JONESBORO — Three county commissioners, the county manager and the finance director want the Clayton District Attorney’s Office disqualified from investigating their alleged criminal misconduct, according to a filing Wednesday in Superior Court.
Clayton District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson is seeking an indictment against finance director Angela Jackson on four felony counts of avoiding public records and a misdemeanor charge of violating the state’s records retention law in connection to an open records request for cell phone records. Lawson impaneled a special grand jury for that purpose more than a year ago.
Fayetteville attorney T. Michael Martin has been representing Jackson and, according to the filing, also represents commissioners Gail Hambrick, Wole Ralph and Sonna Singleton and County Manager Wade Starr. They accuse Lawson of using the investigation to further her political career.
Lawson is seeking her second term and faces challenger Leslie Miller Terry. Starr and Hambrick each contributed the maximum donation allowed by an individual, $2,500, to Terry’s campaign. Singleton’s car displays Terry’s campaign signs.
The action targets a re-election letter Lawson sent to supporters in May that alleges Starr drafted Terry to run against her. Lawson described Starr as the “controlling force” behind the county commissioners who “voted to raise your property taxes 34 percent.”
“All four are also currently under investigation by my office,” the letter stated. “The people I am investigating will do anything to get me out of office. Please, for the sake of Clayton County, do not let them succeed.”
The filing alleges the letter “makes it clear that Ms. Graham Lawson is using the fact that she is investigating (the five officials) for the purpose of raising funds for a political purpose, her re-election campaign.”
In the filing, Martin goes on to include standards from the American Bar Association that address prosecutors and the “implication or appearance of partiality or conflict of interest” that could cast a shadow over the integrity of the office. Martin posits that Lawson’s actions should be above suspicion and includes state law that provides for the disqualification of a prosecutor “if he or she has an interest or relationship that might prejudice him or her in the exercise of their professional duties.”
The five ask that the matter be reviewed by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and that a hearing be held.
Lawson declined to comment on the filing.
“I’m going to remain silent,” she said. “When the judge sets the hearing, we’ll respond appropriately in court.”
In April 2011, Clayton Superior Court Chief Judge Deborah Benefield ruled that county attorneys Michael Smith and Christie Cross-Barnes can testify if a grand jury hears evidence against Jackson. Martin appealed the ruling.
Lawson made headlines in the last couple of years when she began convening special grand juries to investigate public officials. Her office has indicted former Sheriff Victor Hill and several of his former employees; a former manager at the Clayton County Water Authority; former Morrow City Manager John Lampl and former Forest Park City Councilwoman Karen-Brandee Williams.