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June 11, 2008

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‘Wrong-doings’ topic for DA candidates
Former district attorney Tim Madison was mentioned throughout the political forum Tuesday night in Commerce as two former employees defended their actions under his leadership, while one candidate pointed out she is the only one seeking the office who didn’t work for Madison.
The Jackson County Repub-lican Party sponsored the forum and more than 100 people attended. In addition to the district attorney’s race, candidates for sheriff, board of commission chairman, two BOC seats and one county board of education seat were present. The election is set for July 15.
Donna Sikes opened her comments by calling for a change in the office that Madison led for decades before being convicted of financial wrong-doing.
“It’s time for a change in the D.A.’s office and the time is now,” she said. “My opponents in this race were each trained by Tim Madison and worked for him for years. They looked the other way and ignored the obvious signs of corruption in that office…I won’t let crimes that I know about go unreported. I want to restore the honesty…and credibility in the D.A.’s office.”
When the candidates were given the opportunity to ask each other questions, Sikes asked incumbent Rick Bridgeman and Brad Smith why they “turned a blind eye” to Madison’s conduct.
Bridgeman said he saw the district attorney lose his “moral compass,” but did not know about any criminal wrongdoing. He said the employees were required to go to Jefferson during the work week for mandatory volleyball games and he didn’t agree with doing that. He said he left because of that.
Smith said the criminal wrong-doing Madison was convicted of dealt with one employee who worked in the Banks County office.
“I had no knowledge of a co-worker two counties away,” he said. “I knew nothing of his paycheck... I was found innocent of any wrong-doing…I am not Tim Madison. He was a difficult person to work for. I turned no blind eye to any wrong-doing.”
Smith added that Sikes’ allegations are “not qualities you would want in a district attorney.”
When Bridgeman was given the opportunity to ask a question of his opponents, he pointed out that Sikes had never been a prosecutor and asked if this would be a concern.
“If you’ve tried a case, you know how to try a case,” she said. “…I also have knowledge of how a defense attorney works.”
Smith asked Bridgeman about indictments from this past September and December that were thrown out due to errors. Bridgeman said the September cases were thrown out because the signature page was left out, and the December indictments were thrown out because the grand jury didn’t make each case as being a true bill or no bill.
Sikes asked both candidates where they grew up. Bridgeman said he grew up in Maryland and moved to Georgia in 1988. Smith said he grew up in South Carolina and moved to Georgia in 1996.
Bridegman asked Smith about the backlog of cases in the Piedmont Judicial Circuit and what he would do different if elected. Smith said the staff turnover led to this problem and it could be addressed through mentoring of new employees.
Smith had a question for Sikes. He pointed out that the attorney general’s office had cleared 20 current employees of the district attorney’s office during its investigation and asked her if she would take any action against them. Sikes said she would look at each employee on an individual basis.
During the audience questions, the candidates were asked about their qualifications. Sikes said she has 17 years of experience and “knows right from wrong.” Bridgeman said he has been a prosecuting attorney for 13 years and has handled thousands of cases including murder and child abuse, as well as death penalty cases. Brad said he has been a prosecuting attorney for 12 years and has handled murder, DUI, death penalty and serial raptist cases, as well as teaching and mentoring young attorneys.
Another question was on how the candidates would handle a backlog of cases. Bridgeman said there is no longer a backlog because his office has cleared the 2,000 case backlog since he took office.
Smith dismissing or plea bargaining is not the answer to a backlog of cases. He added that the backlog is due to the high turnover in the district attorney’s office.
“This turnover continues,” he said.
Sikes agreed that employee turnover lead to the backlog.


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