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Ex-DA's program probed by federal jury

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A federal grand jury recently subpoenaed Clayton County's attorney for documents about a criminal-rehabilitation program that was run by former Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott, the county's current district attorney has confirmed.

It is not clear why the information is being sought. Current Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said officials in her office turned the documents -- concerning the office's old Deferred Prosecution Program -- over to County Attorney Michael Smith, who had been served with the subpoena approximately three weeks ago.

The Deferred Prosecution Program was a pre-trial intervention program the district attorney's office ran under Scott's leadership, according to the current district attorney. Lawson said it ended when she became the district attorney on Jan. 1, 2009. "Michael Smith got served with a subpoena, and we helped provide the information that was requested," she said.

Lawson deferred questions about the details of the subpoena to Smith, who declined to comment on the issue. Yvette Comer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta, said she was instructed to not comment on the subpoena.

The Deferred Prosecution Program was in operation, officials said, when Scott served as district attorney, from 2005, to the end of 2008. Lawson said it ceased to exist on Scott's last day in office, in December 2008.

She explained that she told officials in the office of her plans to scrap the program during the transition to her administration, from Scott's administration. Lawson said she replaced the Deferred Prosecution Program with her office's Pre-Trial Intervention and Diversion Program.

"I told them [in late 2008] that I would not be continuing the program, so they needed to have whoever was in the program finish it by Dec. 31, 2008, or they [participants in the program] would be prosecuted," Lawson said.

Scott's biography, on the web site for the Scott and Turner Law Group, LLC, which she know operates, said the Deferred Prosecution Program was started during "her first few months in office."

The biography describes it as an "intensive program aimed at rehabilitation and empowerment" of first-time, non-violent offenders, so they could "make better choices and lead productive lives without the hindrance of a felony record."

Scott could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Lawson said such pre-trial intervention programs are allowed under the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, sections 15-18-80, and 15-18-81. She added, however, that she had "no knowledge" of the Deferred Prosecution Program complying with three key requirements of either code section.

Lawson said the three requirements in question mandated that Requests For Proposals (RFPs) be sent out to find a group to run the program; that administrative fees for people to sign up for the programs be set no higher than $300, with the money going into the county's general fund; and that all restitution had to be paid to the local clerk of courts.

"To my knowledge, they did not do an RFP," Lawson said. "To my knowledge, they did not have administrative fees going into the general fund, and to my knowledge, they did not have restitution being paid to the clerk's office. That's why I discontinued the program. I wanted to have something in place that I knew was legal."