D.A. candidates debated Tuesday
Tuesday’s radio political forum featuring the two candidates for district attorney was marked by personal attacks and charges of fiscal mismanagement.
Challenger Ryan Cleveland, a former assistant district attorney and Republican candidate, went on the offensive against his former boss with three weeks remaining until election day.
Incumbent D.A. Joe Mulholland, a Democrat, challenged Cleveland to share with voters his plans for the office instead of attacking the current administration.
“This election is not about personalities. This election is not about promises. This election is about performance. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last four years and look forward to continue serving the people of this circuit,” Mulholland said.
Cleveland told radio listeners and the live audience that the incumbent did not earn the nickname “No-Show Joe” for no reason. The district attorney hopeful took issue with Mulholland for not being present for court when required and frequently being absent from the office.
The Republican candidate said on at least one occasion he had been handed a case to try on a Monday because the district attorney was not in court, and while he reviewed the case, another assistant district attorney picked the jury. “That is no way to properly try a case,” Cleveland alleged.
He added, “I’ll be a workhorse and not a show horse if elected.”
Mulholland took issue with Cleveland’s assertions and stated that during Cleveland’s two and one-half year tenure with the district attorney’s office, his challenger had tried only eight cases in court and, of those, he was successful in obtaining a guilty verdict in only two, and those were not for major felonies. “Facts mean more than words,” Mulholland said.
In the same two and one-half year period, Mulholland said he has tried 10 major felony cases and has been successful in obtaining guilty verdicts in all 10. “I’ve been in court and succeeded in court. Do you want a D.A. that talks or does? I’m a D.A. that does.”
Cleveland accused the district attorney of “cherry picking” cases to improve his record. He said that only 10 percent of all cases go to trial and that it is the district attorney who assigns the cases.
The Republican challenger also stated Tuesday that Mulholland had named him the assistant D.A. in charge of drug prosecutions. “I appreciate the vote of confidence and if I was so bad, why would I be allowed to stay on?”
Cleveland continued to fire allegations including Mulholland’s support of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in hopes of being named the next United States Attorney, and the “contempt for the voters” by conspiring with former district attorney Brown Moseley four years ago, allowing Mulholland to be the lone candidate to qualify for the office.
“Four years ago he was not elected by the people. A lot of people may have pulled his name because it was the only one on the ballot, but that doesn’t say much for his confidence in his abilities when he ran four years ago,” Cleveland said.
Four years ago Moseley qualified for reelection but just prior to the end of qualifying removed his name from consideration, and his Assistant D.A. Mulholland qualified as the deadline for qualifying came.
The incumbent repeatedly asked for Cleveland to stick to the issues of this election. He took issue with the Republican bringing up the candidate of his choice for president. “Who I support or don’t support for president has absolutely nothing to do with this race. You know that’s the reason they have those curtains around the ballot box,” Mulholland responded.
Later in the debate, Cleveland alleged that Mulholland had considered seeking other public offices including lieutenant governor. He said he had observed Mulholland’s ambitions and he wondered aloud why anyone making $118,000 a year would spend so much time looking for another job.
Moderator Jeff Lovett of WGRA attempted to move the debate in another direction by asking the candidates what they would do if elected to keep local law enforcement abreast of changes in the law.
Mulholland said he meets regularly with law enforcement officers and said lawmen call him regularly, at all hours, for advice. “They know they can call me any time, and they usually do. I don’t mind that because I believe in this job you need to be accessible.”
Cleveland said he would improve communications not only with the law enforcement community but by reestablishing satellite offices in Grady and Mitchell counties that were closed by Mulholland. “I believe we need boots on the ground. All of the action is not in Bainbridge,” he said.
Cleveland also suggested setting up a process whereby the public could anonymously ask questions of the D.A. and the D.A. could respond via the office website.
“There is a lot I’d like to do, but the reality of the matter is we’re in a recession. We’ve got to tighten our belts. We’re dealing with our largest case load ever; we’re fully staffed and I haven’t requested a budget increase in three years; it’s a case of having to do more with less,” District Attorney Mulholland said.
Lovett questioned the candidates about retention of assistant district attorneys and Cleveland took issue with the supplement paid to Mulholland compared to that paid to the ADAs. Cleveland asserted that Mulholland receives a $6,000 supplement while the ADAs get far less. A former longtime ADA, according to Cleveland, left recently for more money. According to the challenger, the former ADA was only paid a $1,560 supplement.
Mulholland reminded his opponent that the supplement was set by the county commissioners of the circuit and former D.A. Moseley’s administration.
The district attorney said that ADAs come and go, not just in this circuit but all over the state. He noted that most are fresh out of law school and have college loans to repay. “They’ll come and work a couple of years to get some experience and then they’re off. That’s just the facts of life,” Mulholland said.
The incumbent said he was more concerned with retaining support staff and highlighted investigator Terry Turner. “I’ve got the same support staff since the day I first took office.”
The moderator asked the candidates if cuts had to be made what would be first on the list.
Cleveland accused Mulholland of employing one staff member as a “public relations” person for the incumbent. He alleged that this person’s sole job is to nominate Mulholland for awards and to arrange speaking engagements for him.
He also alleged that Mulholland had purchased a Cadillac which he drove to court and on social outings.
The incumbent fired back that the Cadillac was an unregistered vehicle that was used in under cover drug operations. “I don’t know if my opponent is uninformed or what, but to think I got that car to drive to court is ridiculous. Anyone who knows me knows I drive my truck to court.”
Mulholland again called for Cleveland to specifically state how he would run the office rather than making personal attacks. “They’ve done enough of that in the president’s race and I, like you, am tired of it.”
The candidates responded to a number of questions from the live audience and then were allowed to question each other.
Cleveland quizzed Mulholland on his future aspirations. The incumbent said he had just spent the last two years building his home with the help of his father, and his wife had told him if he wanted to move back to Atlanta he would have to go alone. “We both love it here. This is our home.”
“Does your wife live here?” Cleveland asked, to which Mulholland answered affirmatively and voiced his objections to more personal attacks. “I don’t know what she (Mrs. Mulholland) has to do with it, but she works from home and she goes to Atlanta every Tuesday and comes home on Wednesday afternoon.”
To further clarify his intentions, Mulholland stated, “I’m going to be here. If you’re kind enough to reelect me, I will continue to work to protect the citizens of this circuit for the next four years.” He also said if he were responsible for selecting the next U.S. attorney it would be his friend Ben Richardson of Columbus.
Mulholland declined the opportunity to directly question Cleveland and both men made closing statements to conclude the forum.
“A lot of issues have been raised today that are new to the voters,” Cleveland asserted. Among them were, according to him, Mulholland’s questionable fiscal management of the office and lack of attentiveness in court. “We need a D.A. that has the trust of the judges. I want to be in the trenches protecting the citizens of this circuit and restoring the peace and dignity that crime takes away,” Cleveland ended.
“As I said in the beginning, this race is not about personalities or promises. It is about experience and performance. We’ve answered questions here for an hour and 20 minutes and you haven’t heard one innovative idea from my opponent as to just what he thinks I’ve done wrong. I’m proud of my record. In the last year, I’ve tried 10 cases and all 10 were successful in obtaining convictions. My opponent says I’m not in court, then how is it that I’ve tried more cases than he did and got convictions, and he didn’t?” The district attorney urged the voters to look past the personal attacks and consider his record and experience.