Christian Wise Smith

Christian Wise Smith

ATLANTA – Former Fulton County prosecutor Christian Wise Smith Sunday vowed to bring “fresh energy and new ideas” to the Fulton district attorney’s office as he challenges Fani Willis for the DA post.

Smith, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for Georgia attorney general two years ago, was the only candidate on the stage Sunday for a candidate debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club ahead of the May 21 Democratic primary. Willis declined to participate in the debate and was represented by an empty podium.

Willis is in the national limelight after gaining an indictment last summer charging former President Donald Trump and 18 allies with trying to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in Georgia four years ago.

Wise Smith said Sunday he would continue to pursue the case if he’s elected district attorney, but he questioned Willis’ approach. He said Willis’ decision to hire an outside lawyer to lead the prosecution took resources away from pursuing other crimes.

“When you pay one attorney $1 million to handle a case, it hurts everyone else in Fulton County,” Wise Smith said. “We have to see (the Trump case) through while addressing everything else affecting Fulton.”

The lawyer Willis hired, Nathan Wade, ended up resigning from the case last month at the urging of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee after Wade and Willis acknowledged they had been involved in a romantic relationship.

Wise Smith also questioned the use Willis has made of Georgia’s broad RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statute to go after criminal conspiracies, not only in the Trump case but in the prosecution of rapper Young Thug and a group of associates on gang-related charges and in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating scandal a few years back.

“RICO was designed for organized crime,” Wise Smith said. “Using it against teachers is an overreach.”

Wise Smith said he wants to use the powers of the district attorney to address overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail by promoting a diversion program.

“We can bring people through the system a lot faster,” he said.

In another judicial candidate debate on Sunday, former U.S. Rep. John Barrow declared he’s running for a seat on the Georgia Supreme Court because incumbent Justice Andrew Pinson has a track record of defending a ban on abortion.

Barrow, a Democrat who represented Georgia’s 12th Congressional District for a decade, said legislation the General Assembly passed in 2019 essentially banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy violates the state’s Constitution.

Barrow said Georgia’s highest court needs more people like him with “real-world experience” outside the courtroom.

“I’ve had 25 years of practice … representing families all over Georgia, working with real people with real problems,” he said. “My opponent brings virtually no experience from the real world.”

Pinson, who was appointed to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022 after a year on the Georgia Court of Appeals, declined to participate in Sunday’s debate.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Capitol Beat.