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Friday, June 21, 2013 - 1:25pm

Democrats Not New To Peer Review

According to the State Attorney General’s Office, the commission appointed to review the case against state Rep. Tyrone Brooks will meet next Friday, June 28. That panel must determine whether to suspend Brooks from office because of his felony indictment.

Brooks has pleaded not guilty to 30 counts of tax fraud and other related charges. According to the indictment, he used money donated to his charity, Universal Humanities, to pay for personal expenses. The charges also allege Brooks misused funds while serving as President of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials.

Governor Nathan Deal appointed Attorney General Sam Olens, a Republican, and two leading Democrats: House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams of Atlanta and Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson of Tucker.

Those appointments mirror those made to legislative review panels in the past.

In 1999, then-Governor Roy Barnes, a Democrat, appointed a panel to review the indictment of Senator Diana Harvey Johnson, D-Savannah. Johnson was charged with five counts of mail fraud for not disclosing conflicts of interest when voting for the state to set aside money to promote African-American tourism. According to the Attorney General’s Office, Johnson controlled two organizations that benefitted from that funding and used her influence over those groups to steer $80,000 of state money into her own businesses.

Governor Barnes assigned retired state Supreme Court Justice Harold G. Clarke, Representative Louise McBee, D-Athens, and Senator Donzella James, D-Atlanta, to the review commission.

“It’s a huge decision to even accept to be on the panel because I considered myself Diana Harvey Johnson’s friend,” said Sen. James. “I accepted because I knew that I would be fair.”

The panel decided to suspend Johnson from office. In July 1999, she was convicted on all five counts of mail fraud.

“It was the most difficult thing that I can remember ever doing in my life,” James said.

The panel decided to suspend Johnson, though James said she did not agree with that.

Just a few years later, Governor Barnes had to appoint another commission to review the indictment of another Democratic lawmaker. State Senator Donnie Lavan “Van” Streat of Nicholls was indicted in January 2002 for Violation of Oath of Office and Making a False Statement.

That panel was also made up of Democrats including Justice Harold G. Clarke, Representative Dubose Porter, D-Dublin, and Senator Michael Meyer von Bremen, D-Albany. The three voted to suspend Streat, though prosecutors later dropped the charges against him.

James said she hopes the panel assigned to Brooks’s case will not follow tradition.

“Hopefully this will be a different consequence to this particular committee, because in the past I think that no representative or elected official has been able to hold their seat,” said James.

The case against Brooks could prove different. Governor Roy Barnes is representing Brooks and has been extremely close to the review panel process, having appointed them in the past.

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