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Courthouse tragic murders reflect long history of Fulton DA failures

By Denise A. Sorino
web posted March 21, 2005

"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."

-- Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

Like all Americans, my heart goes out to the families of the tragic Atlanta victims. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is right that the most important thing is that Brian Nichols is in custody. The police and SWAT teams were remarkable, and I thank God for the cool thinking of the rescued hostage. But now, the nation must know this was completely avoidable. This is but one of the long list of blunders made by Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard. Now, as Brandeis would say, it is time to apply the public disinfectant on a very real threat to the Fulton public.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard speaks during a news conference at the Atlanta City Hall on March 12
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard speaks during a news conference at the Atlanta City Hall on March 12

Paul Howard's fatal lapse was criminal. Incredibly, Howard's ADA told CNN "we had no reason to believe he [Nichols] could be violent." No reason? Nichols was on trial for rape with weapons assault, and had brought weapons to court the day before. Judge Barnes had a meeting with the prosecutor to increase security. Howard's people knew very well they were dealing with an extremely dangerous man.

The buck stops with Paul Howard. The Fulton sheriff, prosecutors and deputies all ultimately report to Howard. As a former assistant DA who worked under Paul Howard, I am sorry to say Paul Howard has a pattern as to allow criminals, especially former athletes, to flout the law. While I worked for him, thousands of felony cases were not processed. Incredibly, Howard consistently blamed his predecessors for this backlog that occurred solely on the Howard watch.

Victims groups, legal experts, feminists and the media excoriate Howard for repeated failure to prosecute the real crimes of Fulton County. The jury foreman in Nichols' first rape trial told CNN that the jury wanted to write to Howard to "express our frustration at how poorly both the police investigation and the district attorney's office had conducted the investigation and trial." Had Howard done his job in the first place, Nichols would have been behind bars, not shooting citizens. Nichols is but one of hundreds of criminals Howard failed to prosecute competently. Incredibly, members of Howard's own office have been arrested on drug related offenses, but were never prosecuted.

Judge Barnes, the tragic victim of Nichols and revered superior court judge, knew Howard's incompetence intimately. Barnes had presided in the trial of 34 year-old Carissa Ashe who murdered her daughter Destiny. Many former Howard Assistant District Attorneys, including Southeastern Legal Foundation's Shannon Goessling have urged citizens to recall Howard. Goessling, veteran former Chief Senior District Attorney, resigned from Howard's office in protest. "Paul Howard is a politician, not a prosecutor and, as a result, hundreds of society's most vulnerable victims - children - receive little justice and even less protection."

Another former ADA, attorney N.G. (name withheld on request), writes "I was also made aware by the lead ADA in the Ray Lewis case that there was enough evidence to convict him, but Paul Howard chose not to present this information to the jury and the public."

While this charge against Howard is shocking to the point of being hard to believe, at least three members of Howard's office have backed this up. The fear of retaliation is all too real. I too have received anonymous phone threats telling me to stop assisting investigations.

Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly denounced the Atlanta Journal Constitution for cover up of Howard. I can say from personal experience that the AJC indeed frequently refused to expose Howard's failures, even when highly documented. The disinfectant of public exposure needs to be applied to the media as well. An open letter to the newspaper last summer asked "when will reporters be allowed to report?" on Howard and related violators of the public trust. We need open government, but we also need open media.

Howard is currently under ethics investigation for stonewalling my investigation of Georgia Senator Charles Walker, who was finally indicted by federal investigators on 142 felony counts for stealing from Georgia's poorest citizens, including at Grady hospital. Federal authorities have stated that the co-conspirators of Walker need to be looked at by Fulton. Four years ago, I personally presented Howard with two boxes of evidence regarding the Walker/Grady corruption. Howard refused to investigate, and then finally retaliated against me. The DA office now claims to have "lost" the evidence. Howard's office continues to falsely claim they have no knowledge of the Walker/Grady corruption. There is a four year paper trail showing Howard stonewalling for Charles Walker and co-conspirators.

This is the beginning of Sunshine week, and I salute all papers for shining the light on the need for Open Records. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis is right that sunlight is the best of all disinfectants.

Had sunlight been shown on Paul Howard earlier, it is likely that the tragedy and many other tragedies could have been avoided. It is horrible that the very judge who presided over many of Paul Howard's worst blunders should have been killed.

It is sad that a District Attorney has covered up for some of the worst crimes of the decade. We owe it to this judge, and to all other victims of Howard's terrible follies, that Paul Howard be made to resign or be recalled immediately.

Denise Sorino prosecuted crime as Assistant D.A. in Paul Howard's office for three years. Currently she assists GAP, the Government Accountability Project in Washington, DC to expose corruption and protect whistleblowers. Sorino also performs casino legal development for Onnam Gaming, Inc. in Atlantic City, NJ. Please join former assistant District Attorneys, including Sorino and Goessling, in calling for Howard's recall.

 

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