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Supporters and critics of Fulton County, Ga., Sheriff Myron E. Freeman held dueling press conferences on Thursday to debate whether the beleaguered lawman should be removed from office. Freeman’s advocates took the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse in the morning and called the criminal defense lawyers working for the recall campaign hypocrites for seeking the sheriff’s ouster while asking juries and the public not to rush to judgment of their criminal defendants. “What we need to do is allow all the facts to come in,” said state Sen. Vincent D. Fort, D-Atlanta. “Has everything that’s been done been perfect? Absolutely not. But at this point it is premature to say Myron Freeman needs to be taken out of office.” In the afternoon, lawyers for the disgruntled, unidentified sheriff’s deputies who launched the recall effort responded at a press conference at the Sheraton Hotel at Colony Square. Criminal defense attorney Bruce S. Harvey, a new recruit to the campaign, said the citizens ought to decide whether the sheriff should go. “It is going to be the people’s decision,” he said. As for charges of hypocrisy by criminal defense lawyers, Harvey said Freeman would receive all the due process he deserves. Sgt. Nikita Hightower, a spokeswoman for the sheriff, said Freeman is concentrating on carrying out his duties and not on the recall effort. “The sheriff was elected by the people and is there to do the job he has been elected to do,” she said. “He’s doing his job and will continue to do his job.” Freeman was elected in November and took office in January, succeeding Jacquelyn H. Barrett, who left office amid allegations of financial impropriety, jail escapes and a federal grand jury investigation. The effort to recall Freeman started after the sheriff was criticized for his response to the March 11 courthouse shootings, which started when an inmate, 33-year-old Brian G. Nichols, allegedly overpowered a deputy and stole her pistol. Nichols has been indicted on 54 felony counts stemming from the violence that began at the courthouse and resulted in the slayings of Fulton Superior Court Judge Rowland W. Barnes, court reporter Julie Brandau, Sgt. Hoyt Teasley and federal agent David Wilhelm. DISGRUNTLED DEPUTIES Steven K. Leibel, of Casey Gilson Leibel in Atlanta, launched the recall effort for the deputies, who remain anonymous and unquantified. This week the group announced the addition of Harvey and another criminal defense attorney, M. Barbara Moon of Jonesboro. All three said they were working for free on behalf of the deputies. The lawyers said the group was diverse and included reserve and regular-duty deputies. Leibel, a civil litigator, said the deputies were concerned that the 22-member task force put in place by Freeman to review courthouse security and the events of March 11 seemed to be turning its attention to the shortcomings of individual deputies rather than management. The lawyers went on to say Freeman’s lack of leadership was responsible for the conditions at the courthouse on March 11. The attorneys also complained that the sheriff has not done enough in wake of the shootings to prevent a similar incident. “We know we have an ongoing problem,” Harvey said. “Let’s let the people address it.” Freeman’s supporters, who pointed out that they were not being paid for their efforts, said the defense lawyers and disgruntled deputies are doing the county a disservice by attacking the sheriff’s office rather than trying to fix it. They called on the Fulton County Board of Commissioners to do a better job of funding the security needs of the courthouse and the jail. Another Freeman supporter, Michael Langford, who is president of the United Youth-Adult Conference, noted that the sheriff took office a little more than two months before the shootings. Langford called for “calmer heads to prevail” and said the 22-member task force should be the one to determine whether anyone should be removed from office. “This is no time for us to be placing blame and pointing fingers,” Langford said. “We have an obligation and a responsibility to those individuals who lost their lives, to those families and to all the citizens of Fulton County to do what we can in our collective wisdom … to make Fulton County the safest place in America. That must be our goal.” THE PATH TO RECALL Georgia law does not allow a recall to begin within the first 180 days of an elected official’s term. In the case of Freeman, that would translate to June 30. When the organizers initiate the action, they will face a host of obstacles. The will need to collect 100 signatures of “official sponsors” for the recall petition. The sheriff then may challenge the recall petition in Fulton Superior Court, where a judge will issue a ruling on the sufficiency of the sponsors’ alleged grounds for a recall, according to O.C.G.A. � 21-4-6 (a). According to O.C.G.A. � 21-4-3 (7)(a), “grounds for recall” means that an official, “while holding public office, conducted himself or herself in a manner which relates to and adversely affects the administration of his or her office and adversely affects the rights and interests of the public.” The official also must be found to have committed one of five types of bad acts: malfeasance, violating his oath of office, misconduct, failing to perform duties or misusing public funds. If the judge approves, the organizers then will need to collect signatures equal to 30 percent of the 447,522 voters who were eligible to vote in the last general election for sheriff of Fulton County. According to information provided by the Fulton County Registration and Elections Department, 30 percent of the eligible voters would equal 134,257 signatures. The next step would be a recall election where more than half of the voters must cast their ballots in favor of recall to remove the sheriff from office, according to O.C.G.A. � 21-4-13 (f). Afterward, a special election would be called to fill the vacancy. According to statistics provided by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, there have been 60 recall elections since 1979 (when the secretary of state began keeping track). Of those recall elections, 44 passed, 15 failed and one tied. Only one involved a sheriff, and none involved an elected official in Fulton. The sole sheriff subject to undergo a recall election was from Dawson County, where voters approved the recall in 1985, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. The secretary of state does not keep information on failed petition drives. Nor does the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, but Oliver R. Hunter, the group’s deputy general counsel, said recall efforts targeting sheriffs are rare. “It happens infrequently,” he said.

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