Jared Willams was elected over a conservative candidate in Augusta, Georgia, in 2020, making history as the first Black prosecutor to hold the position.
One day following the historic win, Republican lawmakers proposed separating the county from Augusta by creating a new judicial circuit for the first time in nearly 40 years.
State Rep. Barry Fleming introduced a bill to separate Columbia County, the whitest part of the judicial circuit, from being under Williams’ jurisdiction. It had been a part of the circuit for 150 years.
“Does the the board of commissioners want to be there (sic) own judicial circuit,” Fleming reportedly asked Columbia County Commission Chairman Doug Duncan in a text the morning after Willams’ November 2020 victory.
US Census data shows that the population of Columbia County is 70 percent white and 20 percent.
The division led to the marginalization of the Black voters from the previous district, the Black Voters Matter Fund, a voting advocacy organization, argued in a lawsuit that was later rejected by the state supreme court. These voters had supported Williams, who campaigned on a promise to support criminal justice reforms, including refraining from prosecuting minor marijuana possession cases. This offense disproportionately impacts Black and minority communities.
In place of Williams, the Black voters in Columbia County ended up with Bobby Christine as their prosecutor. He had been appointed as a US attorney by former President Donald Trump and was chosen by the Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. Subsequently, Christine selected Williams’ rival to serve as his chief deputy.
James Woodall, a public policy associate with the Southern Center for Human Rights, said circuit splitting allows lawmakers to hand-pick conservative prosecutors in a swing state.
“They’re trying to find ways to maintain power,” Woodall said. “And who’s going to choose those people? Not the voters.”
The division in Augusta is part of a strategy by Republicans across Georgia to counter progressive prosecutors.
However, Williams and other prosecutors have fought against those efforts, filing a lawsuit on Aug. 2 in response to a law created by Republicans to remove state prosecutors.
Williams was joined by Stone Mountain district attorney Sherry Boston, Towaliga district attorney Jonathan Adams and Cobb County district attorney Flynn Broady in announcing the lawsuit filed against the state.
They argue that the law, signed by Kemp in May, that resulted in a new commission with the power to discipline and remove wayward prosecutors is unconstitutional.
However, Kemp said the bill is part of making public safety his No. 1 priority across the state.
“As hardworking law enforcement officers routinely put their lives on the line to investigate, confront, and arrest criminal offenders, I won’t stand idly by as they’re met with resistance from rogue or incompetent prosecutors who refuse to uphold the law,” he said in a May 5 statement.
Williams said during a press conference that he swore to uphold the Constitution and wants to do his job without “fear of reprisal,” WRDW News reports.
“I am suing to protect the voices of voters in our circuit,” said Williams. “I am suing to ensure prosecutors can do their jobs without fear of reprisal from those with political agendas. I am suing because I swore to uphold the Constitution, and this law violates it.”