District Attorney Parks White Looks Back at First Year, Plans More Improvements for 2014
By Parks White, District Attorney, Northern Judicial Circuit
We hit the ground running in January 2013, met on day-one with a case load of 3,214 open files across the Circuit, or 642 cases for each Assistant District Attorney (ADA). Realizing that I entered the office charged with a referendum from the people to reduce the backlog and speed up the process of moving cases through Superior Court in the Northern Judicial Circuit, we set to task.
My staff has proven to be both extremely competent and resilient. ADA Adam Schroeder obtained guilty verdicts in an Aggravated Assault on a Peace Officer case, as well as a Cocaine Trafficking case with two co-defendants. ADA James Webb tried four cases back to back in four weeks, obtaining guilty verdicts in all. Chief ADA Geoffrey Fogus obtained a guilty verdict for a cocaine trafficker with five prior cocaine related convictions, who received a life sentence. We secured guilty verdicts in the vast majority of all cases tried.
All four of the office’s outstanding administrative assistants stayed on, and have taken the changes in stride. We hired two new attorneys, Jean Mangan and Kevin McFarlin, who have already demonstrated not only proficiency in the courtroom, but also a commitment to the causes of justice and victims’ rights. Investigator Corey Bullard joined our office several months ago, and has quickly become an invaluable asset. Kristie Cross was promoted to Victims’ Services Program Coordinator, and has worked tirelessly to ensure that victims are kept fully informed of all court proceedings.
The tenacious hard work of my staff has resulted in the closing 2,652 cases circuit wide, reducing the pending caseload to 2,385 by the end of year one, a reduction of 26%. The number is still high due to the fact that we have been continuously receiving new cases, but as we are closing more cases that we are receiving, we are moving in the right direction.
Chief ADA Geoffrey Fogus has conducted numerous training sessions with law enforcement agencies in all Counties at no cost – constituting a tremendous saving to the counties for training and travel costs. We also hosted a training session put on by Special Agent Mike Ayers of the GBI on interviews and interrogations that was attended by 26 investigators from across the Circuit. It was extremely well received.
The prior administration required defense attorneys to come into the District Attorney’s office with their own paper and make a copy of the State’s evidence. This antiquated process by itself drastically slowed the rate at which cases could be resolved. We installed high speed scanners on the desks of our secretaries to scan discovery, saving paper, toner, and time.
Initially we were furnishing discovery on disks, but now we have established a Cloud drive making discovery available to defense counsel over the internet, and avoiding expense of CDs and DVDs. Our office policy is to provide discovery at the time a defendant is arraigned in Superior Court, and provide plea offers in all cases prior to the first time the case appears on a trial calendar. We are sending the message that early acceptance of responsibility will receive great consideration, and that delay by the defense will not work to their benefit.
In an effort to cut costs, we have updated telecommunications contracts in our offices, adding voicemail (a service previously only available in Madison County), while managing to substantially reduce long distance service rates. We installed new copiers that are twice as fast and have a great deal more functionality, but because we renegotiated our lease options, the cost actually decreased $25.00 per month.
I secured guilty verdicts in a murder trial, a vehicular homicide case, and two aggravated assault trials – one involving a four time violent felon, and one involving a member of a violent militia. I prepared many other serious cases for trial, but they were resolved on the eve of trial by plea agreements with lengthy prison sentences. These included a four co-defendant home invasion armed robbery, in which the two least culpable defendants were sentenced to a decade in prison without parole, and the gunman received two decades in prison without parole; a guilty plea to two murders in which the defendant received a sentence of life without parole; and a case involving a notorious drug kingpin who pleaded guilty and received a life sentence.
At the request of the Elbert County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) I re-examined a thirteen-year-old cold murder case in which the ECSO had years before developed a prime suspect. After examining the hard work of the investigators, I authorized them to seek warrants. I then traveled to Hayes State Prison at the suspect’s request, and personally received his confession. We reconvened the Grand Jury, and he was sentenced to life in prison less than a month later. But I am perhaps most proud of having had the opportunity to sit second chair with each of my ADAs and provide them with guidance and feedback during the course of jury trials.
In the year to come we will debut a website for the District Attorney’s Office, providing victims with easy access to forms for Civil Protective Orders and restitution requests, and informing the public of upcoming trial calendars, as well as our trial outcomes. We will continue to push to resolve cases in a timely manner and reduce the backlog. We will follow through on our commitment to restore integrity to the Office of the District Attorney. As we say around the office, “Justice is coming.”