Interview: DA candidate Jerry Rothschild

JERRY ROTHSCHILD has been an Assistant District Attorney in Chatham County for the past 11 years, and is currently a special prosecutor with the Counter Narcotics Team. The Columbus, Ga., native is a University of Georgia graduate and avid rugby player.

If elected as DA, what changes would you bring to the office you currently work in?

Jerry Rothschild: We would work far more closely from day one with police and victims. I want the best people we've got trying the most serious cases. In particular I'd like to create a Serious Violent Felony team, which I think a lot of candidates are talking about in this race, but I think I'm the only one in the moral and experience position to do something about it.

We’d take our six most-seasoned attorneys — and that doesn’t necessarily mean the most years on the job, it has to do with a certain passion about crime prosecution — and that would be your team. And rather than wed them, as we do now, to just two lawyers per judge with a case being randomly assigned, the best folks we have will be trying the most serious cases. From gunshot to conviction it will be one lawyer’s case.

Certainly those people wouldn’t only be handling homicides. That horrible shooting we had on 48th Street the other night, where it appears one person could be paralyzed, any serious violent felony, that would be what they’re doing.

The criticisms of the current DA's office are paradoxical. On one hand people say they're too zealous to prosecute —

Jerry Rothschild: And on the other hand you hear that we don't do enough, that we don't prosecute hard enough. It's a classic example of how you can't please everybody and you ought not to try. You have to just do the best you can do. A lot of the complaints about social justice, for example, are not unreasonable, but a lot of what I'm hearing from other candidates just doesn't have that much to do with being the DA.

I’m committed to fairness, but when Mr. Claiborne says he’s going to create this whole government bureaucracy called a Solicitor General’s office — which many counties have, ours doesn’t — not only is it a bad idea, he can’t! It takes a legislative action from Atlanta and locally a lot of money.

And I don’t know if we need a citizen review board telling us who to prosecute. A lot of the job of what the DA has to do is make hard, unpopular decisions. It’s just part of the job. If people are unhappy and don’t think you’ve been just over your four years, the remedy is to fire you by voting you out.

As far as the racial angle, I’m pleased to see crime victims and surviving family members of homicide victims come out of the woodwork and find me during this campaign and come to the debates and things — and they’re almost all black. Almost every murder case I’ve had, save two, the victim has been a black man under 35.

I don’t discount anything anyone says in particular about juvenile crime, and trying to divert a lot of young people that are getting in trouble, many of whom are African American. I think that’s my second overarching concern in the office, is more attention to juvenile court and to juvenile prosecution. I agree we need to come to the table with the schools and the churches. That’s another big prong of my campaign.

What about the criticism that you're the wrong person to replace Spencer Lawton because you've worked in his office?

Jerry Rothschild: That's an easy one. Because whatever you think of the management of the office — and I do think Mr. Lawton has done a lot of good things — I haven't been managing it and neither have any of the other people in the Democratic primary.

I’ve been prosecuting criminals. I’ve been on the front lines in a trial slot for years, working with the police, cultivating those relationships, and doing good work for victims. And that’s what you want in a DA — somebody that fights crime and who understands how it’s done.

Over the years, because I’ve earned good respect of the police doing good jobs on homicides, the homicide detectives for years called me directly, and the other assistant DAs they trust.

Based on my record I’m happy with the work I’ve done for victims and for the community. So I don’t think working in the office is a liability — in fact, it’s unthinkable that you could run and expect to be the District Attorney with no experience.