, a juvenile court judge with experience in prosecution, said District Attorney Jewel Scott should have to answer for the "incompetence" in her office.

"There is so much wrong in that office, and someone has to say enough is enough," Graham-Lawson said.

She cited the extensive backlog of cases and two recent grand jury indictments which were thrown out of court, as examples of Scott's alleged inexperience and reasons she shouldn't be re-elected.

"I would like to challenge her to a debate," Graham-Lawson said.

Graham-Lawson, Scott and Herbert Adams, a Riverdale attorney, are running for district attorney in the July 15 Democratic primary. There is no Republican contender, and the Democratic winner will be the district attorney.

Asked about Graham-Lawson's challenge, Scott declined to debate. "I don't want to debate," she said. "I've never debated. I've always just campaigned and talked to my constituents. Debates don't mean anything. It's working and getting things done that matters."

Both challengers cite Scott's alleged inexperience and inability to "get things done" as primary reasons why they are challenging her.

Adams -- who is pitching himself as someone who knows "every corner of the courtroom" -- said he was surprised Scott wouldn't agree to a debate.

"I think the public deserves a debate," Adams said. "I think the public would be very interested in a debate among the candidates."

Issuing the challenge, however, Graham-Lawson did not expect the first-term incumbent district attorney to accept. She said Scott wouldn't take her challenge, because she didn't have any debating experience.

Graham-Lawson, meanwhile, spent part of last week reaching out to well-established and respected attorneys in the area, soliciting their support and extolling her own experience and ability.

In the county's legal community, last Thursday and Friday, the 49-year-old juvenile judge was making a bit of a buzz. A resident of Clayton County for 25 years, Graham-Lawson worked as an assistant district attorney under former district attorney, Bob Keller, and has been a judge in the Clayton County juvenile court since 1995. In that time, she claims, she has never had one of her rulings overturned by a higher court.

"Leaders have to lead by example," she said, "and I think the thing that's missing in the current office is that the DA has never tried a case herself. If the DA has never tried a case herself, then how will the [assistant district attorneys] know how?"

The argument made by Scott supporters, however, has been precisely that the job of a district attorney is one of management and direction, not micro-managing each criminal case, or walking the assistant district attorney's through each court appearance.

Scott agrees she has struggled in her first term, but attributes those struggles to the increase in criminal cases. Her office hasn't received any additional funding in the county budget, while the annual number of murders in Clayton County has doubled.

Her office has seen a large number of difficult, multi-defendant cases and a number of death penalty trials, consuming a lot of time and resources. Scott maintains her record of convictions shows significant success, despite challenges.

It is not clear, either, how the "buzz" about Graham-Lawson in the legal community translates into votes. Even the support of those involved in the county's criminal justice system isn't necessarily key to winning the July 15 vote.

Elsewhere, Adams, in his first public moves, reached out to one family which said it had been denied justice by the district attorney's office, and to another which said it had been victimized by Scott's political ambitions.

Saying "the public wants a change," and citing an "anti-incumbent attitude" in the county, Adams seemed to be collecting Scott's detractors.

Scott's campaign has quietly continued, as she raises funds, pays for billboards around the county, talks to constituents at churches and homeowners associations, and promotes the successes of her first term.

While it won't be a debate, the district attorney candidates have all been invited to meet face-to-face and answer questions at a political forum on Monday. Sponsored by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the Clayton County Wide Homeowners Association, the forum is scheduled to include candidates from four county races, and will begin at 6:15 p.m., in the Arts and Sciences Building Theater Room (G-132) of Clayton State University.