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When he first took office in 1997 at the age of 31, Dougherty County, Ga., District Attorney Kenneth B. Hodges III took a lot of ribbing about his youthfulness. These days, however, he says he doesn’t get much of that sort of teasing. As he begins his second term of office at the ripe old age of 35, Hodges apparently has garnered the respect of both his colleagues and his courtroom adversaries, who describe him as an energetic and politically astute prosecutor who is unafraid to plow new ground. And Hodges is making his mark elsewhere in the state. He’s president of the District Attorneys’ Association, a sign of unexpected respect for a district attorney with so little experience. He sits on the Governor’s Sentencing Commission and he’s caught the eye of fellow Albany native Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor. Hodges’ efforts to get a county-paid drug prosecutor were the inspiration behind Taylor’s sponsorship in 1999 of successful legislation that gave each circuit a state-paid drug prosecutor. Hodges is coy about his political aspirations, but clearly he’s someone to watch. “I did not expect him to stay DA as long as he has,” says former Tifton Circuit District Attorney David E. Perry, who was an assistant district attorney in Albany when Hodges took office. In his first term Hodges tackled an out-of-control backlog of seven death penalty cases, including one that was nearly eight years old. He cleared them by the time his term was halfway done. Lately, he’s targeted white-collar crime, pursuing cases that range from perjury to civil and criminal racketeering to usury and trademark infringement. A sampling of Albany Herald headlines from a three-week period last August and September hint at what Hodges has been doing: “Business owners face racketeering charges”; “County indicts [former assistant police chief Woody] Hart”; “Insurance Operators Indicted in Stock Scam”; “Pawnshop Owner Enters Guilty Plea”; “Hodges Hunts Loan Sharks.” The latter headline refers to Hodges’ warning at a Sept. 12 news conference for pawnshops to stop offering short-term loans at illegally high interest rates. Those who don’t, the Herald reported Hodges said, could face prosecution and the seizure of their assets. Hodges “has attacked some areas that needed it,” says Perry, who quips that he helped “train” the new district attorney. Hodges’ recent white-collar crime crusade has brought out some naysayers, including one Albany pawnbroker who has sued Hodges, the county and various police officials. Todd Faircloth’s $3 million suit alleges malicious prosecution in connection with two pawn transactions. Faircloth’s civil lawyer, Ralph Scoccimaro, was quoted in the Albany Herald as saying that it might be the first time Hodges has been sued, but it wasn’t the first time anyone had considered suing him. Scoccimaro couldn’t be reached for this story. George “Pete” Donaldson, Faircloth’s lawyer in the criminal case that sparked the civil suit, says he didn’t think Faircloth should have been prosecuted. (Faircloth’s case was eventually nolle prossed when he agreed to give up the pawned property.) But Donaldson says he and Hodges simply disagreed on the merits of the case. “I don’t attribute any ill motive” to the prosecution, he says, adding that he generally supports Hodges’ push against white-collar crime. STARTED CAREER IN ATLANTA While Hodges is a native of Albany and the son of a prominent local lawyer, the late Kenneth “Buddy” Hodges II, he chose to begin his law career in Atlanta. After graduating from Emory University in 1988 and the University of Georgia School of Law in 1991, Hodges joined the Atlanta firm of Fortson & White. There he handled aviation accident cases and securities work. Hodges says he thought at the time “that I would be there for my career.” Still, he had an itch for the courtroom and got precious little of that experience in Atlanta. He recalls that one of his few appearances was a case he handled in which a dog had forced an auto to run off the road. His father mentioned that Dougherty’s District Attorney’s office, headed at the time in 1993 by Britt R. Priddy, had three openings. One lawyer had been fired and two others resigned after Priddy, seeking to trace the source of a leaked internal memo on sentencing policies, demanded that his staff members submit to polygraph tests. The three lawyers had refused the tests. After their departure, Priddy rescinded his order for the lie detector tests. Hodges says he was hired on the spot when he applied. He took a pay cut — going from about $50,000 to the high $20,000s — but almost immediately got the courtroom experience that he sought. In his second week on the job, he says, he handled two felony trials by himself. After that, he says, he tried “case after case after case.” But when his father became ill, Hodges left the district attorney’s office in 1995 to become a junior partner in his dad’s firm, Hodges, Erwin, Hedrick and Coleman. He kept his hand in prosecutorial matters, however, working as a special prosecutor in Dougherty’s Juvenile Court. RETURNS AS DA In the meantime, Priddy’s office continued to be embroiled in controversy. Cases were piling up, particularly death penalty cases. Priddy failed to get one of the cases indicted within the 90 days required at that time under Georgia law. That meant that William Marvin Gulley, accused of the 1994 brutal stabbing death of an 81-year-old woman and the rape and battery of her 60-year-old daughter, had to be given a bond. Gulley made the bond in late 1995 and disappeared. “The day [Gulley] left was the day I said, ‘I just can’t sit back,’ ” Hodges says. He ran against Priddy in 1996, eventually winning in a runoff and getting 65 percent of the vote. Priddy couldn’t be reached for this story. Chief Superior Court Judge Loring Gray says Hodges set out immediately to dispose of the long-standing death penalty cases. “Within 24 months, Ken Hodges had disposed of every one of them,” either by plea or trial, the judge says. That included the Gulley case. The suspect eventually was located in Jacksonville, Fla. tried and sentenced to death by a Dougherty County jury. HIS MOST DIFFICULT CASE Hodges says his most difficult case so far hasn’t been Gulley or any of the other death penalty cases he handled. Instead, it was a vehicular homicide that stunned Albany High School in the late spring of 1998. Senior Adam Powell, a three-sport athlete, died June 3 that year after junior Brandon Carswell’s pickup truck crossed the center line of a road and slammed head-on into Powell’s vehicle at 7:30 a.m. The two had played Dixie Youth Baseball together as kids. Carswell had been up all night drinking with friends and apparently fell asleep at the wheel. Powell, 18, was buried hours before he was to have graduated. His classmates left a chair empty in his honor at the ceremonies. Carswell, 17, was charged with vehicular homicide. To Hodges, the question of what punishment to ask for, for Carswell, a young man from a good family with no previous record, wasn’t an easy one. Carswell, he says, had made a bad choice with disastrous consequences. Vehicular homicide carries a penalty of from one to 15 years in prison. Hodges recommended two years in prison and 13 years on probation. Under the terms of his probation, Carswell had to pay Powell’s funeral expenses, agree to appear in a video produced by Hodges’ office and a local television station about the case, and accompany Hodges, his mother and Powell’s mother to high schools throughout South Georgia to talk about his case. Carswell completed his prison sentence last month. But the appearances at high schools will continue, Hodges says, since he has 500 hours of community service to complete. The sentencing recommendation for Carswell seemed to satisfy the families on both sides of the highly charged case. And it reinforced the perception of Hodges as a politically astute prosecutor. Hodges says when he first ran for the job, he intended to serve one term and head back to private practice. “So obviously that’s changed,” he says. He has no plans for any other office right now, but won’t rule out considering that at a later time. He says he doesn’t necessarily foresee being district attorney the rest of his career, but adds that “if I did I wouldn’t be unhappy.” Right now, he says, “I feel good about what I do every single day.” The rewards are of a different sort than those in private practice, he says, recalling a recent vigil he attended where crime victims and their families repeatedly embraced him with tears and thanks. “I never had anybody in private practice do that,” he says.

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