The July 15 primaries are still four weeks away, but the race is heating up in the Republican district attorney contest between incumbent Scott Ballard and his former prosecutor Rudjard Hayes.
When Ballard won his first district attorney race and took office in January 2005, he took Hayes with him as assistant district attorney.
But, after more than 2 1/2 years on the job, Hayes resigned his position and joined his wife’s law firm, Sanchez Hayes and Associates, in Tyrone. In a Monday telephone conversation, Hayes attributed his departure from the district attorney’s office to Ballard’s “lack of leadership, vision and soft stance on crime.”
According to Hayes, eight out of 11 prosecutors as well as a number of victim advocates, investigators and administrative personnel have resigned during Ballard’s 3 1/2 years in office.
“It’s crystal clear there is no leadership,” Hayes said, stressing that as a career prosecutor for more than 12 years he has leadership experience.
“He has never had experience managing this big of an office. I have,” Hayes said. “I come prepared with a proven record, proven leadership and proven ability to train law enforcement and lead.”
Ballard, who was a private defense lawyer for 20 years before being elected district attorney, says his opponent’s claims are invalid and that he doesn’t believe his office has a higher turnover rate than any other prosecutor’s office.
“The issue is always pay,” Ballard said, explaining that he always hires the best possible people for the job. “You don’t make as much as a prosecutor as you do in private practice in Atlanta. When they get an opportunity to go elsewhere for more pay, they do.”
In actuality, he credits his assemblage of an “all-star cast” as his biggest accomplishment in office.
“We have a staff of attorneys I will stack up against anybody. Our investigators and our secretaries are top-notch,” Ballard said. “And we have a law enforcement liaison who helps us communicate properly with law enforcement and understand their needs and how we can serve them better because they are, in a lot of ways, our clients.”
As for previously serving as a defense attorney, Ballard says he was on the opposite side but it is essentially the same job.
“In both instances, you’re trying to help somebody. Right now I’m representing victims and law enforcement officers,” Ballard said. “You fight as zealously for them as another client. And you want to win for the benefit of your client.”
Hayes, who says he only lost five of the hundreds of felony trials he’s handled and never had a conviction overturned or reversed on appeal, claims Ballard’s tenure has been plagued with a number of overturned appeals. He cites an Internet pornography case in Peachtree City, Selfe v. the State, as an example of a conviction being reversed on appeal.
“It was reversed because it was indicted improperly earlier this year and there are 20 other convictions that are in danger of faulty indictments,” Hayes said.
But, according to Ballard, Selfe v. the State was reversed because of the newness of the legislative statute.
“It is a fairly new statute that says you can’t solicit a child over the Internet for the purpose of having sexual activity with them,” Ballard said, explaining that Peachtree City was aggressive in setting up sting operations where a police officer posed as a 15-year-old girl on the Internet. “We’ve been quite successful in prosecuting them, but we’re using an untested statute. The Court of Appeals had never ruled on that statute. We wrote our indictment exactly as the statute was written.”
According to Ballard, the alleged child molester mounted a camera on his computer and performed sex acts on camera.
“We charged him with soliciting her for the purpose of child molestation and the Court of Appeals said he couldn’t be charged with that because it had to be person to person. I really think their objection was with the Georgia Legislature and not us,” Ballard said, saying that the other cases Hayes claims are in danger of faulty indictments were filed under a habeas corpus and were either convicted under a different statute or are cases where the defendants pleaded guilty.
“I don’t think it’s as big an issue as he sees it being,” Ballard said, explaining that if the cases are overturned he will re-indict them and charge them with something else.
In what he calls a “horrible decision” on the part of Ballard, Hayes says his opponent testified on behalf of a convicted child molester in a case in Bainbridge, and called the defendant a “good man who is worth taking a chance on,” while Ballard says he testified under subpoena in favor of a defendant who was convicted of child molestation 18 years prior and was a member of his prayer group at church.
“I honored the subpoena and, during the conversation, I did say he was an outstanding guy,” Ballard said. “I said the same thing about my opponent and others that maybe I shouldn’t have. Never would I say somebody was justified in molesting a child. I’m not soft on child molesters.”
The Griffin Judicial District covers four counties - Spalding, Pike, Fayette and Upson.
“I believe in the DA’s office being a call to public service,” Hayes said. “And I have a proven track record. The DA has to be a leader in the community. That doesn’t happen now. You have to be involved. You have to be educating the people and trying to change the mind-set in how we look at the criminal justice system.”
Ballard says the challenges of his office differ from county to county and he sees the biggest challenge in Spalding County being the proper management of the county’s large case load. He feels people should vote for him because “it ain’t broke, and there’s no reason to fix it.”
“We’ve done an excellent job here in Spalding County, especially since my opponent left,” Ballard said, accusing Hayes of timing his departure a few days before the grand jury met and leaving him un-drafted indictments on several child molestation cases. “I stayed there day and night and drafted those indictments. There was one where I drafted a 100-count indictment against someone on all types of kiddy porn. I then had to meet with over a dozen child molestation victims and assure them the predator would not go free. I think those acts demonstrate my commitment to children and it may say something about his.”