Two weeks from now, we will know who our next district attorney, Third District congressman, and 73rd District state representative will be.
According to our friends at the Fayette County Elections Office, about a hundred folks a day have been dropping by to vote early at their one location (inside the elections office), even though some ballots, depending on which congressional and state house districts you live in, only have one race on them in which to vote. But everybody in Fayette, Spalding, Pike, and Upson counties get to vote in the same district attorney race between assistant district attorney Ben Coker and former assistant district attorney Rudjard Hayes, and that’s the race I want to address again in this column.
First, let me tell you about my seven-year-old son, who recently learned that I’ve had a Sony Playstation 2 video game system tucked away for the better part of 13 years. About two or three times a week, we now let him play the five or six sports games we’ve got, and he really tries hard in particular to win races in the ATV Offroad Fury 2 game.
The more points you earn, the more courses and ATVs you “unlock.” (Side note to parents: You can change the settings in these games to eliminate the background music tracks, which are awful.) With the limited time our son gets to play the game, he’s not anytime soon going to master enough courses and win enough races to unlock very much, so I went online, found the so-called “cheat codes” and unlocked all of the courses and all of the ATVs. For the rest of Monday, I was the greatest hero who ever lived in at least one person’s opinion.
You know where I’m going with this.
Cheat codes are harmless fun in video games, but cheating of any sort has no place in local politics. I don’t care how common it is, and I don’t care how used to it you may be, it is still wrong, and when we see it we should do something about it.
The worst kind of political cheating is the kind that falsely boosts one candidate up while simultaneously falsely pushing the other one down. I saw it again Monday, and I’m doing something about it.
Monday, a colleague handed me another mailer sent out supporting the Rudjard Hayes for district attorney campaign. This one was sent out by former Fayette County Commissioner Harold Bost under the Let Your Voice Be Heard political action committee banner. And it was apparently sent only to Fayette residents. Just like the mailer I questioned here in this column a couple of weeks ago, this new one boosts Hayes’ qualifications and experience level by using made-up information.
I called Harold, whom I’ve known politically, professionally, and personally for nearly 20 years, and asked him why he was involved in publishing inaccurate information about a political candidate. I wasn’t surprised when he said he was, of course, supporting Hayes, and that the information for the mailer had been supplied directly by Hayes. To his credit, Harold asked me to point out the errors in the mailer, which I did, and he said he would look into my concerns and address them appropriately.
For starters, and perhaps this is me being petty, the new mailer claims that “everyone agrees” Hayes is the “best qualified” candidate for district attorney. In fact, nobody at either district attorney’s office (Coweta and Griffin circuits) has said anything remotely favorable about Hayes. If you look at the candidates’ finance reports, you’ll see that several of Hayes’ former colleagues, including at least four other assistant district attorneys, are actually making significant financial contributions to Ben Coker’s campaign. If your old district attorney’s office colleagues don’t think you’d be a good DA, that’s telling.
Another observation: A second weekend mailer, this one sent out directly by Hayes’ campaign, features six photographs, each of Hayes standing by a different community leader. Each photo is underscored by endorsement quotes, all but one leading out with “I endorse Rudjard Hayes because…”, yet only one of those endorsers gave any significant financial contribution to Hayes’ campaign according to the end-of-June campaign disclosures. And even that was only a campaign contribution from outgoing State Representative Matt Ramsey’s committee fund. His tenure ends Dec. 31, and you can’t take the money with you. But no other endorser dug deep enough (if at all) into their pockets to come up with the $100 or more to be legally reportable.
And then this quote: “The other candidate doesn’t comes [sic] close to Rudjard Hayes’ prosecution of over 300 felony trials and conviction rate of 98+%.”
While it is true Ben Coker hasn’t tried that many felony cases in front of juries, it is also true that Rudjard Hayes has not, either. The big difference is that Coker hasn’t made such claims. Coker claims to have tried just north of 30 felony jury trials in his 11 years on the job in the Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. Hayes claims to have tried over 300 felony cases in front of juries when you combine his years with the DAs’ offices in the Griffin and Coweta circuits, but his former bosses, District Attorney Scott Ballard and District Attorney Pete Skandalakis, who serve in the Griffin and Coweta circuits, respectively, reject those numbers completely.
As I pointed out in a previous column, Skandalakis noted that his top-performing assistant district attorney, who has been on the job for nearly 30 years, “estimates she has prosecuted less than 160 jury trials.” Retired Fulton County Deputy District Attorney Al Dixon, who supervised Hayes for much of his two years working for Ballard, said “there is no way” Hayes came close to 300. In Dixon’s 27 years in Fulton County, he only claims about 200 felony jury trials.
Coker’s numbers are normal. While Coker claims to have looked after thousands of felony cases (he’s got over 400 assigned to him presently across the district) during his decade plus one year of service, he humbly sticks to the 30+ actual felony jury trials. That’s still a lot of experience, by the way.
Face-to-face, Hayes admitted to me he hadn’t actually single-handedly tried anything like 300 jury anythings, and he said he means a combination of this kind of case and that kind of case and whatever, but then… and this shocked me, too… he said he is still going to stand by his 300 number. It’s low for cases handled, and it’s to-the-moon high for actual felony jury trials, but he’s going to stick to his story. I suppose that is a kind of integrity, technically.
The really funny thing is that the other weekend mailer, the official one mailed out by his campaign committee, does not use the 300 anymore. It simply confuses the truth by claiming “hundreds of felony trials” prosecuted. Note the lack of the word “jury” and the number “300.” Yet Harold Bost’s flyer, which he said was based on information from Hayes, still runs with the “300,” though not the “jury.”
In a future column, I will perhaps address the claim that Hayes “Eliminated court backlogs during his tenure,” but that doesn’t make sense on its face. Judges and defense attorneys have a lot to do with backlog, and no DA (much less an ADA) can properly eliminate a backlog. For example: I have a “backlog” of stories to investigate on my news desk. How do I eliminate that “backlog”? I can either switch on a really powerful fan, or I can use a broom… you get the idea. Because hiring loads of new staff still doesn’t mean we operate on a zero-backlog basis, even if I controlled every aspect of my work environment.
This may also be petty, but I love the new flyer’s back cover, which contains this quote: “The DA’s Office is no place for on-the-job training.” Does that mean Hayes is conceding the race to Coker, who already works at the DA’s office? Because Hayes hasn’t worked there for about a decade.
But seriously, here’s the kicker with the new flyer: “Very successfully managed people, finances, and operations of a large, complex, district-wide office.”
Again, I spoke with Ballard and Skandalakis, and both say Hayes never managed a single, solitary cent under their leadership, which represents the whole of Hayes’ career working with district attorneys. Plus, he only managed Spalding while working for Ballard, and he only managed either Meriwether or Coweta (not both, and mostly Meriwether) when working for Skandalakis. There are four counties in the Griffin circuit, and there are five counties in the Coweta circuit.
Incidentally, Coker manages both the Pike and Upson county offices, and he is known for still being available when needed to serve in Spalding and Fayette counties. I’ve seen him several times in the Fayette County Justice Center during the little bits of time I get to be there covering or researching something.
So why does Hayes make it sound just the opposite? Why make this stuff up?
And then we’re back to cheat codes.
Why use cheat codes? To enjoy the benefits of being a great ATV rider if you’re an under-skilled seven-year-old.