Charlie Bailey Charlie Bailey (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

After 3½ years as a Fulton County gang prosecutor, Senior Assistant District Attorney Charlie Bailey stepped down last week to take on a different opponent: Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.

Bailey hopes to run for AG on the Democratic ticket, until now an open slot barely noticed amid the slugfest between the party’s gubernatorial candidates.

Bailey, who turns 35 next week, said he doesn’t know Carr but understands him to be a decent and intelligent man. But, he said, the Republican incumbent has failed to use his office’s prestige and resources for the betterment of Georgia’s citizens as a whole.

“Being a nice guy is not a qualification for being attorney general,”  he said.

“Obviously the attorney general has a duty to defend the state against suit, of course, but there are other duties,” Bailey said. 

“When the state of Georgia decides to bring suit against the federal government or a corporate actor, the attorney general is supposed to serve as the people’s lawyer,” he said. “He’s not the attorney for the governor, the Republican Party or the Chamber of Commerce; he’s not the chief public relations officer or chief economic development officer.”

Bailey pointed to the efforts of Carr’s fellow attorneys general in a dozen states—all Democrats—who have joined forces to fight plans by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to open their coastal waters to offshore drilling.

“Our coastal areas are one of our great treasures,” said Bailey. “There are a number of habitats that could be irreparably harmed, disruptions to our shipping industry, devaluation of people’s property.”

Bailey also said Carr should be more proactive in the fight against the opioid crisis, which has sparked multiple federal lawsuits by cities and municipalities against drugmakers and marketers. Bailey pointed to this week’s announcement that Alabama AG Steve Marshall, a Republican, has sued Purdue Pharma over the allegedly deceptive marketing of opiate painkiller OxyContin.

“The attorney general has an obligation to do more than make speeches,” Bailey said.

Carr, he said, “is not going to do anything the insiders in Atlanta tell him not to do. He’s not going to rock the boat. He’s not going to do anything the Trump administration doesn’t like.”

The Carr campaign provided this response to Bailey’s comments: “Attorney General Chris Carr is focused on continuing his fight to protect Georgia from gangs, federal overreach, the opioid crisis, human trafficking and elder abuse. Chris’s record of principled leadership is reflected in the success of the law department and the broad and diverse support he is receiving from across the state of Georgia.”

Asked how his experience as a line prosecutor qualifies him to run an agency with about 150 staff lawyers, a similar number of employees and a cadre of specially appointed attorneys general, Bailey said his work overseeing complex prosecutions would serve him well.

“When you’re dealing with a case involving multiple lawyers, detectives, investigators, witnesses, you’re running a whole team with a ton of plates in the air,” he said.

“There’s no magic to it; it’s about building respect and relationships, and I’ve done plenty of that. I certainly have as much or more experience as Chris Carr,” he said. 

Bailey said the AG has failed to work with state and local law enforcement agencies to combat gangs and drug-related violent crime.

“In a way,  you can’t really blame Chris; he’s never been a prosecutor,” said Bailey. “But the attorney general is the state’s top lawyer and top cop. He has to protect the people and the Constitution; it’s not just symbolic.”

Bailey said, if elected, he would form an organized crime division and gang division to coordinate law enforcement efforts statewide.

“People are getting hooked on opioids, and violent gangs are bringing in heroin and other drugs,” he said. “It’s hollowing out neighborhoods, tearing families apart and pulling kids into gangs. It’s an incredibly lucrative business.”

Gov. Nathan Deal tapped Carr in 2016 to replace Attorney General Sam Olens. Before then, Carr served as Georgia’s commissioner of Economic Development and chief of staff to Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. Carr’s biography on the AG’s website says he graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law, then practiced law with Alston & Bird and served as vice president and general counsel for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

For more than seven years, Carr’s law license was on inactive status; such members pay half the dues of active members, but are not permitted to practice law in Georgia. When Deal appointed him, Carr confirmed at a press conference that he had never tried a case.

Bailey, who first went to work as a civil litigator for former Gov. Roy Barnes’ firm after graduating from the University of Georgia School of Law, said Carr’s lack of legal experience is unacceptable for the state’s top lawyer.    

“One of the most important questions is: ‘Are you a practicing attorney?’” he said. “I’m not saying I’m the most experienced lawyer around or that you have to be a trial lawyer—a lot of lawyers don’t go to court.”

But understanding the workings of the law is essential for someone tasked with safeguarding citizens’ well-being, he said.

“You have to be proactive, and you have to know the law,” he said.