A failure to ‘Man Up’ could cost the DA’s office and the community

December 23, 2012 

There are times in life when you have the opportunity to “Man Up.” In other words, times when you can display compassion and leadership toward former rivals. Some examples. If you’ve seen the movie “Lincoln” or read any of the various biographies of the nation’s 16th president, you would know Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet was a band of personalities -- some of which didn’t like him. Attorney General Edward Bates, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase, Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Secretary of State William Seward, all ran against him in 1860.

Modern day examples are rife with elected officials crossing over the line to embrace former rivals. Think, Ronald Reagan, whose primary combatant in 1980 was George H.W. Bush. They ended up running on the same ticket. The latest example is President Barack Obama’s appointment of Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state after a bitter primary race.

But that’s not what’s happening in the Macon Judicial Circuit’s District Attorney’s Office. District Attorney-elect David Cooke, has decided to make changes that appear to be politically-motivated payback. Those who supported Greg Winters are being ethnically cleansed. Even Administrative Assistant Sandy Jones and Victim/Witness Coordinator Tammy Bishop in Peach County are being purged right before Christmas and they had no role in the election. Jones has served the circuit for 33 years.

Three prosecutors are on Cooke’s extermination list: Kim Schwartz, with 25 years of experience; Gary Wood, a violent crimes prosecutor with 10 years and Ashley Cooper, a juvenile crimes prosecutor. Sharell Lewis, who, after running against the outgoing DA two years ago, supported him this time, has taken another position before Cooke assumes office Thursday.

Assistant DAs are appointees. They knew when they took the job that a change at the top might cost them their jobs. What is particularly galling is that Cooke is making these changes by proxy. He’s not been man enough to face the people whose lives he’s altering. Rather, he’s had a third party wield the ax.

A real leader would consider the impact of his actions on other parts of the judicial system, but Cooke has flashed these changes without consulting judges and others who will be impacted. That is his right, but the maneuver could hamper his ability to prosecute.

While the jury remains out, the upheaval Cooke has initiated may hurt the circuit and the communities it serves. Reassigning available staff to new areas will only exacerbate the existing backlog of cases. His feeble attempt to form a new State Court in Peach, without consideration of costs, or following proper channels, is not a sign of a leader worth taking seriously. Cooke’s tenure is off -- even before it begins -- to an inauspicious start.

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