Panel to advise if indicted prosecutor should be suspended

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s governor on Wednesday appointed a review panel to determine whether a district attorney who was indicted on charges of criminal misconduct while in office should be suspended while the case is pending.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order appointing two district attorneys and a retired state Supreme Court justice to review the case against Chattahoochee Circuit District Attorney Mark Jones. An indictment obtained Sept. 7 by the office of state Attorney General Chris Carr accuses Jones of trying to influence a police officer’s testimony, offering bribes to prosecutors in his office and trying to influence and prevent the testimony of a crime victim.

Jones took office in January and his office serves Muscogee, Harris, Chattahoochee, Marion, Talbot and Taylor counties in west Georgia.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Jones said he hadn’t seen the executive order and needed to look at it before commenting. He has previously denied the charges in the indictment and said he has no plans to resign, according to the Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus.

“I feel like this AG guy is coming out of woodwork trying to take the people’s seat,” he told the newspaper. “I took an oath, and I’m going to protect that seat as long as I can.”

Georgia law requires the governor to appoint a review commission to consider whether suspension is appropriate when an elected official is indicted on a felony charge. Generally the panel is made up of the attorney general and two officials who hold the same office as the indicted official. But if the attorney general brings the indictment, that seat is filled by a retired Supreme Court justice or a retired Court of Appeals judge.

To review Jones’ case, Kemp appointed Harold Melton, who stepped down as Georgia Supreme Court chief justice in July, as well as South Georgia Judicial Circuit District Attorney Joe Mulholland and Cherokee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Samir Patel.

They will be tasked with determining whether the indictment relates to and adversely affects Jones’ performance of his duties in a way that negatively affects the public. They are to make a written report to the governor within 14 days with a recommendation on whether Jones should be suspended.

If the panel recommends suspension, the governor may immediately suspend Jones with pay pending the final disposition of his case or the end of his term of office, whichever happens first. If he’s convicted and any appeals fail, he’ll be removed from office.

The indictment says Jones tried to influence a police officer’s testimony during grand jury proceedings in July. Jones told the officer he should testify that a suspect in a killing believed the victim had been cheating on him to provide a motive so the suspect could be charged with murder, the indictment says.

Jones in March offered a prosecutor in his office $1,000 to get a murder conviction and offered another prosecutor in his office $1,000 to say a case was ready for trial when it wasn’t, the indictment says.

Also in March, Jones “did knowingly use a threat and engage in misleading conduct” to influence and prevent the testimony of a crime victim and did not assist the victim through the complexities of the criminal justice system and ensure that the victim was informed of his rights under the law, the indictment says.

Jones went to trial earlier this month on unrelated felony charges. He was charged with first-degree criminal damage, interfering with government property and conspiracy in connection with a May 2020 video for his election campaign. The video included stunt driving moves, including cars driving in doughnuts with smoking tires in the parking lot of the Columbus Civic Center.

After visiting Judge Jeffery Monroe declared a mistrial in that case, prosecutor Brian Patterson said he decided to dismiss the charges.

Jones is also charged with DUI, reckless driving and causing injury following a November 2019 crash in which police said Jones was driving drunk.

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